A crop is the removal of unwanted elements from the frame in order to improve the composition or to increase the focus on other elements. For example, a close-up shot involves a conscious decision to exclude the rest of the subject’s body, in order to focus on their eyes, for example. Conversely, you may want to show the full body of your subject by not cropping, and perhaps show some of their environment, too. Tightly cropped portraits tend to have more impact on smaller screens, such as smart phones and tablets, as a lot of detail is lost when viewing photographs at this small scale.
Ways to crop
You can crop by physically moving closer to your subject, zooming in using your lens or by trimming the edges of an image in photo editing software. However, try to avoid getting into the habit of consistently delaying cropping choices until postproduction – instead, aim to get as much right in-camera as possible, as this will save time later on and push you to create images, not just take them. Postproduction should be an additional opportunity, not a default that you resort to, as you lose a little quality each time you crop and re-save JPEGs.
Where to crop
When cropping into a subject’s body, do it confidently or not at all – a bit of a foot cut off or the very top of a head sliced into looks accidental, drawing attention to the crop rather than the subject. Equally, crop above or below the subject’s joints, rather than on them – a crop through the ankle, knee or elbow looks odd.
Cropping into a subject’s hairline can really strengthen a composition as it tends to place the eyes on one of the lines of the Rule of Thirds. However, be careful with crops into the top of the heads of people with thin hair (as it makes them look completely bald) or those with no hair at all (as it can look unflattering) – asking your subject to wear a hat can help here. Avoid cropping into a subject’s chin, unless you are taking an extreme close up – losing this element of a person’s face tends to result in a weak composition.
Elements touching or too near the edge cause visual tension and can look accidental. They draw attention to the edge and the apparent mistake, distracting from the main subject. Crop them out completely or allow sufficient room around them so that they don’t draw undue attention.
Variety is key when it comes to cropping. Having a variety of full length, three quarter length, bust shots (upper torso and head visible) and close-ups will help ensure your final set of images looks as varied as possible even if all the photos were taken in the same location.