I always hear people talk about getting it right in the camera. Or sometimes it’s “crop in the camera, not in Photoshop”. These are great philosophies but what if you don’t know what it is that you want exactly. I love large image sensors, not because they give me great images, but because they allow me to crop without fear of getting too “grainy”. I admit it, my name is Jeff and I crop in Photoshop. There, my shameful little secret is out. I feel so much better now. But really, sometimes I shoot first and then get creative later. I am not necessarily blessed with the ability to look at a scene and have the perfect crop appear in my head. I know the great shot is there somewhere but sometimes I have to play with it, move those crop borders around, and really get a feel for how I want my final image to look. Sometimes I have to look at an image for hours before it really hits me. That’s not really an option when I’m in the field and have just 5 to 10 minutes of “Golden Light” left in the day and I won’t be able to shoot the scene on another day. That’s when I would rather just get the picture and find the photograph within later. Here is an example of this. Last January I was in San Francisco and took a short afternoon trip to Alcatraz Island with some friends. I didn’t have a tripod and it was the last tour of the day so the light was getting just right. As we were walking along the path from the prison down to the ferry, I saw the old water tower. I knew there was a shot of that tower that I really wanted but I didn’t have the time or lenses to compose that shot (I hadn’t even figured out what that shot was yet). Instead I just took an overall image that was just so-so.
After trying in vain to make a decent image from the original crop, I zoomed in to see what I might be missing. I really liked the rusty look of the large water tank. The cloudless sky was a great contrast to the orange hues from the late afternoon sun. The foreground was not very interesting at all. The pathway cut right through the middle of the image and the angle of the hill was just wrong. But when zooming in on the tank, I found my shot. I didn’t need the legs and foreground, all I needed was the tank and sky that really drew my attention in the first place. So it was over to the tool box to grab my crop tool and start removing the boring sections to reveal the photograph inside.
So there you have it, did I get it right in the camera? No, but I did get it, and to me, that’s what counts in the end.