An Intro to the Art of Composition and Cropping in Photography


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Intro by Skip Cohen

In 2009 I spent three weeks at Hallmark Institute doing public portfolio reviews. One of the other “judges” was Gregory Heisler. The process was pretty basic. Each of the almost two hundred students, one at a time, would put up their portfolio (actual prints), and each of the three judges would critique the work.

The three judges approached each student’s work from a different perspective. For Gregory, it was often about the power of the images. Over and again he’d show how changing the composition and cropping of an image would add impact and completely change the story. Each time Gregory would critique a portfolio, I often learned as much as the students.

This week Suzette Allen is sharing something very different from her usual content and I LOVE IT! So many of you share images in the various forums that could be unforgettable, but because you ignored composition and cropping they become underwhelming. Just like Gregory, Suzette is sharing an outstanding set of tips to make your images more memorable!

You’re artists, but many of you have forgotten a few of the ground rules. That doesn’t mean you have to stick to them all the time, but as my old friend Don Blair used to say, “You have to know the rules before you have the right to break them!”

Creating great slideshows isn’t just about still images, video, and great music. You need terrific images to make your work more habit-forming. Photodex is giving you everything you need to put them together, but it’s your skill set and mind’s eye visions that capture the images and create presentations that exceed expectations! 


Check out ProShow8 with a click on the banner to the right. Then, put Suzette on your radar for useful tips to give your images and presentations more impact.

You’ve got the biggest selection of creative tools in the 190+ year history of photography, and between Photodex and Suzette there’s a never-ending supply of ideas to raise the bar on every image you share!

Balance is key- In life, in time management, in business and, yes, especially in photography! When we tell stories, we want our images to look pleasing and convey our message without distractions. We want to get to the point, or have viewers SEE our point quickly and clearly, not confused about the message. Many of those things can be accomplished by simply paying attention to composition and placing the important parts on the “power points” of composition.

Ideally, you would do this in camera when you capture an image, but it’s not vital. I believe in exploring a subject in every way and angle and vantage point to capture the strongest image. That means I evaluate later and many times, crop my image differently than the way I shot it. Sometimes you hit it perfectly- as if it was your 7th sense, but it’s great to know the tools to crop later if needed.
Let’s take a look at the typical cropping guides. The guidelines are overlaid on your image and the most impactful elements are placed on the intersections of segments. The points where they intersect are called the Power Points.

The first one, the Rule of Thirds, is probably the most common and the 4 intersections are easy to visualize for good composition. I also enjoy the Golden Spiral, based on the Fibonacci Sequence and use it quite a lot, placing my impact subject very near a corner. Triangles are another favorite, capitalizing on the diagonal line of energy!
Did you know, all of these overlays are available in PS and LR when you are in the crop tools? While you are using the crop tool, just press the “O” key to cycle through them to find the ones that fit best. When you get to one that has a right and left (like the triangle) or all 4 orientations, (like the golden spiral) press Shift+O and they will cycle through the options showing all positions. Once you get used to doing this, you will ALWAYS use this when cropping. Actually, after doing this for so many years, we develop an innate sense of what looks good, but it is still validating to see the overlay and know we are on the mark!
Because I want to be able to visualize these power points when I shoot, I overlapped all the cropping guides into one document and placed a red dot on each power point. Isn’t it interesting how they all line up on the diagonal, almost in a perfect line extending from the four corners? Once you are aware of that, you can visualize in your viewfinder when you are shooting to be conscious of those points and purposely shoot with good composition!
Here are some images that I modified with cropping to increase the impact. Any crop is permissible; it is a matter of taste; However, there are some stronger than others.
In this case, I photographed Rose centered in one, and in a perfect triangle in the other. The centered crop is ok, with a nice diagonal line of light in the grass, but I still liked it better cropped in the triangles pattern.
With my plum tree blossoms, a much tighter crop simplified the image and message. Then I painted it, giving it a soft delicate side and mood.
In this image, which I love, the gravestone was in the wrong position. But there was no way to shoot it with all the elements and have it be where I wanted. Photoshop to the rescue! I cut the gravestone out and moved it to where it looked best, and then finished the image. I love the light and the drama of this image. It is certainly a stronger composition with the headstone on the power point.
Next time you shoot pictures, think about mentally drawing that line from the corners and try to position the important subjects on the power points. Then check it and see how you did later on in PS or LR! Have fun.

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