Photography forum: The Basics of Good Composition--Cropping our Photos

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Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
Nov 17, 2015 7:48 PM CST
Hi everyone!

Today I'd like to talk about photo editing and how to crop our photos using WINDOWS LIVE PHOTO GALLERY so that you can get the best out of each and every photo composition. Of course, any photo editing program will have cropping capabilities, so if you're working from a Mac find the program that came with it and you can follow along. If you're at all like me, you may have a hard time (even a very hard time) keeping the camera from shaking or holding it steady for the shot, especially when zoomed in very close. As often as I possibly can I do use the tripod because of it. If you have similar problems with it, it would be an excellent investment to purchase a tripod. I think you can get one for, maybe, 40.00, possibly less that would work just fine if you're not using a full size DSLR and some of the higher priced ones will hold the heavier DSLR's just fine. If you're worried about it toppling over, most of the better ones have a hook in the center where you can weight it down to avoid that. I think most of those following these tutorials may be using the new point and shoot cameras and those would do fine on the tripod without breaking the bank.

But, let's begin with the tutorial on photo editing. I found a short video on Youtube that would help those who aren't familiar with WINDOWS LIVE PHOTO GALLERY. There are some other videos as well if you need more help, or, feel free to ask me any questions you have as I'm more than happy to help you!

The first element we'll look at is cropping. I rarely frame a shot that I use right out of the camera, or, after loading into the computer because I don't do a lot of landscape shots. And, in fact, because I do so much micro/macro, that when I compose my composition before pressing the shutter, I tend to zoom out just a bit and leave myself some room to crop it. When you're doing macro photography, you run the risk of zooming in too far and you have no room to crop it because the composition doesn't allow it. Many times cropping covers a multitude of sins! Smiling I hope you're already being more conscious of background distractions and either moving your entire body, or, making slight adjustments with the camera one way or the other to eliminate them. This editing program is "not" photoshop and you can't take wide swaths of mess-ups out of the photo, so, keep that in mind. I don't even own Photoshop because it's now so expensive that only professionals can afford it and I don't really have the patience to learn an entirely new computer program, which is what it would take.

So, why would you want to edit your photos? Well, there's actually many reasons, the first being that with just a few tweeks you can bring out more contrast, fix some slight over-exposures, or, bring in more highlights or shadows. And then there's cropping, which I think is the single most important editing tool you're likely to use if everything else is just right. Cropping can bring the photo forward and eliminate some minor distractions. It can also shift the point of interest to one side or the other if you'd rather not have the subject dead center. You'd also want to crop the photo for printing the finished product. If you've noticed when printing different sizes, such as 4x6, or, 5x7, etc., many times part of your photo will get chopped off and will be out of balance or off center from your original. If you had the main subject to the left a bit, when printing different sizes, it may get shifted to a position that detracts from the original. When I'm resizing a photo or editing it, I always work from a copy and keep the originals in a separate folder and leave them completely unchanged! Edit only those copies you've put in a separate folder and you can crop them for the different size prints in order to preserve the format for whichever size you've chosen for printing. I'll demonstrate that a little further on. So, first let's look at cropping our compositions. I've got some examples of my photos of the before and after's that I've done and I'll use the "copy" to show you how I took it from the original to the finished composition.

If you don't have the Windows Live Photo Gallery program (or an equivalent) you can download it here:

Otherwise, whichever program came pre-loaded with your computer will work just fine!

This is a photo I took while visiting Bob Selman at BLUE RIDGE DAYLILIES this Summer. If you're anywhere near the Blue Ridge Mountains in NC I highly recommend a visit to his daylily farm! The landscaping is absolutely gorgeous and the plants you receive from Bob are among the very best daylilies I've ever purchased!

Thumb of 2015-11-18/SheilaC/9d68aa
In this photo, there's a telephone pole on the right hand side that I thought was a bit distracting, so, I wanted to see if the composition would improve if I cropped it out.

Thumb of 2015-11-18/SheilaC/643026

So, I decided I did like it better and then I cropped some of the trees that were in shadow at the top and that resulted in bringing the whole composition forward a bit.

In the next one, there were several elements of it that I wanted to lessen by cropping it just a bit. There was a big patch of worn grass and the black weed barrier was very noticeable. The few power lines weren't that bad, but, since I was cropping it anyway....

