Photo cropping is a very important technique for graphic designers, creatives, and more generally anyone involved in visual communication, as it allows one to change the look of an image, to focus on some details over others, focusing attention and reworking the concept itself of the shot.
The images we frequent every day through the mass media are almost always selections of larger figures.
This use of cutting explodes in the early 20th century and is part of a larger activity, namely montage, which we can call the heart of the modernist spirit given its wide use by mass media and the digital world (just think of video editing, photo collage, etc…).
However, it is not always such a free-for-all and at will activity of graphic designers and art directors. For example, in 1947 Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa founded the Magnum agency for the purpose, among others, of preventing their shots from being distorted when they were put on the page. Indeed, it was common practice in newspaper editing for graphic designers and art directors to cut photos to fit inside the layout. Even today, work by photographers represented by Magnum cannot be trimmed, with rare exceptions agreed upon with the agency.
As Riccardo Falcinelli wrote in Figures, photo cropping is also a way to tell a story through image, carefully choosing what is shown and hidden. In this sense, photo cropping can be seen as a way to create a visual composition and give a sense of direction to the image.
When done well, cutting is a visual metaphor, a form of attention, something to focus on. A gesture that can change the content of an image or sharpen the gaze on it. Each cut ends up telling a different story.
There are several ways to do photo cropping, depending on the desired result. For example, you may choose to crop an image so as to create a panning effect, focusing on a large portion of the image and leaving out less important details. Or you can choose to do a tight crop, focusing on a small detail of the image and thus creating a more emphatic effect.
Another way to do photo cropping is to follow the guidelines of the rule of thirds, which suggests dividing the image into nine equal parts and placing the focal points on the intersecting points of the lines. This can help create a more balanced visual composition and give a sense of direction to the image.
Photo cropping can also be used to correct image imbalances, such as by cutting away a portion of the image that diverts attention from the main focal point.
The example given by Falcinelli in Figure of the photograph taken by Erwin Blumenfield for the May 1954 cover of Vogue depicting Jean Patchett and how the art director, Alexander Liberman, layouts the cover is interesting.
An “average” graphic designer would have paginated in this way, losing much of the meaning of the photo and ruining the photographer’s composition.
Instead, he chooses to layout it this way, cutting the original radically, but he does so to amplify the logic of the photo, not to mortify it: as Falcinelli says, he cuts to build something new together with Blumenfeld, not against him. The two versions become two separate images of equal dignity.
To us at Square Marketing this is interesting because in our work it is essential to have integration between professional figures who can work as a team amplifying creativity and bringing their professional know-how back to communication and marketing projects. Cutting when done judiciously is a form of mindfulness, a choice that requires the observer to focus on the detail of a larger discourse. This is why it is a delicate activity that can present ethical or moral dilemmas, not just aesthetic ones.
A gesture that can change the content of an image or sharpen the gaze on it. Each crop ends up telling a different story.