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Wednesday, 19 March 2008


I think there is also a power in the grave stones stretching out forever. Her grace in greaving for her loss is stronger for the sheer numbers in the uncroped shot.

I agree, I think the long shot is it - and it is better as a color picture. The green and verdant Earth, the summer day, the summer girl, the fertile future, are all in the colors. All that James John Regan will not have....

Mike - I think maybe your comments engage in a little too much hyperbole, or are too extreme. Of course you want to see less sometimes - that's why you don't always shoot at the very widest focal length you can, and that's why you care about composition/perspective/frame size and aspect ratio in the first place. You are always in context-elimination mode, whether you realize or not - it's seminal to photography. Maybe this should have been shot with a 200 degree fisheye or as a 360 degree panorama? Do you think that would have lessened the image?


Is it possible the the image was cropped so that when it was printed in the newspaper (presumably at a very small size) the name on the tombstone could be read? Maybe the editors wanted this photo to not be anonymous.

But as a viewer, I completely agree with you that the whole picture is what I want.

Excellent observation about wanting to see as much as possible! Though I'm tempted to ask, re the black and white version, whether you can't sometimes see more in monochrome than you would see in color? It's all in the looking, after all. For me, the b/w version is very strong.

The full frame is so much more powerful.. Her bare feet, the other headstones.. I can picture her in that same pose having a picnic with him instead of here.. are those her parents waiting off to the right? Is that her Mom in a wheel chair?

It's true: to know where to crop or if to crop at all is a difficult thing. But an uncropped photo can sometimes be like a run-on sentence. It may give you more information, but perhaps that information only confuses the meaning. Some photographers, I suppose work like novelists and others like poets. And still others somewhere in between. One should know in one's gut how much is enough and how much is too much. But how short you write the tale, or how long, it's how best the idea is transfered that's important in the end.

I have seen this photograph at least a dozen times in the context of various media and i have to ask myself, of Mike, now "wtf is he thinking?" tearing other photographer's work apart not knowing their intention? it's a bit like Law and Order Criminal Intent, isn't it? Who, ultimately, is qualified to judge this stuff?

I assume you're responding mostly to people other than the photographer who crop. The photographer of course crops with every shot--more or less depending on where they stand, what angle-of-view their lens captures, etc. It seems reasonable that the photographer should have unlimited freedom to crop his/her own work during post-processing as well. A key element of subject selection and composition is what the photographer has decided not to include. Our walkabout lenses aren't usually fisheyes!

"I usually still want to see it.

I really think it's that simple."

OK, while personally I have no issue with cropping or controlling the view, color, tone, etc al for non documentary work any traditional photo is a crop of the place it is taken. This means every still image is a crop and every print is a crop.

If you really want to see more, then you need to start shooting and viewing VR's or virtual tours or 360 by 180 views. By their very nature, there is not one little bit of cropping, cut or traditional framing.

Which is why when I shoot 360's I never look through the lens to frame it, or in a sense by your definition crop it.

The cameras I use for 360 shooting have the view finder cover on all the time, never take it off. Why would I when I'm capturing all the possible views from a point in space. Looking through the lens (a cropped view) is actually not beneficial in my view as it removes your peripheral vision and that is part of a 360 image.


As always, thanks for the blog!


Indeed I, too, considered Richard's suggestions and concluded that either would detract from the image in my opinion.

While the crop concentrates the individual's emotions it presents a very different visual message. The original scene presents a broader context for the woman's grief. You cannot escape the thought that there has been at last one similarly grief-stricken person associated with each of those headstones. And how many headstones are really out there? (Look in the distance past the bystanders to see the adjacent burial field.)

Converting the image to b&w would also be poor judgement. The color image is documentary. The mottled grass color, the color of the flowers and flags on other headstones, the haziness all convey both a real moment as well as a reality. But the b&w version creates an artistic interpretation of the reality, as b&w always does. Instead of comprehending the grim reality of the scene our eye now first looks for geometric patterns of form and tone. Only after scanning for such candies do we realize that there's a grieving woman lying in the foreground. Removing the color drains the blood and tears from the scene.

Thanks for providing the visual evidence confirming (at least to me) my vision.

