When to Crop

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Today’s Question: Do you do all of your cropping in the camera? Or on the computer?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I generally crop in the camera in an effort to ensure I’m always capturing an image that is as close as possible to my intended final result. However, in many cases I will actually choose to intentionally shoot a little wider than my final framing, to provide some flexibility in processing after the capture.

More Detail: I certainly encourage photographers to make every effort to ensure their initial capture is as close as possible to the final image in most respects. You obviously want a good exposure and proper focus, for example. Similarly, I generally recommend framing up the scene based on your aesthetic sense for the final image.

So, whenever possible, I will frame up the scene based on what I think should be the final cropping for the image. Keep in mind, by the way, that many optical viewfinders don’t provide a full view of the final framing. Using Live View (or a camera with an electronic viewfinder) provides a more accurate preview of the image you’re actually capturing in this context.

There are situations though where I will intentionally not crop as tightly as I might intend for the final photo.

Sometimes there are simply practical limitations involved. I might not have a long enough focal length lens in a situation where I can’t get as close to the subject as I’d like, and so cropping in post-processing might be the only viable option for getting the framing I want.

More often, I will shoot wide to solve a particular issue with the scene. For example, when shooting architecture or wide-angle scenes, I often leave some extra space around the subject to allow for cropping after applying perspective correction.

In other cases I might know from the start that I want to exclude an area of the frame, but that doing so would require cropping to an aspect ratio other than that of the image sensor in my camera. In this type of situation I would be capturing an image that I know I will be cropping in post-processing, because I’m not able to achieve the precise crop I want in the camera.

The key is to be mindful about the decisions you’re making related to your initial capture. I encourage capturing photos that are as close as possible to what you envision for the final image, while at the same time making sure you aren’t creating problems later in your workflow by cropping to tightly in the camera.