To crop or not to crop?

That is the question….

To be honest it’s not actually the question for me, in my opinion one should do whatever it takes to create a great end product but the subject of cropping has just “cropped” up (sorry, couldn’t resist) in a forum that I regularly frequent so I thought I’d have my say on the subject.

First I need to confess publicly, if you hadn’t guessed already, that I am a cropper. If you visit my website (www.richardwalkerphotography.co.uk) you’ll see all sorts of different crops ranging from subtle to extreme all with one express purpose in mind, to get the best out of the shot. On the forum I was reading a fairly well known photographer by the name of Jared Polin was mentioned. Apparently he doesn’t advocate cropping, ever, his tagline being “Shoot RAW and don’t crop”. Now, Jared is a superb photographer, but whilst I agree with the “shoot RAW” mantra the anti-crop stance just doesn’t make sense to me and here’s why.

I Don’t Like My Camera’s Aspect Ratio

Whilst I love the micro 4/3 format for it’s small size, superb lenses and wonderful technology, I actually don’t care much for the 4 x 3 aspect ratio. For me as a landscape photographer it is just too square. So what can I do? Well, I can set my camera to a different aspect ratio but firstly the only options are 3 x 2 or 16 x 9 and I prefer 16 x 10, and secondly, what am I doing? Surely I’m cropping, I’m just doing it using the camera software rather than Lightroom and I’d much rather do it in Lightroom.

The point is that in my opinion it is the lack of cropping that will compromise my composition by forcing me to have an aspect ratio that doesn’t suit landscape photography.

You Can’t Always Be Exactly Where You Want When You Want

It is all very well for “experts” to keep trotting out the “get it right in camera” rule but it’s just not always possible. As an aside I also think that we should stop referring to these photography “rules” as I feel that beginners can be very put off if they don’t manage to adhere to them. Perhaps we should start referring to them as “pointers” or something like that because in 2015 the fact is that whilst you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear you can fix a lot in post and save a photograph that may otherwise have been a throwaway and one of the things you can fix is the composition.

The Langdale Pikes rise above Lake Windermere, Lake District, UK
This image was shot with a Canon 5D MKII which has a resolution of 5616 × 3744, yet after cropping this image came out at 4987 x 2153. The reason I had to crop was because this was the only vantage point from which to get this shot. I was shooting from a hillside, to move forward I had to move down the hill and lose the view.
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Original of above crop

From what I can see Mr. Polin shoots in a very controlled environment where I’m sure he can take the time to ensure he does get it right in camera but as a landscape photographer I don’t always have that luxury. When I’m out shooting my two main concerns are light and sky. I will think nothing of compromising composition by not being exactly where I want to ensure that I get the right light and sky. It is incredible how fast a scene changes, how fast the clouds go from beautiful white fluffy ones to a dull grey sky, how fast the light on a field changes from beautiful dappled light and shadow to flat and dull, and how the sun can disappear for the rest of the day leaving you having travelled miles staring down-hearted at what just a few seconds ago was an incredible scene that has now been replace by a boring, dull landscape that no-one will want to look at a photograph of.

This is why when I arrive anywhere I always quickly get a “banker” if the light is right. This is very often not taken from where I know I want to be but it sometimes turns out to be the best shot once it has been cropped.

You Shouldn’t Crop Because You’ll Lose Resolution

The main reason people cite for not cropping is that you lose resolution. This is true and I cannot argue with it for one second. It is absolutely correct that if you move your feet or zoom to re-compose and hence “get it right in camera” then you will keep the image at the full resolution that your camera will allow. But why does this matter? Well, bottom line is, in the real world it doesn’t. If you are sharing your images on-line or viewing them on your computer then with any decent camera you can crop severely and the resolution will still be plenty. But what about printing? Well, this is where it can matter, but generally you will have to go pretty mad with your cropping before you make an image unprintable, depending how big you want to print.

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Original of above crop. The crop is 2724 x 1703 or 4.6MP, still big enough to print at 34cm wide.

Let’s say you want to print at A3 size. I would suggest that 200dpi is more than acceptable so armed with this information we can work out the size of image we need to get a good print. So what is it? 36MP? 21MP? 16MP? Well, A3 is 16.53 x 11.69 inches, so 16.53 x 200 = 3306 and 11.69 x 200 = 2338px. So the size image we need to print A3 at 200dpi is 3306px X 2338px or 7.7MP. Will it be as good quality as if you’d got it right in camera? No it won’t. But will it be noticeable enough to stop you cropping a shot that doesn’t work into one that does? No, absolutely not, I have sold many images, some of which are on this page, that have been severely cropped.

An Image Doesn’t Have To Be Perfect

This is one for all the pixel peepers out there. Stop getting obsessed with the fine detail and look at the overall image. Does it work? Does it draw the viewer in? Do people say “wow” when they first glance at it? If the answer is yes then who cares if it is a little soft, or not perfect when viewed at 100%? Don’t throw away a good piece of art just because it is technically slightly flawed.