The radical crop you use to illustrate your point, doesn't save the message. An inappropriate crop like the one you used would lose the sense of location. But you understand that and I know you just used this example to exaggerate your point.

When people describe this photo to someone who has not seen it, they will talk about the girl and how she looks stretched out on the ground. They will describe the tombstones lined up and perhaps the little American flags here and there. It is those things that are the meat of this picture. The man in the upper right, or the trees across the top, won't be mentioned. They are unimportant. Trivial bits in a run-on sentence. But if you need to see him, write him into your next sentence, or put him into your next photo.

The photograph as it is is wonderful. But this photograph could be more than just be a great captured moment. It could be a work of art.

So, you have a fisheye lens on order?

You crop - when composing or afterwards - to show what you wanted to show. Not too much and not too little. The treetops and the grove on the right-hand side of that picture are cropped out; would the image had been better with those in the frame?


Your argument would indicate that you would prefer every picture to be taken with a fish-eye lens.

Jackie Robinson stealing home taken from the center field bleachers.
Not good, Mike.

"Of course you want to see less sometimes - that's why you don't always shoot at the very widest focal length you can"

But here I was talking not about the original act of seeing on the part of the photographer, but about cropping. What it gets down to is that I trust the photographer. He or she is at the scene and makes the decision of what to show and what not to show. Once THAT decision is made, I don't want to see less than what they wanted to show me.

Is that more clear? I'm not talking about second-guessing the photographer, but more about NOT second-guessing him/her.

Mike J.

It is a shame that you do not see the dynamics of the photograph that he has created by cropping the way he did. The diagonal lines of the headstones emphasize the point of interest as strongly as if he pointed arrows at her. He cropped it just right for the strongest emotional content.

Moving to the telephoto end of a zoom has nearly the same result on a photo as cropping later. However, I find that while I often do the former when equipped with a zoom, I rarely do the latter after the shot has been made. The awareness of this contradiction is one factor which led to me selling off nearly all my zoom lenses. In mine hands, zooms crop too much. Obviously this isn't a limitation of zooms; it's a limitation of me. Even my 50s are beginning to feel like short teles. ~35-40mm most often gives me the context I want in an image, and I almost never crop later.

The cropped version looks exactly what it is - a carefully considered composition that has been sawn off at the top.
I also subscribe to the notion that a quite lot of cropping is primarily to justifying the cropper's existence.

I think that I want to see what the photographer saw. Certainly in this case the cropped picture is the lesser because it doesn't capture the full story as it was presented to the photographer.

I must say as a working photographer nothing grieves me more than handing over a picture that I worked hard for to an editor and they then just extracting a head and shoulders the size of a postage stamp to run in the paper. Especially when they have sent you to cover that situation wanting something"more".


The problem is that photographers don't always get what they want "at the scene." Shots have to be rushed sometimes and compositions have to be sacrificed. It's in the post processing that reforming the composition (by cropping) is done.

I am also guessing here that your dislike of cropping may stem from editors who have butchered your well-composed pictures in order to fit them into three columns.

Mistakes get made on deadline, but a photo editor ought to be perceptive enough to recognize greatness. It's just wrong to crop Moore's photo into a panoramic. Mike's severe crop is even more ludicrous, but it was in service of his point. In a way, to me, it shows where Capa might have stood. Where would HCB have stood? I don't know. But I think their Compositions, and their decisions about what to include and not include, would have been very interesting. And I'd certainly want to see it.

I suspect that many of the comments on Mr. Moore's photograph overlook some of the realities of his employment. If I took that photo, I could very well produce it as a black-and-white print. For my wall, for my website, sure. But John Moore is a working photographer whose goal is to get his images widely reproduced. The NYTIMES, for example, is not going to reproduce his photograph in black and white. The reason they use photographs in the first place is because they already have too much black and white on the page.
And I don't think the TIMES cropped it because they thought it made for a better photograph, they cropped it because after they set up all the text and the ads and everything else, they had that much room left for a splash of color to relieve all the black and white. I imagine that photographers at Moore's level know that they should leave a bit more room rather than less because editors are going to have widely differing needs when using the pictures; this one has a real oblong space, that one has an almost square space, &c. I think that as photographers we too easily imagine that others give photographs the same importance we do.

