Crop Circles

Photo by Brandon Getty

You ever spazz out about crops? I do. Not all the time. Just sometimes. I have talked about it before. In this post I will try to describe the Rambo track my mind runs laps on.

It starts with Henri Cartier Bresson. He makes the composition with his eye in the viewfinder. He prints over the edge of the image so you get that black outline from the empty space of the negative. This is just extra emphasis that he framed it up when shooting and it is exactly how it is meant to be. He didn’t want any publishers to crop his photos ever.

And this is correct. This is the proper way to think of your shooting. I was taught this and this is also the proper way to honor your formats. For example if you are shooting square, you print it square.

But then 2 things happened to me simultaneously. The first thing was seeing an exhibition by Robert Frank. In this showing they displayed his regular exhibition prints but also his work prints and contact sheets. Some of his most famous photos were crazy cropped! In the contact sheets you can see that a photo was originally shot horizontal. In the work prints you can see different attempts at the crop. And in the book you can see the final version is a vertical image.

I was shocked but not that shocked. That’s because of the second thing that happened to me. I got into publishing. Well first I got into printing my photos a lot and then mass producing them for mass consumption. The problem is paper sizes don’t match photography format sizes, so when you want to go full bleed you’re gonna knock off a chunk of the photo. It is unavoidable.

So for me cropping is generally fine. If I can save a garbage photo by cropping or “re-framing” it a bit, then I will do it. If I have to move a photo around to avoid the gutter in a 2 page spread, so be it.

The problem is this: file preparation. Now that I am voicing this out loud, it doesn’t seem like much of a problem. LOL. Some photos will look good in all scenarios, but most won’t. Print form, zine form, in a frame, on a tshirt, blog or IG etc etc. Some photos do better in certain forms in certain crops. For instance, in a zine I might have a vertical photo at 2:3 but on the internet I have it in it’s native 4:3 and when I print it on an 8.5 x 11, it’ll probs go 5:7. I guess what I am saying is it’s weird having 3 versions of the same photo out there, so to combat that I have been hitting everything with 5:7 because I think that is my favorite ratio right now. BUT that crop doesn’t work for everything. And neither does a particular photo. See how we are just going round and round?

Anyways, I am overthinking it. Don’t be like me is the moral of the story.

5 responses to “Crop Circles”

  1. Reuben Radding Avatar

    That Robt Frank exhibit is something I bring up to people all the time. I just had a photo of mine run in Rolling Stone, severely cropped, and it bugs me. Not because it’s cropped, but because it’s cropped in a stupid way, (it was a vertical, and they sliced it to be a horizontal (just using the top third of the frame), but here’s the thing…people who haven’t seen the original really like it. It may not be better, but it’s ok. Maybe.

  2. RZZ Avatar

    ouch! it’s one thing doing it yourself but other people doing the cropping in any way is brutal. on one hand, it is usually a non photographer trying to make your photo fit a certain layout and on the other hand, in commercial work in general, they are paying for the rights so at that point they can do what ever they want. that is unless you draw up some awesome and insane contracts but thats a whole other thing.

  3. RZZ Avatar

    one time i submitted 2 photos of a band to a magazine and they used them, but overlayed them on each other as if it were one double exposure. people liked it but i was like huh??

  4. Reuben Radding Avatar

    Ha! Yeah, my band photos are constantly subject to toning, cropping, and other “design” concepts. Nowadays the really dumb crops, like the RS one, are usually the result of laziness and templates, rather than _decisions_. They just shove a photo in a template and move on. I almost wish it really was a person on the other end thinking their crop was smart, cause at least it would be their bad idea instead of someone thinking it just didn’t matter.

  5. RZZ Avatar

    haha yep. people wonder why robots are taking their jobs lol