Foundations of Photography: Composition
Illustration by Petra Stefankova

Recomposing an image with the Crop tool


Foundations of Photography: Composition

with Ben Long

Video: Recomposing an image with the Crop tool

Ben: Whether you use Photoshop, Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, CaptureNX, whatever, your image editor has lots of amazing image-adjustment technology in it. With it, you can make corrections and changes that simply weren't possible in a darkroom. That said, one of the most powerful tools in your image editor, the one you might end up using the most, is the simple Crop tool. With the Crop tool, you can recompose your image after you've taken it. Sometimes you'll shoot with a crop in mind; at other times you'll refine your original image by giving it a crop.
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  1. 12m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 47s
    2. Using this course
      7m 27s
    3. What you need to know
      2m 50s
  2. 2m 47s
    1. What is composition?
      2m 1s
    2. All form, all the time
  3. 12m 34s
    1. How your camera is not like your eye
      2m 52s
    2. Looking vs. seeing
      2m 25s
    3. Vision and attention
      2m 13s
    4. Dynamic range
      1m 59s
    5. Seeing exercises
      3m 5s
  4. 36m 48s
    1. What all good compositions have
      1m 8s
    2. Subject and background
      3m 5s
    3. Balance
      7m 20s
    4. Point of view
      3m 22s
    5. Simplicity
      2m 59s
    6. Finding and capturing a good photo
      2m 11s
    7. Working the shot: Why one is never enough
      6m 41s
    8. Practicing
      3m 24s
    9. Why black and white?
      2m 21s
    10. Exercise: Practicing the fundamentals with points
      4m 17s
  5. 41m 48s
    1. Lines
      7m 7s
    2. Analyzing lines
      6m 35s
    3. Exploring a town
      4m 7s
    4. The Franklin Hotel
      2m 7s
    5. Shapes
      10m 13s
    6. Repetition: Arranging the elements
      1m 37s
    7. Rule of threes
      1m 36s
    8. Perspective
      1m 47s
    9. Symmetry
      1m 10s
    10. Focal length, camera position, and depth
      2m 27s
    11. Intersections
      1m 41s
    12. Exercise: Practicing fundamentals with geometry
      1m 21s
  6. 10m 38s
    1. Working a shot, revisited
      3m 21s
    2. Understanding the photographic impulse
      2m 58s
    3. Warming up
      2m 16s
    4. Exercise: Get your feet moving
      2m 3s
  7. 35m 7s
    1. Thirds: How rectangular frames are weighted
      2m 20s
    2. Tonal balance
      3m 52s
    3. Content balance
      1m 20s
    4. Squares: Weighting the corners
      2m 24s
    5. Composing people
      3m 42s
    6. Composing landscapes
      3m 53s
    7. Sometimes you can't get the shot
      1m 12s
    8. Practicing thirds with points and geometry
      1m 45s
    9. Practicing squares with points and geometry
      1m 12s
    10. Image analysis: The work of Steve Simon
      13m 27s
  8. 19m 6s
    1. It's the light
      1m 50s
    2. Direction of light
      8m 30s
    3. Texture
      2m 7s
    4. Shadows and negative space
      1m 19s
    5. Exposure concerns
      2m 44s
    6. Keeping one eye on post
    7. Light as subject
      1m 38s
  9. 18m 59s
    1. Introducing the workshop location and instructors
      1m 2s
    2. Assignment: Finding light
      5m 17s
    3. Shooting the light
      3m 14s
    4. Critiquing the light assignment
      9m 26s
  10. 22m 11s
    1. The basics of color
      1m 4s
    2. When to shoot color
      3m 56s
    3. How to shoot color
      2m 47s
    4. Practicing color composition
      1m 4s
    5. Image analysis: The work of Paul Taggart
      13m 20s
  11. 16m 48s
    1. Entry and exit
      5m 41s
    2. Framing
      2m 17s
    3. Examining the composition of this set
      2m 28s
    4. Narrative
      1m 55s
    5. When the scene doesn't fit in the frame
      3m 13s
    6. Guiding the viewer's eye
      1m 14s
  12. 13m 36s
    1. Assignment: Foreground and background
      3m 4s
    2. Shooting foreground and background relationships
      2m 19s
    3. Critiquing the foreground and background assignment
      8m 13s
  13. 34m 24s
    1. Planes
      5m 13s
    2. Controlling depth
      4m 54s
    3. Juxtaposition
      2m 58s
    4. Fear
      4m 3s
    5. Layers
    6. Image analysis: The work of Connie Imboden
      16m 21s
  14. 41m 21s
    1. Recomposing an image with the Crop tool
      7m 23s
    2. Resizing an image
      8m 9s
    3. Tone
      8m 54s
    4. Altering the perspective in Photoshop
      4m 38s
    5. Changing composition through retouching
      6m 16s
    6. Vignetting to drive attention
      6m 1s
  15. 10m 22s
    1. Workshop wrap-up and exhibition
      3m 13s
    2. Workshop students' final thoughts
      7m 9s
  16. 1m 0s
    1. Final thoughts
      1m 0s

