A Few Words On Cropping & Framing
I've always been a big fan of William Klein's street photography and his attitude to photography in general. His groundbreaking, grainy, blurry style is testament to his life as a painter and his disinterest in adhering to the rules of photography. Klein's work is the inspiration for this post on one of the most common 'rules' which I've come across over the years. The one that says that you should always crop in camera. For the sake of clarity, some people consider 'cropping' to be something done during the editing process, and 'framing' to be what is included in the photograph at the time of exposure. I'm old school, so when I refer to cropping in camera, I actually mean framing, but it's a term I've used for 30 years and I think most people are familiar with it.
Sadly, many people still believe that how a photograph is taken is more important that its content.
For as long as I can remember, there have been photographers extolling the virtues of cropping in camera. The idea is that a good photographer gets the composition right in the viewfinder so that cropping after the act is unnecessary. Those that don't are considered sloppy. Sadly, many people still believe that how a photograph is taken is more important that its content.
Henri Cartier-Bresson has to take some of the blame for this particular rule. His views on cropping an image are well known, and yet his most famous picture is cropped. At times, his contradictions have made me wonder whether his views on photography were correctly interpreted, or did he simply want to create an aura around his work? I also believe that the introduction of 35mm colour transparency film caused magazine and editorial photographers to be more careful with framing, as cropping such a small negative would compromise the quality when printed. A lot of magazine photographers became references for others, with their ideas and methods influencing the way we take photographs today.
do I miss the shot in the act of changing lenses or do I take the picture and crop it afterwards?
Now, don't get me wrong, I completely agree with the principle of getting everything right in the camera, I always have done and it is what I teach on my workshops, but it is the audience's response to the final photograph which is the most important thing to consider. If the emotional or aesthetic content of a photo can be intensified by cropping during the editing process, then why would you not crop?
Going back to William Klein. His street style came through limited equipment, a 28mm lens and a Leica, and the use of cropping in the darkroom to change perspective. As a result, his images were often soft and grainy. If Klein had stuck to the rules, the world of photography would be a much poorer place.
Taking Klein's approach, if a photographer sees something happening across a street but they only have a wide-angle lens on their camera, do they miss the shot in the act of changing lenses? Or do they, like Klein, take the picture and crop it afterwards? Some would argue that they should move closer, but by the time they've moved position, the shot could have gone. Klein has spoken about this in several interviews.
Still not convinced? Here are a couple of other examples.
Magnum photographer Trent Parke's latest project relies on heavy cropping as part of the aesthetic, while turning the concept of street photography on its head. To me, Parke has always been a visual pioneer. Someone who isn't afraid to challenge the concept of a photograph.
This iconic photograph of a Chihuahua by Elliott Erwitt is actually a 35mm crop from a 120 negative. The original contact sheet can be seen here. I don't know the backstory behind the image, but to me it doesn't matter that the image is cropped. He saw the moment and captured it.
Just in case you were wondering about my opening shot in this post. This is the original image straight out of camera. Taken as I walked past a shop window, I saw the image and took it without breaking stride. Cropping has allowed me to show what I saw at the split second I walked along the pavement.
In conclusion, rather than bemoaning cropping as a fix for sloppy technique, maybe we should start to see it it as a creative tool? Something which helps us to interpret how we see the world. Some will always argue that this is a bad thing, and in the wrong hands it could well be, but for me it doesn't matter how you got there, as long as the photograph works.