Cropping and traumatization ;)

There is a lot to know about pixels and cropping and resolution, but I think the end result of all those things is how does the resulting image look. When I belonged to NPN for several years when I first started to do nature photography I was totally open to all types of critique – but at the same time I became somewhat traumatized by what I saw as an extremely strong emphasis on YOU HAVE TO DEVELOP THE SKILL TO GET CLOSER AND/OR YOU DON’T HAVE THE RIGHT LENS TO DO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO (which for me was everything except landscapes).

I did not want to use setups. The lens I have now, a 100-400mm with a 1.4 extender, is the most expensive lens I could get and, unless I drop it or otherwise break it, it will be the lens I keep using. So for the most part I took it for granted based on NPN critique that I would be limited to big Florida birds (where I lived at the time) and the occasional very lucky shot of a small bird.

We moved to the Atlanta area a little over 3 years ago, and my photography of necessity (and then thorough enjoyment) turned to small birds with the occasional large bird. Around that time my NPN membership lapsed and I felt that I was freer to do what I felt I needed to do regarding cropping. I got to know nature photographers in the Atlanta area, and one of them said at one point, “You have such great detail that you need to crop more so people can see that detail.”

It’s been a long time since I’ve figured the percentage of the original image my final image is. I am very aware of the potential issues with cropping, and I judge that by what I see, not by the numbers. Sometimes I may be wrong. More times than not my resulting image is, as far as I can tell, not visibly affected negatively by the crop. If it is visibly affected by the crop and I miss that it’s very embarrassing and I absolutely do want to know about it.

The UNEDITED image that I have posted here seems like a good example to ask your opinions about how this image might be cropped. I have tried a major crop and I think it looks fine. Maybe I’m missing something. So I would like to ask anyone who is interested in commenting what your views are on cropping generally and then specifically with an image like this. Note that I do NOT think I shouldn’t have captured this image because I was “too far away.” I really love it. There’s something about chipmunks that really appeals to me. (Again, this is NOT a crop, this is the original image.)

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Getting up close is only one perspective. I always like images that show environment as well.


Sorry that this has affected you so negatively, but I’m glad it’s out in the open and we can deal with it and get more of your photography.

For me, cropping for wildlife comes down to one thing - detail. If you have crisp, “tack-sharp” focus where you want it, I think cropping to show that will serve the photo. If you don’t, but it’s close enough and everything else is good, an environmental presentation will serve. Here are two shots to illustrate what I mean -

Same lens, a 70-200 equivalent, but obviously the distance to subject was different. So without the detail in the second shot, I have no business trying to crop it to fill the frame. An extreme example, I know, but you see what I mean. In the first, it’s a bit of a crop, but really only to make it square. It holds up, but is also showing the bird’s habitat (Caddo Lake, Texas).

I think for tiny creatures it’s even harder to manage. Unless you’re standing on them, they’re going to be small in the frame. If you’re out doing wildlife photography, I have to assume showing the critter is your goal. A massive environmental shot of a tiny creature might not be doing that creature justice if you’ve got everything right including focus. So crop to serve the animal.

Also crop to serve you and your vision. In your photo here I think you have a bit too much environment for a portrait, which this clearly is. If you were trying to illustrate how small chipmunks are in relation to the rest of the world, it’s not wide enough. It looks accidental. My opinion only, so take it for what you will.

Stick to your guns if you think it serves your purpose, vision and subject. Crop to reinforce the strengths of the photo. Sometimes I’ll back off my zoom so that I can have more choice in that matter. Check out my discussion here for some similar chipmunk shots - Animal detection - #4 by Kris_Smith They’re all crops, but of varying degrees…the middle one was to illustrate the intervening undergrowth that’s mostly out of focus.

It’s taken me a long time to develop a thick enough skin about my work to take criticism. It is still sometimes hard, but I try to distance my emotions from the end result. Nature and maybe portrait photography are the most emotional types of work for the photographer, at least in my experience and so we may be setting up ourselves for a bit of a battering when it comes to critique, but in the end it will make us better if we pay attention and remember new lessons.

Ok. I’ll shut up now.

Thanks very much, @Kris_Smith . I just read briefly the first time through what you said, and I think I agree with all of it. I will check out your Animal detection discussion. It sounds like just the ticket to give me some more insight into this. :+1:

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Hi Barbara. I think in bird photography, there’s a natural tendency to want to fill the frame with the bird. I know I was that way when I started out and like many, I managed to put aside the money for a long prime lens. Then I was going on a trip and wanted something lighter and more versatile and changed to a zoom. That changed the way I shoot a lot. While I still do frame filling shots, I’ll also do much looser compositions. To me, the frame fillers are attention grabbers, but they’re not the ones I’d tend to print and hang.

As for cropping, if you have the focus dead on for the subject you can literally crop down to the size you’re going to post at and still have a perfectly fine image. So if you’re posting at 1500x1200 or thereabouts, you’re talking being able to crop down to a bit over 1.5 MP or under 10% out of your original! I’ve actually posted something close to that, and I don’t think anyone would have noticed if I hadn’t stated it. So the bottom line is, I take the pictures the way that suits me at the time and crop to what I like and don’t let it worry me.


Okay, @Kris_Smith , I’ve made a very considered crop here which has the pieces of the environment that to me made the scene what it was and yet because of its position in the frame it’s easy to see that the chipmunk is the reason for the photo (I think). I could go smaller but would then lose some of the green. In this photo the green was important to me. What is your thinking about this? And thank you!

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I think this is an excellent crop to eliminate elements/areas that are distracting or don’t contribute to a pleasing visual flow. The cute little chipmunk is a little soft to crop any further. Sharp focus was mentioned above, but there are other factors that can limit (or allow) the amount of crop. I don’t know what camera you have but they differ in resolution as well as focus accuracy, and that can be degraded by lens quality, how steady the camera was (appropriate shutter speed, good tripod or hand holding technique) and how still the subject is. I almost always shoot a short burst and often one frame is better than the others. But bottom line is, develop the file with the best noise reduction and “sharpening” you can and then examine at 100% on your screen to see what works for you. If the subject is rare or super-cute, I’ll relax my standards a bit.

Export to a web size and see if it passes muster. The 100-400 lenses are generally excellent and if the 1.4X is a good match with it, you should have excellent optics. And we have wonderful software tools now to make a good image better, but they won’t make a bad image good.

So you summed it up in your first sentence – what matters is how does the image look. But with today’s good monitors and printers, images need to look better than they did back in the last century.


Barbara: Cropping is another tool, just like the Saturation slider, or the Highlights slider, or the Shadows slider or… It can be used and it can be abused. In the end, the only thing that matters is what you like. If you feel like you’ ve been pushed to crop tighter then think of it as a choice, it isn’t a mandate, just a choice, just like all the rest of the choices we make in photography. There isn’t a right answer, only an answer that makes you happy as the creator. I wrote an article a while back that was probably published while you weren’t active here. Here’s the link:

It represents my thoughts on part of the issue you are referencing here.