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Watch the Online Video Course Foundations of Photography: Composition
5h 29m Intermediate Dec 22, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Composition can make an interesting subject bland or make an ordinary subject appear beautiful. In this course, photographer and author Ben Long explores the concepts of composition, from basics such as the rule of thirds to more advanced topics such as the way the eye travels through a photo.

The course addresses how the camera differs from the eye and introduces composition fundamentals, such as balance and point of view. Ben also examines the importance of geometry, light, and color in composition, and looks at how composition can be improved with a variety of post-production techniques. Interspersed throughout the course are workshop sessions that capture the creative energy of a group of photography students; shooting assignments and exercises; and analyses of the work of photographers Paul Taggart and Connie Imboden.

Topics include:
  • Looking versus seeing
  • Understanding when and why to use black and white
  • Analyzing lines
  • Arranging the elements into lines and shapes
  • Working with perspective and symmetry
  • Changing focal length, camera position, and depth
  • Dividing rectangular frames into thirds
  • Weighting the corners in square pictures
  • Composing photographs of people
  • Composing landscape photos
  • Working with light: direction, texture, and negative space
  • How to shoot color
  • Guiding the viewer’s eye
  • Controlling depth
  • Improving composition in post-production
Ben Long

Recomposing an image with the Crop tool

Ben: Whether you use Photoshop, Aperture, iPhoto, Lightroom, CaptureNX, whatever, your image editor has lots of amazing image-adjustment technology in it. With it, you can make corrections and changes that simply weren't possible in a darkroom. That said, one of the most powerful tools in your image editor, the one you might end up using the most, is the simple Crop tool. With the Crop tool, you can recompose your image after you've taken it. Sometimes you'll shoot with a crop in mind; at other times you'll refine your original image by giving it a crop.

Now it may sound strange to devote an entire discussion to the lowly Crop tool when a program like Photoshop has such amazing technology as Content-Aware Fill and Perspective correction, but cropping is a critical post-production task. I've been asking you to shoot in black and white throughout this course and yet here we are looking at a color image. That's because cropping, or any action that will result in a crop of your image, should be one of the first steps of your post-production workflow. The reason for this is twofold.

First of all, if you're going to go on the black-and-white conversion or if you are going to stay in color but perform tone or color corrections, you want your histogram to be as accurate as possible, so you want to go ahead and crop out any extraneous material. More importantly though, if you think an image needs a crop, you need to find out if that crop is successful before you waste any time with further edits. It doesn't make sense for me to go on here and start my black-and-white conversion process, if I later crop and find out that he crop doesn't work. Now obviously sometimes you don't know that an image needs a crop until you've already started editing.

But here's a case where I know that I want to crop my image before I do anything else, and I want to try that crop to see if this is going to work. I was standing in this field. Suddenly, I don't know where this crop duster came in. I didn't have time to think much about my composition or change my camera position at all. I simply had to work as quickly as I could with the elements at hand, which were the moon, these tire tracks, and this plane that was moving across my frame. I got this. It's not bad. But there are some things that I don't like. I've got a lot of extra sky in here. That's making these elements seem kind of bumbled up here in the center, and I would like them to feel like they are spread more across the frame.

