Recently among the responses to my posted image, “The Daughters,” I’ve had some particularly interesting feedback from @Max_Waugh and @David_Haynes regarding cropping and aspect ratios. Both authors commented that they crop by eye, and don’t usually think about aspect ratios.
Max said that,
“I have to be honest, I never think about aspect ratios unless I need to crop in a specific instance to fit a requirement (e.g., a print requested at a standard size for a customer, or to fit a space determined by a client). Some of my peers only crop their images at standard print sizes, I suppose for ease of ordering for their potential customers, but in some instances this has come at the cost of lessening the visual appeal of the resulting image. I always go by feel, trying to determine the best way to guide a viewer’s eye through the frame… and if it results in a “non-standard” or abnormal aspect ratio, so be it.”
And David said,
“I never ever choose an aspect ratio when cropping. Instead, I allow my eye to tell me where to crop and it’s strictly by what I feel.”
Well, I think I’m missing something that Max and David (and undoubtedly many, many other accomplished photographers) get. I definitely understand letting the image and my eye tell me where to crop; I always do that when I’m in post-processing. Heck, it starts behind the lens during composition, eh?
But I’m also always thinking about matting and framing at the same time. And because I’m just an old retired coot, and my photography is purely a hobby that doesn’t support itself, I can’t afford the habit of custom framing. So I reserve it for a very few images that simply won’t be satisfied/satisfying under the constraints of common-aspect-ratio frames. I also like some uniformity of presentation on my walls at home (which is the only place my images are ever likely to be displayed).
In my workflow, I always try to crop to my image’s ‘voice’, and I also try to fit that cropped image into an aspect ratio that’s commonly available for frames and mats. I have a couple of preferred ARs, but the cropped image makes the decision for me.
I don’t doubt that I’m missing something, but to me, the AR seems to be a crucial part of how I’m going to present my print. Right or wrong, I haven’t ignored it ever since I discovered that I have alternatives to 3:2 bring their own benefits to both composition and presentation. But then, I’m largely self-taught – which means that I’m always still learning from my mistakes and shortcomings – or at least trying to.
So I wonder if my description of how I use cropping and aspect ratios makes enough sense for anyone to critique my approach and tell me how I can improve this part of my workflow? Or maybe just talk to me about all this. Or maybe just let me know that I’m making something out of nada, and I should go see my witch doctor…
I’d like to hear more about this from folks who print their images. Am I just out in left field? What am I missing here?