Is cropping a sin?

How do you silence a room full of photographers? By asking if they crop their pictures. In photography, cropping is taboo. Henri Cartier-Bresson disapproved and many have followed suit. At the risk of being disgraced, I admit that I sometimes crop.

Why is an uncropped picture sacred? In the early days of 35mm format, film emulsions weren’t as good as they are now, so it made sense to use the whole negative. And attitudes hardened when editors and layout artists started cropping images to serve their own needs. Understandably photographers got defensive. Some insisted on their pictures being used full frame – or not at all.

With improved film emulsions and large sensors in digital cameras, I think it’s time to call a truce. Take this scene from Deptford market in south east London. Here are the original and cropped images:Mannequin_heads_on_market_stall

Mannequin_heads_on_market_stallFor me, cropping has improved both the shape and composition of this picture.

Talking of picture shape, I’m surprised that 35mm format still dominates photography. It’s quite a strange shape, which came about by accident. In the 1920s, when Oskar Barnack designed the Leica rangefinder camera, he adapted the perforated film used in the cinema. Doubling the frame size (from 24mm by 18mm to 24mm by 36mm) he changed the shape of the picture frame – and rivals copied him. 24mm by 30mm would suit me better – a less elongated rectangle with sides in the ratio of 5 to 4. Are you listening, camera manufacturers?

Purists might insist that the only true image is an uncropped one, but aren’t they forgetting that any photograph is a cropped version of reality? If you’re willing to break the silence, I look forward to hearing your views on the matter.

6 Responses to “Is cropping a sin?”
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