Cropping and Framing

My initial understanding of framing is that it is part of the deliberate process of composition: the conscious decision about what to include and what to exclude in an image and therefore within the frame. This includes consideration of the image size and orientation as well as the positioning of objects in relationship to the frame and to each other.

My understanding of cropping is that it is the adjustment of the frame that takes place after the capture of the image and that it is often done to correct a poorly composed photograph, or to eliminate distracting objects. I have cropped my images for these reasons, using tools within Photoshop. I think post production cropping can be very useful,  particularly in situations where there isn’t the time or the opportunity to carefully compose an image that you would otherwise miss.

A photographer may also deliberately make a ‘loose’ frame to enable the image to be cropped later and therefore allow a specific size of print to be made without losing content. However, this has to be measured against the possible detrimental effect on image quality since post production cropping involves a reduction in the total number of pixels used to create the image.

My view that cropping is remedial seems to be backed up by Cartier-Bresson:

‘Some purists, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, printed the full frame of their images including the negative’s border to show they were uncropped in printing, and that the composition was created in the viewfinder of the camera, not later in the darkroom. Cartier-Bresson saw cropping as somehow ‘cheating’. (Ingledew 2013:201)

However, another definition of crop is as follows:

‘to alter the edges of a photograph by changing the position of the camera, adjusting … during printing or by trimming a final print’ (Ingledew 2013:257)

This caused me some confusion and challenged my view that framing is deliberate and cropping is remedial. If an image can be cropped by changing the position of the camera, how is that different to framing?

If a crop can be seen as an artificial boundary that invokes a feeling that there should be more visible within the image or that the image ends abruptly, then a photograph that is deliberately composed to invoke such a feeling could be seen as both framed and cropped. A photographer may adjust the position of the camera or re-frame an image, precisely to ensure a cropped appearance.

Alfred Stieglitz’s cloudscape (course notes p27) is an image that draws attention to the frame because of an apparent lack of composition. The impression is given that any section of the sky could have been used and, without reference points within the image, the viewer’s eyes travel towards the frame. However, this cropping is a deliberate technique to emphasise the framing of the image and the fact that this is a photograph: a two-dimensional object. For me, the lack of composition encourages a personal reflection on the vastness of the sky by showing only a small part of it.


Ingledew, John, (2013) Photography (Portfolio). London: Laurence King

Post script:

Further reflection on cropping and framing:

Following the exercises in part 2 of Expressing your vision, particularly exercises 2.1 and 2.2, which looked at the effect of focal length and viewpoint, it occurred to me that the difference between cropping and framing wasn’t quite so straight forward since it does not take perspective distortion into account.

An image can be cropped by using a longer lens – this will change the perspective distortion of the image. The same initial image, cropped in post processing instead will produce a different result since the perspective distortion will be retained as if a shorter lens had been used.


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