Perhaps this is not the best image to talk about cropping, what would the girl in the photo say about it. She has just lost all she loves and America a son.

Ever notice that for better images you're never conscious of the framing? The subject itself just carries the picture. In my mind, over zealous and continual cropping is just an indication of a poor eye ... or having to shoot from a wheelchair. Personally, I've filed down the edges of my monitor.

"I must say as a working photographer nothing grieves me more than handing over a picture that I worked hard for to an editor and they then just extracting a head and shoulders the size of a postage stamp to run in the paper."

I fought many battles at the magazine I edited to prevent pictorial photographs (as opposed to, say, technical illustrations) from being cropped. My feeling was that a photography magazine should be one of the few which respected the photographer's intentions.

Mike J.

I think I might prefer the cropped version; it depends on a lot of things including the size its run at.

As for color, I'm not really used to the idea of using color in news reporting yet anyway. I do think the B&W version looks very nice.

When I was shooting regularly for a magazine editor, I was instructed to shoot loose, and print full-frame, because the needs of the photo had to be balanced with the needs of the *page*. If the photographer is deliberately leaving room for the photo editor to work in I think your argument doesn't apply.


I understand what you mean by cropping, and I agree in preferring the uncropped photograph. On a "group shoot" it quickly becomes apparent that each photographer has his or her own unique vision of a scene--similarly, each photojournalist has his or her own point of emphasis--and it's that individual photographer's vision that I want to see. It's the essence of "style" and how we come to recognize the work of a particular photographer even before his or her name is revealed.

As always, I've enjoyed another excellent, provocative article from you. Keep it coming!

In this case the uncropped picture in colour contains more information: the person in the upper right corner watching, the balloons are more prominent and contrasting, etc. The original is more of a social/political statement because it puts the grief of the woman in a context & perspective, the contrast of the very personal grief versus the 'sheer numbers' of personal grief. Also the positioning of the young woman (summer dress, legs longer because of wide angle, bare feet, etc.) makes her more attractive which in this case makes the image more powerful.
The original framing also has the trees lined up perfectly in the corners which gives the picture a stability in the composition; the viewing line is completely lost in the cropped version.

I'm too much of a beginner to really get into the cropping issue, though if I hold a piece of paper up to the screen and block out the man on the right side it seems to interrupt some kind of "flow" going on in the picture. But what I wanted to comment on were the beautiful tones in the B&W version. Who did this conversion? I appreciate what Ken said about the dangers of "artistic interpretation" by converting this original color photo to B&W, but all that said, I find the B&W image very beautiful and no less moving than the original.


I totally agree that this picture should not be cropped, for all the reasons that are already mentioned.

Furthermore, I think that it should be in color, because color (or how colors look) put it into a time context. And such a picture which is also a record of a certain historical stage should embrace the fact. Converting it to monochrome looks like an attempt to achieve a timeless look, to imitate something, which it is not in the first place.
Because color is contemporary, like the picture.

But for me it is not true that I never want to see less, especially in my own pictures ;-) It happens over again, that I have to blame this shy bastard inside myself that refuses to get closer.
What I want to say is that photography is always about removing the elements that are not supposed to add to the flat and timeless resulting image.
Ok, this is before the shutter goes and we call it composition.

But I see also reason for cropping. That is, when I don't have a longer lens at hand. Well, I don't crop a normal view to extreme tele (I don't need tele anyway), but I see times when I make the picture a litte "tighter", which I could have done at composition time, if I only had a slightly longer focal length. And no, zooming by feet is not zooming, but changing perspective, which is not wanted at times.

But basically I agree that cropping is rather emergency, and should not be common practice ;-))
I always see it from "Pros", they crop if it would be the most natural thing on earth, and they don't even notice that the picture is completely different afterwards. But then, they are Pros, not artists.

best always

The other people in the photograph are not distracting to my eye. They did, however, trigger a twenty year old memory of riding in my sister's funeral procession and observing men washing cars at the curb, children playing and people mowing their lawns. How could they go on with their lives when I was experiencing such grief. Didn't they care. Couldn't they show some respect.

Our grief is our own. Perhaps it will subside. Perhaps not. Life goes on. We all have our personal moments of grief and elation. It's all part of of the human experience.

