The Magic Frame: Do You Crop?


I am going to show you three photographs, with successive degrees of crop.

Do you crop? I generally detest cropping. It irritates the hell out me. Yet, there are times when I have to.

I am old.

I am grey.

I have a stoop and a toothless grin.

This means that I belong to the old school of thought, which believes that you should be able to compose and make a photograph without cropping it. Since the time that I started to photograph, however, India’s population has grown by 70%. That is a whopping increase. This means that, when I am doing street photography, for instance there are more people on the streets, and that movement has become quite frenetic.

No wonder when, I get caught in stampedes, I get shoved into ditches.

More to the point, getting a perfect composition becomes very difficult at times. There are times when you do need to crop.

Most newsletters and Aunty’s columns that I have read recently on the subject of cropping give you two bits of advice:

  • Do not crop too close
  • Do not crop to wide

It’s a bit like saying – don’t eat too much. Of course you should not eat too much, but the definition of ‘eating too much’ is determined by

  • your physical characteristics
  • your physiology
  • your health
  • your weight

Then, you define how much is ‘too much’.

Similar principles define how much to crop. My two bits of advice, or guidance, would be

  • Does the cropping take away elements from your story? (too close)
  • Does the cropping include/ keep elements that distract from your story (too wide)

The paradigm that defines how much you should crop is determined by the story you want to tell.

Look at the three pictures below. What, in your mind, is the most effective crop, and what story does each crop tell?

This is a picture of three women sitting outside the Banke Bihari Temple during Holi celebrations in Vrindavan, while waiting for the temple doors to open.

Original Picture: No crop


Picture Two: Slight Crop


Picture Three: Closer crop



  1. Liked the original and the closer crop. I love to look into the details of the photo like the steps and the pillar etc; don’t find much difference though in all the three, I know how it is at temples, long hours of waiting and getting a sitting place is a great relief.

  2. The first they look like they are in a place full of hustle and bustle as you see the legs of others…. By the last the story changes…. It makes me think of sadness and solitude…

  3. Interesting, Rajiv. Cropping alone is not the whole solution. If it were my picture I might just crop off the left hand edge because cropping the top makes the heads very tight against the edge.

    Alternatively you could avoid cropping by 1. using a slight vignette, or 2. blurring the edges slightly, (or both). Also you could replace the blue colour of the man’s shirt with brown. (of course if the image were monochrome that wouldn’t be an issue)

    As a colour image I would remove the blue of the shirt then darken all the light areas that are close to the borders of the picture.

    Maximising the visual potential of an image is always a challenge. If it were mine I might experiment with lifting the shadows using Nik Silver Efex.

    My favourite crop of this image would be to isolate the two women on the right because the hand on the knee is a very touching gesture.

    Best regards, John.

    1. Hi John
      You raise some good points. During these three days shooting Holi, I had shot many people with messy backgrounds, and the backgrounds were messy because of the sheer number of people. What I did, in the RAW stage, was to add a vignette, to isolate the person from the background.
      In general, I dislike cropping. I am curious about your approach using Silver Efex Pro. Maybe, just maybe, I will use that and recolour large parts of the image.
      I did do another series of edits, some of which I will put up on 500px etc, and I call that series “Black Holi”
      I actually found this picture to be at odds with the festivities that are associated with Holi. Best, Rajiv

      1. Recolouring can simply be done using PS. Brush tool: select colour and brush strength. Use brush with brush mode set to color, and paint it in.

        I have started recently to use Silver Effex to improve the tonal balance in colour images by using the contrast, brightness and structure settings in Silver Efex which gives you a new mono layer. Then, to get back to colour, I filter the layer setting to Luminosity, and your colour returns!

      2. I am going to try the Efex process. Normally, I work on two 50%grey layers, and use one for burning, and the other for dodging. I also label the layers, to remind me what I burnt or dodged

  4. I actually like the idea of cropping closer each side, but retaining the space above the heads; giving the middle figure’s gaze some depth. I know that alters the shape of the picture, but I don’t personally mind that (just my interpretation, of course).

    I have also found that a number of pictures I have taken can be cropped down very severely to give completely new shots that I simply hadn’t seen at the time, some of which I think are amongst my favourites.

    I will now sit back and wait for lots of photographers to scream at me…

  5. I like the first picture the best for telling a more complete story. I could see cropping if you wanted to focus on any single individual in the picture. Each one is interesting and has a story of their own. The first lady (to the left) has been hurt. The second lady is looking to see who hurled the insult and the old woman (to the right) has seen it all before.

  6. With your experience, Rajiv, I would totally trust that the original photo had all the elements you wanted to show. I prefer the original one because the movement of the middle woman’s eyeline takes us out of the photo and the legs in the background hint at what she could be looking at. The colours in the saris provide so much contrast with the pavement and the trouser legs that it pushes them in the background. In this composition, no cropping was the best choice. Again, all of this is down to your amazing skills. xoxoxoxo

  7. Hi Rajiv 😃 This is an interesting discussion.
    Generally I prefer not to crop either and find that mostly I don’t – but there are exceptions.
    I enjoyed reading John’s comments and I use some of those tools also to hide unwanted details.
    However I really enjoyed the crop #3. Firstly it really tells a story with the woman looking behind her, but it creates an intimacy where the moment is about the 3 women, instead of them being in the middle of it all.
    Very thought provoking.

    1. Thanks… I am going to experiment with some of the things he mentioned.

      I normally do all this stuff when I process RAW files. In PS, I use the dodge and burn tools a lot

      1. Experimenting is always good 😃 and there are definitely different ways to do things.
        These days I do what you mentioned with dodging and burning – with a grey layer. Very effective.
        Really liked the depth and colour you have in this image. Really tells a story or two as you’ve shown. Nice one!

      2. Thanks! Yes.. Experimentation is fun.. I do need to check out your blog, especially as you never appear in my Reader!

  8. A great photo. You cannot help but wonder about the women. They draw you in — cropped photo or not. I agree that the photographer should consider composition. Sometimes though chaos is the subject, whether we want it to be or not. Don’t you think?

  9. I really like this image Rajiv .. A lot. I think I prefer the first crop as I still feel that there are others present .. And they are part of the story. In saying that I am lost in the purple sari as it is beautiful

  10. Took me two seconds. The top one because the woman in the center is looking up. You need the negative space above to enhance the look up.

  11. last week is not ideal. Its too ” near” and it loses some focus. The first one, unedited is the best in my humble opinion which is worth didly squat in the world of snapping

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