Cropping Photos – the GOOD and the BAD (click to view)

The Good

Cropping allows you to get rid of things you don’t like on the edges of a photo – like the elbow of the person who was sitting next to your subject. I touch on Cropping in Lesson Sixteen of my Cool & Composed photo composition book.

Below are two photos. The original photo composition is shown on the left. I cropped this photo to get rid of a tree that was barely showing on the left. I also rotated the photo slightly. The resulting photo appears on the right.

The Means

Some cameras allow you to crop a photo. Even my old iPhone 5c camera provides an Edit option for cropping. My Nikon D60 also provides a Trim tool from its Menu.

However, I prefer to use editing software to crop a photo.

The Bad

So what can be bad about cropping a photo? Your photo looks great after having gotten rid of things on one or more of its edges.

Well, if you look at the JPG file information before and after cropping a photo, you will notice that cropping reduces the dimension (resolution) of a photo. Here’s the dimension of the two photos above:

  • Dimension of original photo (shown on the left):  2592 x 3872
  • Dimension of cropped photo (shown on the right):  2404 x 3591

I never realized this side effect of cropping until someone pointed it out to me. If you were ever in the market for a display or tv, you know that the ones with a higher resolution are costlier because they are higher quality.

So the bottom line is that cropping a photo reduces its quality. The more you crop, the more its quality is impacted.

But Wait!

If you don’t intend to print the photo, then the reduced quality may not be important.

I found this Digital Camera Resolution Chart posted on B&H’s website to be REALLY helpful in understanding the impact cropping has on resolution and print quality. For example, according to the table, the slight reduction in resolution of the above cropped photo shouldn’t be an issue if I want to have an 11 x 14 of it printed on a photo-quality printer.

That’s not the case for the below photos, where the photo on the right was produced by cropping the photo on the left.

Here’s the dimensions (resolutions) of these two photos:

  • Dimension of original photo (shown on the left):  2592 x 3872
  • Dimension of cropped photo (shown on the right):  1556 x 2325

According to the referenced Digital Camera Resolution Chart , this second cropped photo would not result in a “Photo Quality” 11 x 14 print on a photo-quality printer.

I also found this table helpful in knowing how megapixels relate to photo quality – something to consider if you are shopping for a new camera. Remember to take into account the need for cropping photos too!

Photo Tip

To avoid heavy cropping as part of post processing, consider using the zoom feature of your camera to capture different photo compositions. For example, it’s great to zoom out on your camera to capture more context (tell more of a story), but also try zooming in to capture something of interest in a scene or to capture a subject’s feature or expression.  That is, consider the various photo compositions you can capture at different zoom positions while you’re taking photos.

There is one caveat to this advice, though, which I will cover in my next Photo Tip post. Stay tuned!