To crop or not to crop

To the left (possibly below if you’re on a mobile device) is a sheet of 10×8 photographic paper. I laid a strip of 35mm negatives across the top from which you can see that the 35mm negative needs to be enlarged by a factor of over 35x to fit on the paper.

With such a large surface area to cover it makes sense to use as much of the negative as possible without cropping in and losing valuable real estate.

I do like to get things right in-camera but am no purist as at the end of the day the final result is the most important thing. As we’ve seen though the enlargement of a 35mm negative to a 10″x8″ print is quite a jump. So, when printing the negative below my initial thought was to print the full frame.

Left, the test wedge and right the first print

Now, this image is 100% reflection in a restaurant window. There are no external elements, everything is on or beyond the glass frontage of the building. Once I had the first print on the desk in front of me my eye was constantly being dragged to the top of the frame. Firstly, it’s bright so naturally attracts the eye. Secondly, that part is sky as you can see and the filth on the window rendered as a not-so-nice texture on the print. I decided therefore to crop the image to eliminate both distractions. I could of course have burnt in the sky but with that jagged roofline the pragmatic choice was to crop.

In the end I think the pragmatic decision to crop also gave a stronger composition too so win-win.

Sometimes I will find myself in a situation where I cannot make the composition I want directly in-camera so then I compose with a view to cropping later. The scene below is a case in point although I did include the whole negative when making the first full test exposure just in case. I was using a Bronica SQ-A which produces negatives 6cm x 6cm on 120 roll film. These are considerably bigger than a 35mm negative so the enlargement required is not as large, nevertheless I try to avoid cropping where possible.

Taken expecting to crop, I did however print the full negative before deciding my gut instinct was sound

So, there we have it. Two images strengthened by cropping, one a 35mm negative and the other 6x6cm on medium format film. What’s your thoughts? If you are a digital worker does the question of cropping become a moot point owing to the large sensor sized in modern digital cameras? Perhaps cropping considerations are greater for us folk who still insist on printing in a darkroom*.

  • for transparency I also use digital cameras and print on an inkjet printer from time to time which includes film images that have been digitised with one of my digital cameras. I therefore embrace all three “camps” – digital, hybrid and traditional.

14 thoughts on “To crop or not to crop”

  1. Because of weight problems I now only carry a compact camera with a lens of 24 -70mm, so even though it is digital I still find that I have to crop quite a lot. Obviously it can affect the final image, but as I don’t print above A4 it doesn’t bother me too much

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been using old 35mm rangefinders a lot recently and really enjoying the weight saving. A small 35mm lens (I’m using M39 screw thread) and I’m good to go.


  2. Interesting article. I also like to get things right in camera now, years ago I would take an image with the view to cropping it in the darkroom. My most modern digital camera is an Olympus EPL1 12mp, can’t crop too much, but do more often than with film. Think I need to get the old Rolleiflex loaded up and take it out for a spin.

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  3. Crikey, diving into a contentious area! I struggle with cropping as I hate discarding stuff. That’s sometimes at the expense of a better image. As analogue shooters, we tend to use zooms less than the digital guys, which poses a challenge. I can’t fault your logic when it comes to the images you have shared. If it comes to a choice between a better image or a higher quality image, it should be no contest for the true artist. I consider myself a technician and tend to include the whole original frame.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL! I’d not intended to be controversial 🤣 I don’t use zoom lenses (in fact I think the only zooms I possess are for my digital cameras) and much prefer using primes. As you will have noted I always print the full negative first … easier to make cropping decisions with a print than with a 35mm negative on a light box. My aim is always to keep as much of the negative as possible but the final image matters too – it’s a fine balance between aesthetics and technical excellence. Thanks for commenting – always appreciated!

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  4. It’s all digital at my end but mastering the image I want in camera is always my aim. Like you there are occasions where a photograph is taken with a view to cropping maybe because I am unable to zoom with the camera. If I suspect an image will be made stronger with cropping I will experiment in post. Sometimes it will be a sure thing and the image is improved. On other occasions I cannot escape that my eye knows something is missing! 😀 On those occasions it is a simple decision and is my cue to revert to the original. Having worked early years with film cameras my approach remains to get it right in camera. I’ve enjoyed your post and reading the other comments. Cheers 🙂👍📷✨

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  5. I have no qualms about cropping when necessary to produce an image for social media and/or printing. I am a digital darkroom person and use Affinity Photo 2 to produce my photos, I try to keep my edits minimal, but have cropped 35mm and digital photos to square aspect ratio. I do it on purpose sometimes if I see a composition that would look great as a square crop, but I don’t have a 6×6 camera with me.

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    1. Thanks Jim, to my mind cropping is simply another tool in our toolbox, one I use sparingly when printing 35mm in particular but nevertheless a perfectly valid tool. All the best

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another informative post. I for one am learning a great deal both from you Dave and the other film shooters. I like the idea of printing first and then looking to crop later. Wonderful to get a marker/pencil out and draw on a print to help achieve the desired result.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Gerry. I use both traditional darkroom techniques and also a hybrid approach so best of both worlds!


  7. Yes agree, this image with the reflection is looking better cropped. The bright part on the top just take too much attention. Personally i’m trying to compose my taken on film images “properly”. Actually same about the digital. I don’t like doing cropping. Just think twice before i push the button. It’s not same about the quick documentary when there is no time to think twice, but somehow i success with the right for me in camera cropping-composing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Victor. I endeavour to compose in-camera wherever I can but unfortunately that’s not always possible as you rightly note.

      Liked by 1 person

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