I am a photographer that likes to compose my images full frame in the camera with as little cropping as possible. Often when I'm out photographing, I already have a pretty good idea of what the composition will look like even before I have my camera set up and have tripped the shutter to make the photo. However, it can be challenging at times before I find the right composition. Other times composition happens unexpectedly when what I thought was going to work as a great composition just doesn't work, take the example posted, I was photographing at Ellison provincial Park near Vernon BC and was struggling to find the right composition as nothing "felt" quite right, then the camera, on a tripod and on a ball head accidentally slipped over to one side due to the fact I had not tightened the ball head enough, I was looking at looked at the focusing screen when this happened and when it tilted over I thought that's it, perfect!
One can Methodically examine the composition of a print and look at what worked and what didn't, but it's actually when taking the photograph where everything comes into play and every situation is different. I know that when I'm looking through the viewfinder of my camera I have a feel for what it should look like, but I can't explain how I got to know what is right or doesn't feel right in terms of compositional balance, it's having the right balance of the various elements within the frame which is the key. I think that looking at the work of other photographers including painters has been a great help to me, and sometimes when I am really stuck I use a small plastic framing card with to "frame" things up. Often its the interpretation of the scene before me that works the best, I try not to put too many elements into the frame but keeping things simple, with photography it's not what you put in the camera frame lines but its what you leave out.
To crop or not to crop:
Sometimes the original compositional idea just doesn't work and it makes sense to crop the photo afterward.
I feel that cropping a photograph for stronger artistic composition is a personal preference, and it can make for a stronger image. However, many photographers believe in presenting a full frame image with no cropping. Personally, I have always admired the work of photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, the originator of street photography who never liked to crop his images. I also love the work of photographer, Edward Weston using an 8 x 10 view camera and making contact sheets, where he had no choice but to present his photographs "full frame".
When I was working as a newspaper photographer for the Kelowna Daily Courier, my photos were cropped on a regular basis, sometimes by the editors or by myself when I am editing through my digital images, for instance from a sporting event like hockey , I often cropped an image for more impact so there is less "dead" space around the players, with other feature and news photos I left them full frame to convey all the elements to help tell a story in a pictorial way.
Each photographer has their own unique style in terms of how they look at the world through with their cameras and lenses. I think cropping is a personal preference, each photographer has their own way of looking at things in terms of how they present their work, there is no right or wrong way. For my fine art black and white work I almost never crop my images as I always try to shoot full frame when I make the picture, even when I shoot with the square format Rolleiflex.
I think one of the keys to making a good photograph is to have some kind of idea when out in the field as to how the finished image might look, that way when working on the photo afterward either on the computer or in the darkroom you will have a sense of where you are going with your photograph instead of just guessing and hoping for the best.
Ellison Provincial Park (No.651) near Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, November 1992. Copyright © Gary Nylander. Scanned from 4 x 5 negative. Tachihara view camera, 120mm lens, Tri-X film. The camera accidentally tilted on the tripod so I made the photograph at a skewed angle.
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