I've also got this shadow that I need to deal with. So this is what I'm talking about when I say that I can recompose my image after the fact. Now that doesn't mean that I can recompose this image to include the Empire State Building or something like that, but I can recompose it to make the balance and overall feel of the image a little bit different. I can change the relationship of the elements within the scene. This is the Crop tool in Photoshop. It looks like a Crop tool. If you've never seen a Crop tool in real life, just trust me, one looks roughly like this. If you're using a different image editor don't worry. The things you are going to see here are probably also available in your image editor of choice.

To define a crop, I simply click and drag out a rectangle. When I let go of the mouse button, I see this. Photoshop has given me some handles that let me refine my crop, either changing the corners or just dragging the edges. It's blacked out everything outside of the crop to give me a better view of what my final image will look like. This is called a shield and I can turn it on and off if I would rather see what other elements are outside of the crop that I may want to work with. I can do that. I can change the color of the shield. I can change its opacity.

I can also turn on these grids. Right now, it's showing me a Rule of Thirds grid. I can also just have a grid. I'd rather have nothing. I don't want any distraction there. And so now I can work with refining my crop. So I am going to take out some of that extra sky. I am for sure going to crop out my shadow. And what I'm looking for here is the exact same thing I would do while I'm composing. I am trying to balance the shot. So with a crop more like this, I'm working the thirds a little bit more. I am getting the moon and these tracks over here in the left third, the airplane over here in the right third.

I'm kind of paying attention to where they're going out the corner of the frame, making sure that looks nice and thinking about my horizon line and where I might want it. So this looks pretty good; however, what if I wanted to print this to fit in a particular aspect ratio? In other words, if I have a frame that's 8x10, for example, if I want to make sure it will fit in that frame, I might want to constrain my crop. Aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of an image to the height, and I can tell Photoshop to crop to a particular aspect ratio. I am going to cancel this crop by clicking the Cancel button up there on the Crop Control bar. And what I am going to decide is I want to keep my original aspect ratio, which was an aspect ratio of 3:2.

So I am just going to enter a Width of 3, Height of 2, and now when I drag, I can only drag in a 3:2-constrained aspect ratio. When I let go of the mouse button, I no longer have edge handles; I only have corner handles. So I can't change an individual edge because that would affect the aspect ratio of my image. Note that I can click within a crop area whether I am constrained or not and simply drag it around to get the crop where I want it. Once I've got the crop that I like, I can double-click within the cropping rectangle or simply hit the Return key to take that crop.

So let's look at some before-afters here. Here is my original image that you've just seen, and here is a completely finished, cropped, black- and-white and toned result. So as you can see, it's tightened up. I like the composition a little bit better. Here's a case where the photographer did not have a long enough lens to get the crop that they wanted. We were walking along this beach in Oklahoma. I know, that sounds weird to me too. But there are some very nice beaches in the Quartz Mountain State Park. And he just couldn't get the zoom that he wanted.

We got this bush in here which is a little bit extraneous. So a simple crop gives me a tighter image. Again I've simplified my image. I've taken out some extra stuff. I've recomposed it more to the thirds and generally got a better composition. Another example, shooting someone running this video camera here. In general, the positioning of him is nice, but I have got this extra post behind him that I don't like. A crop lets me take it out and help get focus more onto my subject. Here is an image that you saw me working earlier in the Shapes example.

Now when I shot this, I shot it with the intention of cropping it to a square. My camera can't shoot in a square crop, so now I need to go in and perform that crop. In Photoshop, I can get a square crop simply by placing the same number in both fields. I am going to clear this out, enter a 1 in both. I could put a 3 or 5 whatever. Just because this says 1 inch doesn't mean that I'm actually necessarily stuck with a one-inch image, because after I've cropped, I can go into my Image Size dialog box and as you can see, I've got plenty of pixels to size this up.

We are going to talk about image sizing in the next movie. But that's a square crop by putting simply the same number in both. And finally, let's take a look at a fairly extreme crop. These were some birds that I chased out of a field. I took off into the air and I got this. It didn't come out as interesting as I wanted, because I was not in the best position. But a really extreme crop gets my something very interesting. They look like bats or mosquitoes or something. How extremely you can crop depends on how many pixels your camera shoots, and we'll explore that in more detail in the next movie.

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