One thing I had to learn by experience (newbies, listen up!)


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May 12, 2007
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The first few times I ventured out with my new DSLR, I was very aware of the composition of each shot. I took great care to compose them in the manner in which I wanted my final prints to appear.

Some of you know where I'm going with this already. :mrgreen:

Upon loading my shots into the computer, it hit me that different sizes of prints have different aspect ratios, and all are slightly different that what appeared in my carefully-composed viewfinder at the shoot. In other words, cropping was necessary; and this cropping interfered significantly with my original vision of the shot. In fact, I basically ruined some beautiful images, images that I'll not likely be able to re-capture.

So, the moral of the story: widen your view when shooting. Include too much in the frame. Create your ultimate composition on the computer screen, don't try to do it in the field. Because if you compose carelessly through the viewfinder, you're likely going to have to amputate stuff you want in there.

Note: I'm not suggesting you ignore composition when shooting, nor am I saying to shoot everything super-wide angle. First compose, then widen it up a bit. Later, crop your image to perfection.

During all my early reading/learning/research, this is a tip I never came across.

To the experienced among you: do you agree?

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I suppose you should both take a photograph composed for viewing on the computer and then take one composed for printing?
This works well with landscapes but for other types of photography, namely sports this would be incredibly troublesome.
I am very curious to see what everyone else thinks of this though
Now this is just my opinion... but I agree with the op, many times, you will find pictures within your pictures just by cropping down and focusing on a particular piece of the image.
I also advise however, that instead of taking for wide shots, in which you may not be sure what your focus is, find your subject and get in close... What do you like about your subject? Are there distracting objects in your shot? Get in close or crop them out in pp.
Or just print 8x12, 10x15, 12x18, 3:2 ratio print sizes.
Of course, this is a great tip. With a little practice, you can visualize the different crops while you are shooting. A good example is when shooting a wedding, I will think about the likely outcomes from a particular shot. If it's a candid shot at the will likely not be ordered as an 8x10 print. But a bridal portrait or a shot of the b& much more likely to be requested in 8x10 or something other than the native 2:3 I leave a little more room.

Sometimes, I'll even leave enough room to change the orientation, cropping to a landscape even though it's shot in portrait etc.
Or just print 8x12, 10x15, 12x18, 3:2 ratio print sizes.

These prints would appeal to me more than the more boxy 5:4 ratio, but frames and mats are not as readily available.

As for 'getting in close' with your subject, absolutely. I just feel safer getting in close in PP.

Big Mike: I would think this would be a huge concern in shooting weddings, since you can only guess what the couple will desire, size-wise, for each shot.

Or just shoot 6x6 Medium Format ;) - plenty of room then to crop and play :D

Mmmm *hopes the rumours of a Square format Pentax are true*
I've been caught by this before too, but pretty quickly you learn what sorts of shots may give you trouble when cropping, and what sorts will be easy to crop. For example, I very carefully composed this doorways shot, and later discovered that cropping it to anything other than 3:2 was absolutely impossible -- because I couldn't remove anything at the top or bottom. On the other hand, many photos can be cropped easily, because the subject just doesn't extend all the way across the photo.

When you're composing, just keep that in mind -- maybe you should back off a little, to have extra room, or maybe you shouldn't. It all depends on the subject and the intended composition. There's no hard and fast rule, just experience. (And we really don't need to see any more photos with a tiny subject in the middle, and vast swaths of empty space around them -- a danger if you worry too much about future cropping!)
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Cropping a photo for a particular format isn't anything new....... With negatives, you used to clamp the negative in a frame that only showed the "crop" you wanted for the print you were making..

It's still the same, nothing has changed except the tools......... Now you just shoot your "negative" in a non-loss format such as Raw, or Tif. You then "crop" for whatever you want to print, but you shouldn't alter your file "negative" each time you print in a different size..

There is nothing wrong with composing with the intent to long as you understand that you are going to lose data and resolution with that crop, and so, it should still be kept to a minimum..
This has happened to me before. Some photos that I cropped on the computer got cut off even more after printing and some that I didn't crop got cut off after printing. I had no idea what happened and haven't printed since, so I should widen the view when taking the picture and crop on computer? Even if I crop it on the computer how do I know what print size to get? Is there anywhere I can read up more on this?
so I should widen the view when taking the picture and crop on computer? Even if I crop it on the computer how do I know what print size to get?

Whatever software you use to crop should allow you to indicate the print size, probably via a drop-down menu.

My solution to this problem is to shoot a bit wider (and higher) than what I visualize my crop to be. Unless you go crazy with 'widening up' the shot, you're not going to notice any loss of image quality post-crop.

Remember that the aspect ratio of 5x7 is slightly different from 8x10 which is different than 11x14, etc.

And all of these differ significantly from what you're going to see through the viewfinder.

Based on some preliminary research, 8x12 and 10x15 mats are even scarce online.

I'm going to have to search some more; I really dislike the traditional ratios (kinda like watching a full screen movie).

If I'm shooting portraits, I try to leave enough room at the top & bottom to crop to 8x10. It's not that hard to visualize, the hard part is remembering to do it.

If I forgot to leave cropping room, or if the image just calls for it for whatever reason - I'll just get a custom print & frame. Expensive..., yes. Worth it...? Usually.
I only shoot for myself though, things might be different if I had to appease a client.

I really dislike the traditional ratios (kinda like watching a full screen movie).

I HATE full screen movies (unless they were filmed that way)... I don't mind that it fills the screen (that's usually a good thing) - what I hate is that you're not seeing what the director wanted you to see.
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As noted above, commercial photographers must often work to the sizes [and therefore crop ratios] expected by the client.

For amateurs intent on making good, well-composed pictures, things are less restrictive.

Learning to cut a matte is a simple matter. The skill is easy to master. The cost of the gear is less than that of many individual camera accessories.

With that part of the process [matting] under your full control, you're free to compose in whatever print ratios you desire. The subject itself can then be the sole determining factor. For matte colors, including two-color matting, you're limited only by the selection of board available at your local art supply store.
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