Shape the image you want

One of the pleasures of large format photography is you have so much image to play with.  What I mean by that is you can crop to various compositions and still retain details in the image.  I use 4×5″ film which is scanned as big as I want depending on how much cropping I want to perform without losing much resolution.  If I expect to crop a lot I will scan to a greater number of pixels; crop just a little then scan to a more “normal” number of pixels.  I see no reason to scan every image to 150-200 megabytes if I plan to use the whole image.  Unless, of course, I want to print wall-sized images!

But why crop an image at all?  Aren’t you supposed to get the image you want in the camera in the first place?  Well, different compositions elicit different emotional responses.  Some open your mind to questions (what is that? what is the photographer saying?), some direct your eye to the subject readily, some are pleasing proportions of length and width – there are multiple reasons you might crop in order to deliver a certain response.  And different crops, as different compositions, tell different stories.  With digital cameras this seems like an easy issue to address – just make more images with different compositions.  But one camera and a couple of lenses may not offer sufficient flexibility for your desired image.  And with film you can’t just shoot a hundred variations on the scene (well, not economically at least).  For example, take this image:

This is a somewhat wide shot of a scene in a nearby park.  I liked the strong contrasts between the trees and snow, and the leading line of the snow-covered path pointing to the horizon.  It’s a general shot, nothing really stands out.  But it can be cropped in several ways.

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Now there’s more emphasis on the path with the trees as framing elements.

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This crop emphasizes the verticality of the trees and shows some of the details of the snow plastered on the side of trunks.

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A little closer to the path than the original image, bringing the horizon closer.  Cropping down the top and bottom of the scene provides a wider perspective that focuses the eye along the trees.

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Square is a pleasing crop (better when there is more subject than a white sky and white ground) and this one brings more emphasis on the path and reveals a possible subject farther away.

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A closer crop makes the path more intimate and now the person walking their dog shows up on the trail as does the snow covered bench on the side.  Essentially this is what I would get by mounting a telephoto lens on the camera but all I had to do here is crop in tight on my already existing image – no lens changes required.

The digital camera companies seem intent on continuing their megapixel war of numbers.  For the vast majority of photographers a suitable file size was passed a couple of years ago but if you frequently find yourself in the position of cropping images a lot you might consider the higher number models.  Especially where there are no lenses that will deliver the composition you like.

Or you could step back and try large format photography!

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2 thoughts on “Shape the image you want

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