Thumb of 2015-11-18/SheilaC/4e18db

Thumb of 2015-11-18/SheilaC/371522
I think that cropping helped a great deal in cleaning it up, but, I wanted to see if I'd gain anything by cropping the front bear spot out a bit, so, I did. Below is the final editing for that photo.

Thumb of 2015-11-18/SheilaC/3ce7e4

The last thing I did was to slide the histogram to the right just a hair and that brought in a touch more contrast in the overall composition.

I see that Dave and the Gang have begun the photo contest again this year and I want to wish everyone the best of luck with your entries!!!

Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
Name: Vickie
Elberfeld, Indiana, USA (Zone 6b)
Bee Lover Garden Photography Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Daylilies Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Region: United States of America
Region: Indiana Garden Art Annuals Clematis Cottage Gardener Garden Ideas: Level 2
Nov 25, 2015 12:01 PM CST
Like you Sheila, I do a lot of cropping. These are some very nice examples of how to maximize the pleasing aspects of a photo and take away the distracting features. I believe I have Windows Live Photo Gallery on my home computer, but have never used it to crop. My kids bought me Adobe Photoshop, so I have always used that, but I may just have to give Live a try. Thanks!
May all your weeds be wildflowers. ~Author Unknown
Name: Sheila Caldon
Aiken, SC (Zone 8a)
Dragonflies Butterflies Birds Dog Lover Region: South Carolina Plant and/or Seed Trader
Amaryllis Lilies Daylilies Pollen collector Seed Starter Clematis
Nov 29, 2015 4:34 PM CST
Hi Vickie!

Wouldn't I love to have Photoshop if I had the patience and the money for it! I'm saving for a dedicated micro lens (or) a zoom lens for my D7100. I hate that Adobe went the way they did, but, I'm so happy you were able to get it!

Thanks for your participation and encouragement!

Beauty pleases, not only the eyes, but, the heart as well. Sheila
Name: Cynthia (Cindy)
Melvindale, Mi (Zone 5b)
Hybridizer Irises Butterflies Charter ATP Member Birds Cat Lover
Region: United States of America Region: Michigan Vegetable Grower Daylilies Hummingbirder Heucheras
May 21, 2016 8:07 AM CST
Sheila, thanks for this info. May I ask you a question that I posed on a Canon forum. I have a Canon Elph, not my choice for a camera but it was a gift from my daughters for Christmas. The problem I am having is that it takes large pics in the 3mb range. I do sell on the Lily Auction and they require pics to be no more than 80kb. I take close up pics but by the time I crop them to get to 80kb, I loose most of the pic or it becomes blurry. After reading your post, I am thinking, like you mentioned, that I am getting too close to the flower when I take a pic, and that is the reason when I crop that I loose a lot of my flower pic. On several pics that I have cropped, I end up getting just the center of the flower and hardly any of the petals in able to get it to 80kb or under. Am I correct in assuming, like you mentioned, that I need to not get so close to the flower when I take a pic so that it leaves me with more room to crop??? Your help will be most appreciated!!!
Lighthouse Gardens
Name: Gene Staver
Portage WI 53901 (Zone 5a)
Houseplants Cat Lover Birds Cactus and Succulents Garden Photography Butterflies
Hummingbirder Garden Sages
May 21, 2016 11:20 AM CST
Composition is such a large and vast subject, I, myself, would not even try to "teach" it on-line. OK, I am not a good typist. I teach a class on Photo Composition at U. W. in Madison, WI. It is 6 hours long and just gets things started. Be careful, composition is composition but changing contrast and other alterations are not really part of composition. Perhaps a necessary task but not really composition. The photo software you use does make a huge difference. Maybe not in the results as much as in your frustration level and time spent. Photoshop and my brain do not get along. I do not own a copy. I use Irfanview as my default software. It is free and user friendly. I'd rather be out taking more pictures than sitting in front of the computer playing with shots already taken. Gene.

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Name: Sue Taylor
Northumberland, UK
Charter ATP Member Houseplants Annuals Garden Photography Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Foliage Fan
Frogs and Toads Container Gardener Cactus and Succulents Butterflies Birds Bee Lover
May 22, 2016 7:21 AM CST
I use Irfanview as well. I crop my photos quite often, mainly to emphasise or get rid of distractions.

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