Cropping Philosophy

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Today’s Question: What is the “normal” protocol for cropping? Should I maintain the aspect ratio that came out of the camera, or can I choose something else? Are there some guiding principles to refer to when deciding what ratio to use? As a photographer is it good to be consistent with the chosen crop factor across all my images, especially when putting them in a portfolio?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I’m not sure that there is really a “normal” protocol. That said, my personal philosophy on cropping is that for the most part you should crop based on your aesthetic sense for the image, not based on any specific aspect ratio.

More Detail: There certainly isn’t a single “right” answer when it comes to the aspect ratio to use for cropping a photo. Naturally there are some photographers who prefer to always crop to a specific ratio, such as with a square crop. There are also situations where you may want to crop a series of images with the same aspect ratio, such as when they will be included full-bleed in a book or presented as part of a series that will be matted and framed at the same dimensions.

But as a general rule, my feeling is that the decision about how to crop an image should be based on the image itself, and your preference for that image. Therefore, when I am cropping an image, I will almost always disable any lock on the aspect ratio, so that I can crop the photo freely based on my preference for the photo.

When you need to use a consistent crop aspect ratio (such as when you will present framed images as part of a unified series), I don’t personally feel you need to choose any specific aspect ratio, other than to make sure you’re using the same settings for all of the images in the series.

In other words, while I feel there is aesthetic value to some of the “standard” crop aspect ratios (such as 3:2 or 16:9), I don’t personally feel it makes sense to crop all images to the exact same aspect ratio under all circumstances.