Close up photo fo a girl with black curly hair and nose ring

Get it right in camera!

We’ve all heard this before — from art school professors and workshop hosts to conference speakers and that one person in the photography Facebook group who comments on every post. Don’t get me wrong; it’s good advice. Great advice! I’m a film photographer. I know all about the idea of slowing down and trying to get it right the first time so you don’t waste a precious (and expensive) film frame. I’ve taught this concept and it will come up soon in my posts about composition.

photo of a woman framed by branches and leaves

What if You Don't Get it Right in Camera?

But here’s the thing: What if you don’t? What happens when you just don’t get it right in camera?

Most of the time, people do one of two things: Scrap the shot, or keep it exactly as is. But there’s another option! Crop it! Cropping is a simple tool that everyone knows about but don’t use often enough. Just the other day, I heard someone say their professor drilled into their heads that “cropping is for farmers.” It’s an amusing quote, and again, it’s good to be conscious of your crop when composing your shot. But no one is perfect. In the flurry of changing your settings and trying to capture the moment, we’ve all pulled the trigger too quickly. It’s okay! Sometimes even a blessing in disguise.

By considering cropping before you scrap it, you can create an image that you might not have taken otherwise. Cropping can create a more dynamic composition, focus your viewer’s attention to your subject, and remove distractions. Lightroom makes it super easy!

unstraigtened and straightened photo before and after

Straighten the Image First

One of the first things I do when I edit an image is straighten it if needed. Pressing the R key while in the Develop module in Lightroom brings up your crop tools. Changing the “angle” slider will straighten your image. This is especially necessary when there are lines in your image. Nothing is more distracting than crooked lines.

Straightening a photo in Lightroom

before and after cropping a photo of a blonde haired woman in a swimsuit with a tatoo

Use the Lightroom Preview Box

After I straighten, I like to play with the crop box, dragging the corners in and out and looking in the preview box to see what changes. Try creating a virtual copy and make a tight crop on one and a wide crop on the other and toggle back and forth between the two. Which one seems right? Which one makes you feel something? Experimenting like this showed me an image I would’ve never thought to make initially, like this one below.

before and after high fashion photo of a woman in a yellow dress

Try a Different Photo Orientation

Another trick is pressing the X key. This switches the crop box from a vertical orientation to a horizontal one, or vice versa. This provides a whole new perspective on the image and can be especially helpful for those who tend to shoot in only one orientation.

photo of girl with dark hair and nose ring looking over her shoulder

Create Dynamic Compositions

Cropping this image in tight makes it much more eye catching, and just look at her beautiful eyes!

photo of yellow haired woman lying on a couch with disco ball in her lap

Focus Attention on Your Subject

In this before shot, her face seems to be the subject, but when I was shooting this image, I was focused on the light pattern on her legs. Zooming in draws the viewer’s eye toward my intended subject matter.

photo of asian woman leaning against a railing with city skyline behind her

Remove Distractions

Cropping doesn’t have to be drastic. Look for distractions along the edges of your frame. Cropping them out is a subtle way to make your image the best it can be.

before and after cropping out distracting tree branches

Next time you have an image you’re unsure about, I hope you’ll experiment with the crop tool. It’s a simple tool that can make a big impact on your photos.

Do you have any questions or comments about cropping your photos? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And please share our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

Jordana Dale

Jordana Dale creates fine art and fashion imagery in the Atlanta area. She works solely on film, incorporating 35mm, medium and large formats and many types of instant films into her practice. Always looking to experiment, she’s constantly challenging herself to be as weird as possible, both in her work and life.