Cropping and Composition

Other essays in this series

How do you find the ideal composition for a specific photograph?   How do you decide which format will best express the beauty of a specific scene?  This is indeed a difficult question and I have a new and powerful answer for you.

Finding the perfect composition when you are photographing, in the field, is not always easy.  Sometimes it is just too challenging to “see” exactly which format, which cropping, will work best.  This was the case with this photograph taken in Northeastern Arizona during a recent photographic expedition in March 2006. 

When I first saw this scene I was struck by the contrast between the fresh new green leaves and the red rock behind them.  I wanted to create a visual comparison between these two dramatically different elements, one organic –the trees whose appearance change with the seasons—the other static –the canyon walls and the boulders which pretty much stay the same year round and have been that way for eons.

Below is the full frame 35mm photograph of the canyon that I created as a direct response to this scene.  In this photograph I did not include any sky.  I thought this captured how I felt about this scene pretty well. However, when I saw the resulting image, I felt it was lacking and that a more powerful  composition was needed to really show how this scene looked to me.

Original 35mm full frame photograph. 
Canon Digital Rebel, Canon 17-40 f4 L zoom lens

To this end I created a 6x17, a 6x6 and a 6x12 version of this scene by cropping down the original 35 mm photograph.  Here are these three versions together with the crop marks that show how the original 35mm photograph was cropped for each format:

6x17 version

Original image with 6x17 crop lines

6x6 square version

Original image with 6x6 square crop lines

6x12 version

Original image with 6x12 crop lines

My personal favorite is the 617 version.  Yours may be different.  To me it best recreates how I felt at the scene.  The long panoramic format provides a nice comparison between the trees and the rocks.

So how did I figure out how to crop these images?  I used the Composition Format files, available on my Composition CD.  These files consist of photoshop layer files with 8 different masking formats in 3 different presentations. 

To use these files I imported my photograph in the layered mask file and then tried each mask in succession to see which one I liked best.  This took me only a few minutes, if that much, and right away I could see exactly how each image would look cropped to each specific format.  I then used the crop tool to crop each image to the format of the mask.

Here is a screen view showing this process.  On the screen shot below the 6x12 mask was used. The layers palette, on the right side of the screen, shows part of the other available masks:

Screen View of the mask layered files on Alain's Composition CD.
Here, the 6x12 mask is used.

You can find additional information on Alain’s Composition Mastery Workshop on DVD, on this page:

Alain Briot
March 2006

Essay and photographs Copyright © Alain Briot 2006
All rights reserved worldwide