In this age of digital photo editing, it’s tempting to get lazy when you’re taking a photo out in the field and just say to yourself, “well, if I don’t like how I framed this, I could always crop it later.” But, there are a few disadvantages to relying on that crop tool too much:
#1 – Sharpness
When you minimize cropping, you maximize the area of your subject in the frame. That means you’re dedicating as many pixels as possible to your subject. And, the more pixels you dedicate to your subject, the sharper it will be.
You’ve probably noticed this when you try to photograph something really far away (like a flying bird), and since it’s so far away it only takes up a tiny amount of the frame. And, then when you crop it, it looks really unsharp.
#2 – Print sizes
When you crop your photos, you obviously take out a lot of the pixels, so this also reduces the maximum print size. This may not be a big deal for all types of photographs (such as close-ups, where you don’t always want super large prints). But, it’s extremely important for landscape images (which are normally printed in large sizes).
#3 – Depth of field
In close-up photography, you often want to isolate your subject against an out-of-focus background. This helps draw the viewer’s eye to your subject.
If you avoid relying on the crop tool in post processing, then this forces you to get closer to your subject in order to fill the frame with your intended composition. And, remember that as you move your camera closer to your subject, depth of field decreases (giving you a more out of focus background).
It’s okay to rely on cropping sometimes
I do think there are some situations where it’s perfectly fine to rely on the crop tool, especially when you can’t even fill the frame with your subject anyway (which is often the case with any kind of wildlife photography). But, when possible, get your composition correct in the field. Take the time to really think about how you want that final image to look.
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About the Author: Steve Berardi is a naturalist, photographer, software engineer, and founder of PhotoNaturalist. You can usually find him hiking in the beautiful mountains and deserts of southern California.