There are times when I really struggle with composition when I’m cropping an image. To a degree, composition is a matter of taste and personal preference, though most folks would agree on a few major principles. Some of those might be:
- avoid clipping body parts or cropping too tight on the subject
- the subject usually (though not always) should not be centered in the frame
- leave plenty of room in the frame in the direction the subject is facing, looking or flying (in the case of birds)
Where I sometimes run into difficulty making a composition decision is when there are other compositional elements in the image that I might like to include in the final version of the photo. Thanks largely to the influence of Richard Ditch, I’ve become fond of strong graphic lines in some of my images, as long as those lines come from natural or rustic elements (power poles or wires just won’t cut it with me).
This summer I photographed a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on an old, rustic pole fence in Beaverhead County, Montana and I’m having a very difficult time making cropping decisions on some of those images. My natural tendency is to crop fairly tightly on the bird to get good detail on the subject but I also like the graphic lines provided by the fence with different cropping choices. Several times I’ve thought I’d finally figured out which version I prefer, but when I came back to the computer a few hours later and looked at them one more time I was again undecided. Compositional mind games!
The four images below are a case in point. All four were taken within a few seconds of each other and from the same vantage point, so the backgrounds are the same. The poses are nearly identical and the hawk didn’t move on the perch. Techs on all four were: 1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 400, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc.
Horizontal composition that takes advantage of the graphic line provided by the fence rail.
Vertical composition to match the vertical pose of the hawk and allow the lower fence rail to provide another graphic line.
Another vertical crop that includes all three fence rails, wire and vegetation at the bottom but makes the bird significantly smaller in the frame and higher in the composition.
A relatively tight crop on the bird, which shows off the subject better but loses most of the graphic lines of the fence.
I’m curious how some of my readers may react to these different compositions and wonder which one(s) you might prefer. Just because I’m fond of graphic lines and rustic fences doesn’t mean that others necessarily have the same tastes. And since I’m not the only “consumer” of my photographs, I’d value any feedback along these lines that you’d care to share.