In-Camera Cropping Strategy

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Today’s Question: How do you feel about cropping in-camera versus taking advantage of the huge number of sensor pixels and zooming out 5-10% in order to be able to do the perfect crop (sometimes needing to rotate a few degrees)?

Tim’s Quick Answer: From a philosophical perspective, I prefer to get everything “perfect” in the camera. But from a pragmatic perspective, I prefer to leave a little room for correction of crop and rotation for after the capture.

More Detail: In an ideal world (at least theoretically), I’d prefer to never have to perform any processing of my photos after the capture. Every photo would come out of the camera exactly the way I wanted it to look. But in the real world it can be challenging to get all aspects of a photo perfect right from the start. Cropping (or overall framing) is exactly such an issue.

To begin with, many cameras don’t include a 100% viewfinder, so you’re not always seeing the image exactly the way it will appear in the actual capture. The photo you capture will have a little more space around the edges, based on the viewfinder cropping your view slightly.

In addition, if you need to rotate the image slightly, cropping will be involved to maintain the rectangular shape of the image. It can be very helpful to have a little extra room to work with when you need to rotate an image, and you may simply want to adjust the overall cropping for aesthetic purposes.

My general approach depends on my sense for the scene I’m photographing. If I feel very confident about how I am framing the scene based on what I see in the viewfinder, I will generally crop tightly in the camera, with just a tiny bit of space around the edges to account for any rotating or crop refinement I want to apply later.

If I’m a little uncertain of how I want to frame up the scene, but I don’t want to waste a lot of time in front of that scene trying to make a decision, I’ll crop less tightly in the camera. That’s not to say I would use an extreme wide angle lens when I intend to extract a small portion of the scene, but I would give a little bit of extra room around the scene so I have more flexibility when cropping later.

With practice I think you’ll find that you can crop the scene reasonably tight based on your final intent for the image. But when in doubt, I think it makes perfect sense to include a little bit of extra space. That is especially true, by the way, when photographing a scene with a wide-angle lens where you think you’ll want to perform some perspective correction in post processing. In those situations it can be especially important to have a bit more extra room for cropping the photo later.