The Digital Photo Guy

Cropping Revisited

by on Oct.24, 2011, under Articles, Composition, Lightroom, Monday Morning Tips, Photo Editing, Photos, Photoshop Elements


Andy, a fine photographer who regularly reads my drivel for laughs, caught me cheating on my post about cropping. When I posted those images, I knew the seed head in the background was a problem but I was too lazy to fix it. Andy suggested I blur it with Gaussian Blur  but I felt that would still leave a distracting element. Instead, I recropped following my basic cropping rule, “When in doubt, square it out.” In other words, when at a loss for the right crop, try a square.


The first photo above is the original crop, the second is a square crop and the third has a repaired wingtip. Jill, a long-time reader, friend and competition terror in her local club, pointed out that the main element shouldn’t be touching the edge. That’s what I regard as a “soft rule,” something that depends on the situation. One photo below follows the rule but the other doesn’t. Can you tell why?


San Diego Natural History Museum Contest

The deadline for entries has been extended to November 6, 2011 so you still have time to get your act together and enter a photo. While you’re there, check out the previous winners.

This may not be the London Natural History Museum Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest but it will help you get there. Look at the 2011 winning photograph by Daniel Beltrá of Spain and tell me it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye.


10 Comments for this entry

  • Dianne Arnold

    Lee, this has been a really interesting discussion to follow. I’d propose one more option for the butterfly and that is to keep the square (it really works here) and tighten it in further. That eliminates the need to “fix” the wingtip because you’d be cropping well into the wing. I like the wisp of seed pod. Just a thought. Thanks.

    • Lee

      Thanks Dianne,
      I like that idea except for one problem. I want to print at 13×13 and I’d be concerned there wouldn’t be enough detail at that size. I’ll have to run some numbers to see how large a print I can make. Your idea proves there’s no right or wrong, just different ways of seeing the same photo. Thanks for playing.


  • Dick

    I rather like the little bit of blurred seed pod at the left as it helps balance the blurred leaves to the right. Thanks Lee!


    • Lee

      This is when I know the composition is as good as it’s going to be, when there are equally valid points for both versions. Thanks for playing Dick.


  • Shirley

    I like the picture on the right. It’s a show of nature to have the extra blue seed heads. Background is nicely blurred. Good picture. I’ve been told that like the picture on the left that it’s an imperfect flower with the gaps of petals on the lower left side. That is not my opinion, the colors are sharp and how many flowers do you find that are perfect. The butterfly picture: I always forget you can have square pictures. Thanks for teaching and showing us so we can remember what and how to take better pictures and how cropping helps our pictures. Thanks!!

    • Lee

      Hi Shirley,
      Thanks for Commenting. I’m always happy to work with people who are into the art of photography. I try not to teach so much as offer options. As someone else pointed out, there’s no right or wrong. just each photographer’s own vision.


  • Jill Johnson

    I see that the photo on the right goes beyond the edge…..why…..because it is blurred @ the edges & the center is in perfect focus & that is where the eye is drawn….My humble opinion. Is this correct????
    I always learn so much from you , Lee.
    Thanks for your continual expert sharing.

    • Lee

      You’re close Jill. The desert dandelion on the left is the main subject so I wanted to include everything and keep the viewers’ eyes inside the flower. The chia on the right is a frame for the actual blue and yellow flowers. I used a shallow DoF to isolate the blue/yellow flowers and let everything else fall where they may.


  • Karen

    Hi…Now I’ve been following your cropping posts with interest and I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I like the end result except if it were me, I would clone out the bit of the seed pod that remains to the left. So easy to do and then that teeny bit of distraction would be gone. I’m almost embarrassed to be so nit-picky but if you’re going to get rid of it, get rid of ALL of it. BTW, I just want to let you know that I’ve picked up so many helpful tips off your site and I’m glad to see you will be charging $5 for your webinars as $3 is just ridiculously low. And I subscribe to the theory that all rules have exceptions…it just depends on the artist’s interpretation and whatever satisfies the artist’s own eye. Thanks again!

    • Lee

      Hi Karen,
      Thanks for the nice Comment. I left the rest of the seed head for two reasons. First, I wanted to see if anyone objected and second, I prefer photos to be a bit messy, like life in general. Photos that are too neat and tidy make me feel uneasy. 😉


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