“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.” —Diane Arbus
One question I’m often asked at workshops is my thoughts about cropping. As someone who grew up shooting film I have always believed that your cropped in camera but as I shot more an more using a 6×6 Hasselblad, I came to realize that some kind of cropping is inevitable but not always desirable.
After you make an image, you can use Photoshop to crop producing the exact image you had in your mind but when you do there is a price: You are tossing away pixels. This is what’s wrong with the so-called digital zoom functions that many cameras have. You get the image you want but the resolution is less. Tip: Crop in camera when you can.
If you shoot with a Zoom lens use it to frame the image exactly the way you want before tripping the shutter. If you don’t have a zoom lens use your feet as a zoom and move around to get the subject framed just the way you want. Often taking a single step closer to our subject will improve the composition more than you might otherwise think. Don’t forget what Ernst Haas once said, “The most important lens you have is your legs.”
If neither of these alternatives works with a given photographic situation use the Crop tool sparingly. And on the few occasions when I do crop (and I am becoming less dogmatic about this as I get older) I use Photoshop’s Original Ratio option, keeping the image the same shape as the original file. Sometimes with landscapes I jump on the 16:9 ratio because I love that wide-screen and HD video look. And I realize I’m being inconsistent here.
If you want to hedge your best, use the Image Size controls and check the Resample Image using the Bicubic Automatic option. A few years ago I tested a bunch of resizing programs and found that in a blind test Photoshop’s Bicubic scored as high as external programs.
But remember there is no free digital lunch. Every pixel you crop out is one that is lost forever.