Image cropping is much more than having an object in the frame
For example, I have been told I should remove the random trash on the left-hand side. I could easily edit it out with Photoshop, but that would break the rules of journalism. What do you think, is it ok to crop it out?Image composition is about telling impactful stories by playing with dynamics and content, balancing with integrity and aesthetics. At it’s best, the composition is felt from the heart. When dealing with digital images, framing a photograph once is not enough. A picture will be cropped to multiple shapes and sizes throughout its lifetime. That is why we built Frameright.
No matter how strict a photographer is with their composition, the fact is that every image published to the public will end up butchered to fit the digital platforms. The only place one can find static crops is on the gallery walls. And when those exhibitions are advertised online, pictures will get cropped.
The problem with the increasing number of different shapes is that it is very hard to control the actual composition. This leads to images looking a bit off or, in the worst-case, showing a totally different story. I have also noticed a change in the way we shoot. As a photographer, I am no more free to shoot what I see. Instead, I need to think of how the image will fit and adapt to automatic center crops or an object recognizing AI. Shooting like this makes the expression dull and leaves no room for experimentation and surprise. These developments are diminishing visual culture in two ways. Photographers are not able to express themselves and, even worse, people get used to dull and crooked pictures.
Another long-forgotten aspect is moral rights, which are the personal rights that the creator has to their work. Depending on the jurisdiction, they can be enforced from the creation of the work for the duration of the creator’s lifetime and up to 70 years after death. Moral rights include many things, but what is interesting in this context is the “right of integrity”. This means that “no one can change your work without your permission” and “no one can show your work in a way that damages its meaning”. This means that composition should not be touched without permission from the creator.
Silently everyone has given up on this. Often the explanation is that it is just not technically possible to control, so it’s ok. We did not agree and built tech to solve this issue.
Composing images is fun, especially when you use the right tools for it. If you google image composition, you will get plenty of hits that will get you started by teaching you about the rule of thirds, golden cuts, leading lines, diagonals and triangles. That is an excellent starting point to learn about the different ways of expression and building engaging stories.
Composing is about nurturing the dynamics of the entire image and balancing the components in order to gently lead the eye to the right place.
But what really happens when you compose a picture remains a mystery. That is why AI only approaches are risky. For me, cropping is a mixture of maintaining the integrity of the story, making sure it portraits the world equally (inclusion) and is aesthetically interesting. Below I have illustrated how I see the dynamics of making crop decisions that are “felt from the heart”
I cannot exactly describe what happens in my mind when I crop, but these are the three important things to consider:
1. Story: What is important in the image? Does the picture match the story? Will cropping change the story? For these reasons an augmented approach, where human control is leveraged, is crucial.
2. Inclusion: Does the picture represent the world we live in? This is something everyone should always consider. It is important to be inclusive and to prevent things like what happened to Vanessa Nakate repeating.
3. Aesthetics: Is the picture interesting to look at? Does it engage? Is it balanced but not boring? What paths do the viewer’s eyes follow? A beautiful and balanced picture tells the story in the best way.
The more you work with images, the more you will start to feel the composition in your gut. But there are a few additional things to still consider:
a. Size & dynamics: Will it be a thumbnail or the main image? Are there possible distractions? Sometimes rotating the picture a bit will bring better results and give more space.
b. Distractions: When you change the shape, you will change the balance. This might create surprising new distractions. Pay attention to how limbs are cut or if an object is just barely touching the border of the image.
c. Additional elements in the layout: Often, a design will introduce graphical elements on top of the image. Frameright lets you predefine these and crop with those overlays in mind.
As a rule of thumb, if I don’t know yet where my image will be published, I usually save three crops (1:1, 2:3 and 16:9) to give the image a starting point for future usage. Here is a video on how to easily extract the metadata for individual usage on our extract tool. Or you can even integrate Frameright into your publishing process to automatically always use the right version of the picture.