Camera Position 37 : Hey! Crop it Out!

Photographers are not creators, they are editors. Unlike the painter, who starts with a blank canvas, we start with the whole world and our job is to remove all the “stuff” that doesn’t make our picture better; to pare down to the essence of the image. Ideally, we do this with the camera’s viewfinder, but sometimes, ya gotta crop.

Matera, Basilicata, 2006 (click for a larger image) Matera, Basilicata, 2006 - photograph by Jeff Curto
Matera, Basilicata, 2006
– Photographs by Jeff Curto
(click images for a larger view)

Crop Cropping
Pictures of “cropping Ls”:
(click for larger images)

6 thoughts on “Camera Position 37 : Hey! Crop it Out!”

  1. Nice podcast, Jeff. I definitely like your cropped version better, but I have one reservation or question. Although this image is now stronger, what about putting it into an exhibit with others which have not been cropped, or differently cropped? Do you think the different proportions will make it stand out, either in a desirable or undesirable way? Does this matter at all?

    For a current show, I decided to do a few crops with fixed aspect ratio, partly for the consistency and partly for practical ease in cutting mats (not that big a deal, but it helped). On an individual image basis, I would have changed the proportions.

    – Steve

  2. I don’t think it matters at all.

    I think that if images were supposed to fit into an 8×10 or 35mm or 6x6cm square format, God would have made the world that way.


    I think you make the photograph the best it can be and if it ends up being a square or a long skinny rectangle or a “golden mean” rectangle, then that’s what you get.

    Yes, there is a pragmatic bit in terms of cutting mats and buying frames, but I’d rather have to cut a mat the exact size I need it than to have a photograph that has more or less “stuff” in it than I want it to have.

    I’m typing this as I’m waiting for a 4×5 negative to finish scanning and I know that when the scan is done, I’m going to lop off a bit on the top of the image. That’s because there’s just too much stuff there. It will make my 4×5 image a bit more square (it’s a vertical picture) but it will make it better (I think).


  3. Cropping is for farmers, didn’t you know Jeff? 🙂

    I don’t care so much if people do it or not. The final image counts. I just don’t like the reasoning very much. Of course the world does not fit into a frame. If it would, it would probably be very boring to start with. Of course it is not ‘wrong’ to crop, but the reasons stated seem very arbitrary. Better to say that cropping is an extension of that ‘editing’ process that we do as photographers, just post-exposure. The same goes for digital manipulation. The end result will never show how it was created.

    In the end it is up to the photographer’s working style and the artificial obstacles you put in your own way to overcome (zoom vs. fixed lens is another example). If it challenges you to create better work, that’s great. Other people prefer fully automatic everything and create better images that way. It depends on the individual. Just like you can run 100 metre track or with hurdles. You decide which challenge you like.

  4. The photography that I like most is usually some type of representation of reality, but thinking about it, I think there is more to photography than just editing.

    There are several disciplines within photography where the photographer exercises control over the elements in front of the camera, the lighting that affects them, and puts their own spin on what’s there. For example, a still life that’s assembled in front of a camera, or a studio portrait seem to be outside of the realm of just editing — there is actually creation going on. There wasn’t anything on the canvas, and now there is. And of course with digital manipulation, the can of worms called ‘Definition of Photography’ has been opened wide.

    I’d love to hear your take on this, Jeff. Are you strictly referring to landscape or architectural photography here? Or would you still maintain that all photography is purely editing, however creative?

  5. Brad;

    I would agree that photography is about a lot more than “just” editing, but even when we construct something for the camera, we edit out what we don’t want to appear in that scene (by choosing what to put on the table for a still-life, for example) *and* we then get to further edit the photograph’s content by choosing what to place into the frame and what to leave out.

    The point I want to make here is that photography is substantially different from, say drawing or painting, where the artist starts with nothing and keeps adding marks until it’s “done.” Photographers necessarily start out with *everything” and have to figure out what needs to be eliminated from the frame to make it all work.


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