If the photo had been cropped, I don't think that I would have been led back to that very personal moment.

When a photographer crops with his camera, he is limiting the view of the scene to the proportions of the camera frame (35mm=3:2). But when he crops in post processing that restriction does not exist and he has the freedom to present the photo even as a square.

After reading all the comments and viewing the original directly against the nytimes panorama, I have to become much more direct:

This nytimes crop utterly utterly sucks!
For whatever reason they did it, it does violence to the original.

I think many miss the real power of the original - as i did, before viewing it more intensely, motivated by the comment of david, which says that the composition is like an arrow pointing to the woman. Now I see that without the trees, there is no arrow. And also the hint to infinity in the rows of tombstones is gone.

Everything is perfect in this picture, and it should not be cropped.

Has anyone established that John Moore was *working* when he took the picture? I only ask because he was visiting the cemetery with his family. Just because he's an assignment pj doesn't mean he was was working. It's possible he was on his own time.

Mike J.

"But what I wanted to comment on were the beautiful tones in the B&W version. Who did this conversion?"

I did...just for the sake of comment. It's nothing official and not sanctioned by the photographer.

Mike J.

"When a photographer crops with his camera"

You don't crop with a camera. Wrong word.

Mike J.

This is a great photo, but I would crop it to emphasize the woman and the gravestones. For me, the message and power of the photo are the sense of emotional intimacy and the multiplier effect of the stones. The background, trees and sky may add context, but also distract and weaken the impact.

But, to each his own.

"This nytimes crop utterly utterly sucks!"

I think Kevin McLoughlin has it exactly right when he says, "The cropped version looks exactly what it is—a carefully considered composition that has been sawn off at the top." That's what it looks like to me too.

Mike J.

When I first got into photography and first discovered cropping, I quickly came to many of the same conclusions you make in this entry. Once you begin cropping, it gets hard to stop, until little is left of some pictures. So I avoid it in all but the two below circumstances:

Since some programs allow you to crop a fixed ratio such as 5x7 or 8x10, which optimizes the photo fit my two favored print sizes, I occasionally use that tool if there's dead space on one side of a picture that contains no detail. I'll humbly admit I've also done this in dire cases of hard vignetting.

The other time I crop is when I have to hand the camera to someone else for a snapshot because I'm in the shot. It's stunning how untrained most people are at framing even in today's digicam-saturated world. I get shots with my head in the bottom corner and usually a blank sky is filling the rest of the frame. That really annoys me, and cropping those pictures saves hard disk space anyway.

"It's stunning how untrained most people are at framing even in today's digicam-saturated world. I get shots with my head in the bottom corner and usually a blank sky is filling the rest of the frame."

Amen, brother. I remember once doing a family picture, and a neighbor asked if I would like her to take one with me in it. I gratefully accepted.

I figured, how could she blow it? I Had the group of people arranged so they fit right in the frame, I had told her where to stand, I had the focal length all set. It's not like I was asking her to make any decisions. All she had to do was put the people in the frame.

So I get the film developed and the pictures she took were at an angle, the faces began in the middle of the frame and lower, the top of the frame was all trees, and she'd actually cut some faces out of the picture on one side.

It was so overwhelmingly incompetent my first reaction was that she'd done it maliciously. That thought was absurd--she's an old friend and perfectly nice. But really, it's amazing what we take for granted.

Mike J.

The entire scene in B&W is most effective. I think it captures the mood and the lady's pain best.

I can't find a crop that improves this picture.
Often seemingly insignificant details reveal a feeling or contribute to a mood. I think the open field across the road adds to the sadness because that field will not stay empty.
Crop with care.

I prefer the whole image, as is. The people waiting and watching have a story I care about; the lines of headstones have a story I care about. And her story is bound to their story, their story is bound to her story. The people watching quietly on the side are a symbol for all of us - watching respectfully, patiently, feeling her pain and our own. They call it hallowed ground for a reason. Those who rest there are the best we ever produced. Its a great image just as it is.

I'm pretty adamant about "cropping" (ie- composing) in camera, it's part of learning one's craft. I started shooting 35mm, still do, and one of the best pieces of advice I ever read was that with a format as small as a postage stamp, chopping off even more precious millimeters of your image certainly does nothing to enhance image quality. Cropping, like constantly shooting with a telephoto, is the lazy man's answer to properly interacting with and sizing up their subject. The only valid reason one should crop is if one was physically prevented from getting as close as the picture demanded.

