Cropping a photo correctly is money in the bank for a photographer. Even if you are shooting a cell phone picture, you likely have a crop tool readily available. With this tool you can select the finished contents of the frame and discard the rest. This can help define the main subject or adjust the composition of the photo. You can eliminate a boring or irrelevant part of the shot and zero in on the key element with a proper crop.
The crop tool allows you to set new boundaries for the image within the existing boundaries (typically), though you can also expand a photo and include additional space in a powerful program such as Photoshop. Let’s look at some key uses with some example photos.
Sometimes a crop is useful for eliminating a boring sky. A thin line of sky barely in the frame reduces the sky to a size that it is not likely to be perceived as plain or boring. Cropping a photo can save it. At right I show a picture of the cracked eggs formation in Bisti Wilderness (NM). By cropping almost all the sky out of the frame, the photo becomes more square in format and it focuses solely on the eggs, rather than a cloudless sky.
In a perfect world, the crop tool is used with a light touch. The main reason is that when one crops, one is discarding pixels, discarding information. It is best to shoot the image with the correct crop and retain all the pixels. But if you want a square image and your camera has a rectangular format, then a crop is inevitable. Try a few new crops on some existing photos and see if you can improve the composition or the focal part of the image by doing so.
A crop can also give you a twofer. The wide shot shown below right might be one legitimate look, while the crop another. The Facebook cover is a narrow rectangle, and you may well end up cropping to make the perfect picture for that purpose. The wide shot of the girl in the egg is one look, but another valid look is the corp of that image that highlights the face of the subject by eliminating the distractions of legs, shoes, and background. I just had to use these pictures, since ironically, these are two very different examples of “cracked eggs”. I might wisecrack, but the advice is not scrambled.