I love photography. There I said it. I loved photography even before I knew I loved photography. I already had my visual signature implanted in my artistic eye even before I realized I was going to be a photographer.
I loved the art of photography and was drawn to particular artists when I was a teenager and well before the advent of digital photography. The photographers I loved back then I still love them today.
It’s amazing when you embark on your artistic adventure (especially when you are serious about it). Some of us gone to school to learn our craft, others have had the benefit of mentors and apprenticeships/interships along the way. Some of us had the mindset to join the workshop circuit to further us along and some of us have even had the ever faithful YouTube video to help us advance in our craft. Any way you look at it, all of the above mentioned strategies help mold us into the artists we are today.
Remember when you first picked up the camera and started learning all the pertinent rules? The Zone system, expose to the right, rules of thirds, the law of inverse square, the sunny 16 rule, depth of field and its usage? All of these were fond memories of in my early days of photography and even today when taking a photograph and a “rule” would pop up into my head as I am composing an image and a distance voice of a beloved mentor would whisper something in my ear and I would subconsciously adjust my image in the viewfinder before pressing the shutter.
Then you get to that point in your career where after you’ve learned all these rules, you are forced to make judgment calls because all of a sudden a particular “rule” doesn’t seem to work, or the image doesn’t “feel” right and you find yourself sitting a quandary of “well when I learned such and such, I was told not to do x y and z.” What is one to do because you are now forced to do x y and z.
One of the first rules of photography each and every one of us has learned was “fill the frame” with your image. We would go around doing exactly just that, regardless to the fact if the image “worked” or not, because we were taught to do so. Then when we advance to printing some times the image worked, some times it didn’t. At that time, the image was okay, because we were printing them to hang on our walls or give to friends. We would learn to make adjustments and using the enlarger and learning how to zoom in and get the picture we were looking for.
Then the blessed moment came where you were now building your hard book portfolio and you decided on whatever size you wanted your book to be (most professional photographers still use the 11×14 size) and now when you started adjusting your photos accordingly, those images that you so painstakingly composed in camera are now being cropped for your book are now no longer magical. Limbs and digits are being removed. Details that were important to the shot are now ending up on the proverbial Photoshop floor and now magical images that you’ve created are now being ruined by the limitations of the size of your book.
What is one to do? Hence the title of this blog.
As I embarked on the commercial road of photography one of the first rules I had to learn to get rid of was “fill the frame” because when I did that, it seemed fine for the moment, however, once the image had to be used for whatever purpose it was being shot for, key elements were being chopped out especially when you wanted your image to be dynamic or when I upgraded to the world of medium format photography, it forced me to compose my images completely differently than when I composed images utilizing the 35mm camera. One of the rules of shooting commercial photography is creating space for copy (the area in which the words are going to be placed) and it was learning how to take an image in camera (in some cases more than what you would actually need and then doing the composing and cropping in post) which there are two staunch camps on which is the proper way of doing this. Should you actually shoot the image as intended and crop in camera, or should you take the image and deal with the crop in post? There is no right way to answer this question, it is your job to view the image and see which one works for you.
Being a commercial photographer, most often once you’ve shot the image, it leaves your possession and goes through a myriad of changes. Most often you are not in charge of the retouching, you are not in charge of the graphics, you are not in charge of the composition (or compositing) nor are you in charge of how the image is going to be cropped and used. Your sole job is to get the photograph lit and shot as properly as possible so the powers that be can manipulate into the final image they see fit.
This has its plus and minuses, because if you don’t know what your client is actually looking for, sometimes you don’t know how to frame an image to get what they want. With commercial photography I found myself shooting squarly and whole dead center of the medium format frame. The images though well lit and exposed properly would then have all the pertinent information needed to produce a stellar final image. If I was shooting for hair, did I get all the detail? If I was shooting for makeup, was everything clear and concise? If I was shooting garments, did I make sure to get all the important elements that made that garment possible? If the answer was yes, then I am able to maneuver the image as I see fit to produce an image that worked well for the client.
Then the second issue would occur because sometimes when you are sitting with an Art Director or a Creative Director, they may (or more often than not) have your artistic eye, so at the shoot I am cropping the image visually on the screen so they can see how the image works in commercial usage (as seen in some of the samples below). Working this way you will never get the dreaded sentence of “can you show me more [fill in the blank]?” because when you filled the camera, it is inevitable when you fill the frame, whatever is on the outside of that image will be lost.
There are hard and fast rules to follow, of course, no hobbling or digital removals, keeping eyes in tact, just how much of a face should you chop before it is considered “incorrect”? All of these rules play a part in creating your final image, however, the final decision rests with you and how you decide you want your final image to look like.
When I am creating images for my website or portfolio, the only rule I follow is my heart. How does the image make me feel? Does it “jump out at me”? If it doesn’t, then the image isn’t right for me. Sometimes I’ve even shot images that I thought were actually useless but when I started working with it in post, amazing images would jump back out at me.
So as you are going through your image and creating your works of art, after you lit the photo, composed the photo, followed all the pertinent rules, the last thing you need to do is learn the art of the crop. It can take a blah image and make it a beautiful one.
Light Is Light