Cropping in Post Photography & the Graphic Designer

There is an old tale about someone approaching Michelangelo as he chiseled away at a huge block of marble, which was to become his famous statue “David”. The visitor admired the partially-completed work, and asked the artist how he knew just what to cut away. Michelangelo's supposed response was this:

“It's easy - I just remove everything that doesn't look like David.”

Cropping is an important part of composition. It refers to trimming the edges of an image so it contains only those elements which are crucial to the subject. Just as Michelangelo 'cropped' the block of marble with his chisel and hammer, we can crop photographs we plan to use as subject matter for our compositions.

The cropping process actually begins when we first capture the photo. Through the camera lens we make several decisions before we even snap the shutter. First, we find something we want to capture. Next, we decide which views of the subject we want to record - whether it be a wide-angle shot taken from a distance, or a closer shot focusing on a more detailed view of the subject. We might actually walk around and take a number of photos from different angles, and different distances, and perhaps from different heights as well.

As a graphic designer your choices may be quite different from that of the pure photographer.

Why Crop?

Generally we crop to either fit a space or get rid of dead spots. We’re usually less aware of the way we use cropping to create. Changing the proportions of a canvas can draw attention, dramatize a point, convey a sense of realism, and so on, especially when the cropped image interacts with type or other elements.

Napalm girl Photographer Nick Ut

The image won every major photographic award in 1973, such as the World Press Photo award, the Pulitzer Prize, the George Polk Memorial Award and the Overseas Press Club award.

Original photograph

You can see that he really took quite a lot away. Does the crop make the photograph more dramatic? Or did Ut do it to loose the photographer changing rolls while children are running around screaming. Poor taste?

Successful cropping

involves knowing what to remove

And what to include

A dramatic change in perception

The goal is not to reproduce the reference image, rather it is to make "the best possible image to reflect our story. Cropping is in large part an aesthetic decision, and so it will be based on the individuals creative judgement. However, there are some general composition elements to consider:

  • Optimal placement of the main subject
  • Relationship of the subject to the edges of the photograph
  • Elimination of distractions
  • Suitability of format to subject matter (horizontal or vertical)

Some cropping options


This is a hard crop the most commonly used. We have totally changed the aspect ratio of our photograph.

Now we can add a title

This is known as a soft crop

Soft crop
Again we can place our title

This is a separation crop

Allowing insertion

By Putting more distance between my photograph parts. I can now insert text and other elements.

The stickout crop. Similar to the hard crop but leaves a bit of the image sticking out.

Easier to do with hard-edged objects than with fur like this
The stickout creates dimensional interaction with the page

The knockout crop

The knockout crop. Same as the stickout except the entire background is removed...
which frees the image to interact with the page in many different ways.
Here, the panel is behind the wolf and the words are on top, again adding dimension.

The false crop covers, rather than cuts the image

There are of course many other options which will very much depend on the photograph & the medium you are applying it to.


Created with images by christels - "wolf look predator" • azazelok - "michelangelo david revival"

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