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Stop filling the frame!

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  August 15, 2008 09:25 AM

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The Boston West Photographic Society of Framingham was founded in June 2005 with the goal of creating a relaxed and friendly environment where photographers can share their images, knowledge, and passion for photography with others.

Even though the group is just three years old, its members compete at the highest levels of competitions sponsored by the New England Camera Club Council (NECC) and the Photographic Society of America (PSA). Last year, the club won PSA Open in Class A (the highest class), as well as several NECCC competitions, the Greater Lynn Salon, the George W. Glennie Memorial Nature Salon (run by the Merrimack Valley Camera Club in North Andover), and others.

Jim Brady, one of the founders, generously agreed to let us reprint an article he posted on the BWPS website in February. It's one of several tipsheets we have compiled so far:

STOP filling the frame!

By Jim Brady
Boston West Photographic Society

For years, slide film shooters have listened to the experts tell us to "fill the frame." The point was, with slide film, you needed to crop as tightly as possible in the camera while taking the picture. The results were tightly cropped images that literally filled the frame. There’s no doubt that those tightly cropped images delivered more impact and scored well with the judges in competition.

In today's digital world, we need to start breaking the rule about filling the frame…at least when taking the original picture. Most digital cameras on the market today deliver high resolution images that are far larger than what you need for competition. With all those extra pixels, you can start giving yourself some breathing room when you take the original shot.

Old habits die hard. After so many years of shooting slides, my "natural" tendency during a shoot is to crop the image as tightly as possible. I can’t tell you how many slides and, until recently, how many digital images I've thrown away because some essential part of the subject was cropped out of my image. But I’m slowly learning to take a step back, or zoom back a bit, when taking the picture. This gives me a higher percentage of usable images and more options during post-production.

The images on this page are an example of what I’m talking about.

Full frame

This first image is a full frame shot directly from my Canon 5D. The size of this image is 4368 x 2912.

Red rectangle

In the second image, I’ve added a red rectangle. The rectangle indicates how much of that full frame I really need for a BWPS competition image (1400 x 1050). This rectangle would be even smaller for competitions using the 1024 x 768 size.

I can crop the original image down to the size of that red square to get my final competition image without losing ANY image quality.


The third image shows the cropping result. Note that the final image should definitely fill the frame to produce the kind of impact you want from this subject.

Some words of caution. You do not want to make the subject too small in the frame. If your cropped image ends up being smaller than 1400 x 1050, you would have to digitally enlarge your final image. Sometimes you can get away with upsizing, but your strategy should be to only use upsizing as a last resort.

Another factor to keep in mind is that the size of that red rectangle in the second image depends on the pixel size of the images your camera produces. The example above only applies to 12-megapixel cameras. Cameras that produce smaller files would result in a LARGER red rectangle.

The gray and red graphics below show the 1400 x 1050 rectangles for 8-, 12-, and 20-megapixel images.

20 megapixel
12 megapixel
8 megapixel

So ... the next time you are shooting, remember to pull back a bit on your cropping and give yourself some extra room around the edges. Stop filling the frame while shooting and you’ll be happier with the results of your shoot.

Copyright Boston West Photographic Society. Reprinted with permission.

Want to keep improving? Check out all of our tipsheets or submit your own.

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