Sometimes the power of an image is in
isolating its most compelling feature.
With today’s 20+ megapixel cameras it is almost like you are shooting with half-a-dozen or more decade-old 4 megapixel cameras-all at once. You could make an acceptable 8×10 print from a quality 4 MP image. Heck, even for screen work it was overkill. The other thing dodeca-megapixels plus gives us is the ability to crop mercilessly or, from the artist’s point of view, mercifully.
Here is a picture taken in my studio with a 20+ megapixel camera. It would make a great large print. How large? I would push this baby to 16×24 inch without batting an eye. It is sharp, well-exposed, and taken with quality optics. It will survive enlargement quite well.
The temptation to barely crop our images is a two-headed beast born of love and necessity. On one hand it comes from our unwillingness to carve away bits of our artistic vision. We compose so carefully, check our viewfinder diligently, and expose the sensor quite deliberately. What is there was meant to be there and that’s all there is to it! This image at left is an example of a minimal crop. Not much has been shaved off the sides. Cropping was done in-camera before the shutter was snapped.
The second head of this beast is our rabid economizing of megapixels. People have told us we have to have this many or that many pixels to make this size or that size of print. We believe them. Partly, because it is true, partly because we want to preserve every photon corralled. We want-whether we need to or not-to make the biggest print possible and have it look good enough no one can tell we were deficient in megapixels. We err in saving those megapixels for no good purpose other than to fill up the print-maker’s spec.
I tell my photography and design students there are two reasons to crop. The first is the most important. You crop for content. You let the story you need to tell dictate the crop you make regardless of how unusual that crop may be. The first crop strengthens that which is strong and diminishes that which was weak about your image. The second reason you crop is to fit: Square, 5×7 etc.
In the screen capture above you can see that we took a relatively small portion of the screen in our crop. In fact it is only about 1/5 of the image measured in megapixels. I’ve printed it and it makes a dandy 8×10 image. There were more than enough megapixels left after the crop.
Is it as powerful a crop as the original image? It depends on your story and your usage. The two crops convey a different feel to the image. They certainly tell different stories. Only you know if they convey the look and feel that ultimately compels you more.
With our image captures, more and more, having room to spare, we can finally think about cropping images more radically than before. Even if your monitor is a desk-filling behemoth, you can radically crop to create an image that fills its less-that-four megapixel frame. Most of our images will never be displayed at larger than 2 MP on any screen so be aggressive with your crop. Crop for power not for packaging.
The challenge was so eloquently phrased by Bob Seger:
“Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out”
~ Against the Wind
It is up to you. What will you leave in? Out?
Rikk Flohr © 2010