If we take inspiration from Einstein then we should crop photos as much as possible, but no more.


Mike J. -
Was he "working?" I'm not part of Mr. Moore's photographic world, but: he goes to the cemetery with at least one camera, he makes a number of photographs, he selects and posts photographs, captions and releases to Getty in time for the next morning's papers. And the next day he's back there to photograph Bush's Memorial Day speech. I suspect that if you ask his wife, he's always "working." That day, I think he was definitely "working," for at least part of the day, albeit with his wife and child along. Thanks for the opportunity to bring this photograph to light again.

Is it possible that there is a lot of rationalizing going on here?

Do you all use cameras with bring viewfinders with a 100% view? Are you able to consider even the smallest details of your composition as carefully when you shoot hand held compared to when you use a tripod?

Your compositions can never be that precise because you are hampered by a fixed aspect ratio. If the composition looks better as a 4:3 aspect ratio, should I put away my D200 and get out my digicam?

Did the maker of this photograph carefully consider the visual weight considerations of the bald sky and the grassy area lower left? Did he consider the people on the far right to be important elements of the composition . . . or were they included necessarily because he had to make sure that there was plenty of space around his subject which would allow the editor some cropping latitude that would be required to fit the page layout?

He captured the moment. I would be very interested in knowing how many different exposures he took, from how many vantage points, different focal lengths, etc. He may well have not wanted to be intrusive, and therefor took just one quick shot, taking care not to cut off her bare feet.

At that distance, I wonder if she heard the shutter?

I got a lot of questions . . :-)

I'm a bit put out by your latest comment. CROPPING is not COMPOSING and COMPOSING is not CROPPING. We are talking about cropping here.

Are people unclear about this terminology and the difference between them? I thought I had explained it clearly in the Addendum to my post.

Mike J.

A lot of comments here, so maybe it's already been said, but I think cropping is not necessarily a bad thing. In this case I think it ruins the picture. Sometimes it helps though.

the original is much better, much bigger impact, since it shows where she is, all these graves!

I'm attempting to address the lack of precision inherent in composing many shots, especially decisive moment shots like this. I'm also suggesting that knowing that a shot that will likely be cropped when published alters your approach to composition which gives the editor some latitude. I've also taken many shots that I fully intended to crop to a different aspect ratio later.

I was attempting to point out that there is an overlap between the two. Cropping instead of zooming in on her head, shoulders, and head stone, on the other hand, is another matter entirely. Maybe we need to make a distinction between "cropping" and "trimming". The former alters the intent of the image. The latter can be used to improve the formal presentation of the idea without altering it's intent.

Would you agree that it is sometimes hard to tell if a photograph was composed carefully?

Mike if you have an aversion to cropping do you also have an aversion to other manipulations of the image after the exposure is made. The logical extension of that would be to make no adjustments to the image and to print it as it came out of the camera. Sometimes the conditions under which a photograph is made do not allow for careful, thoughtful composition. I like to shoot candids of children and there is just not the time to think about composition, you shoot a little wide and clean up the composition later. Those special moments only last for seconds sometimes and then they are gone forever. Sometimes when you are reviewing a days shoot you look at things with a different eye and other possibilities appear. Once and a while there is that gift that surprises you by not needing a tweak. I know that I am more likely to print full image of a photograph made with a view camera than one made with a 35 mm camera. It is wonderfully romantic to think that an image can spring from a small format camera fully formed but not very practical for me. There are some pretty sound rules for composition and design which are taught in art schools by which you can judge a composition, but not every one arrives at their viewpoint by that route so composition as many of the other elements which people judge photographs is for the most part a subjective exercise. I have strong feeling about perspective and design so I read a photo for those qualities as well as craftmanship. The cropped version of John Moore's is far more appealing to me for those reasons. Other people will read the photo differently and will prefer the other photo for different reasons. Sometimes I see photos that I feel need cropping, I mentally crop them, enjoy my translation and move on.

I believe that careful, thoughtful cropping is one of the fastest ways for someone to develop good composing skills. -- Rich

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