A fishing boat returns to St Ives harbour, Cornwall

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Original of above
The point here is that whilst one should always aspire to perfection it is generally impossible to achieve it. When I first started in photography all I read was “get it right in camera” as if this was a golden rule that could never be broken. The way I read it back then was if you didn’t get it right in camera (whatever that actually means) then you may as well throw it away. The first problem with this was that I had no idea what “right in camera” meant so it was difficult to know when or if I’d got it right. But more importantly it dawned on me that this was not a rule, it was an aspiration, what all those people were saying, badly as it happens, was if you can, get it right in camera, but if you can’t and the scene warrants a shot then give it a shot to the best of your ability and then do whatever you can to bring out the best in it using whatever technology you have available to you.
The bottom line is, don’t hang on every word of any photographer, not even me. Take advice, but always be prepared to ignore it and go with your gut instinct.
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The Streets of Macao

Street photography Macao
A street scene in central Macao

With an expiring Chinese visa the time had come to nip across the border to Macao for the tradition of the visa run. Macao is a land I had never before visited, but as a chap who finds a delight anywhere with old colonial architecture and traditions of a far of land still lingering in a delightful manner I was happy to head there with my OMD-EM1 and my new favourite lens, the lovely little Oly 25mm f1.8. More of that camera and lens combo soon, but for just a few snaps from a wander through streets of Macao.

colorful spiral incense in Chinese temple
These spiralled incense sticks burn in the old Chinese temples
Street photography Macao
Old meets new in the shape of modern boutique shopping on a traditional Portuguese plaza
Street photography Macao
A view of one of Macao;s many winding streets
blue sky clouds a statue on The Virgin and a church and steeple, Macao
Catholic churches abound across Macao, this one afforded quite wonderful views
Old cannon pointing at Macao's Lisboa casino
There seemed a certain irony that Portugal’s old cannons seemed to be aimed at the, erm, dramatic Lisboa casino
A view of Macao's tallest tower
modern view on Macao
Street photography, a deserted old street in Macao
Macao is awash with beautiful old streets and crumbling architectur
Street photography Macao
Am I the only one to find the vanity of the selfie quite vulgar?
Street photography Macao
Old streets, Macao

Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens

My father-in-law. Shot in my kitchen with an OM-D E-M1 and Oly 45mm f1.8. f1.8 | 1/100 sec | ISO 800

Over the Christmas period I have had the opportunity to borrow David’s Oly 45mm f1.8. Up until now the only primes I had around this focal length were 2 old manual lenses that I got on eBay. More about these another time but whilst I love using them for the tactile nature of going manual (there’s no doubt that I feel more connected with the whole shooting process when using these), I find I do miss a lot of candid opportunities because despite some very good focus aids built into the OM-D E-M1 I simply miss focus, a lot.

Image Quality

Ok, let’s get the most important point out of the way. This lens, in my humble opinion, is stunning in terms of image quality. It is the best portrait lens I have ever used, and that includes the 70-200 MkII Canon. It is very sharp wide open (which let’s face it is where a lens like this will spend most of its time) and produces lovely out of focus backgrounds separating the subject from its surroundings beautifully.

Handling

This is a small lens which I personally like. The drawback is that it has a very unusual filter size which means you either need to get new filters or a step-down ring. That aside it looks fairly good on the camera and in auto focus mode it is lovely to use with extremely fast focusing. For manual use you have to jump into the menu and turn on manual focus as it doesn’t have the snap back ring that the pro Oly lenses sport. Personally I don’t much like using it for manual focus, it is just too small and simply doesn’t have a nice feel to it, but with such fast accurate auto focus I can’t see this ever being an issue.

Highand Cow
I came across this fellow in the Lake District recently. f1.8 | 1/640 sec | ISO 200

 

Conclusion

There is no doubt that this is a lovely lens and with Amazon currently selling it at £179 it is an absolute bargain. I have had it in my basket several times as I know that I am going to lose this one as soon as David heads back off to the other side of the world. But the bottom line is, as much as I love it, I am not sure it is for me. If I were someone who shot a lot of portraits or did a lot of street I would have this lens for sure, but as a landscape photographer it is a luxury. For now I will continue to use my old manual 50mm for those sorts of shots but who knows, in the future I may just change my mind.

Dicki

Chooie
My dog sits in this chair with his arm over the side looking like some old man all the time. It’s only this once that he has stuck his tongue out at the camera though. f1.8 | 1/125 sec | ISO 1600

 

Poor Light? Try Black and White

Devoke Water, Lake District, UK. Shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 | Oly 9-18mm lens | 36 second exposure | f8 | ISO 100

It’s a dilemma isn’t it? You’ve packed up all your camera gear, booked hotels, travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles with hope and excitement running through your veins, your mind overflowing with images of beautiful landscapes bathed in wonderful golden dappled light………and then you arrive and are greeted by leaden skies and dull grey land. So, what to do?

Well, this is the scenario that occurred to David and I on a recent visit to the English Lake District. There were, as usual when the two of us are together, two schools of thought. David favoured the “sitting in the pub taking wide aperture images of pints of beer” approach. But whilst I could certainly see the merits in this I could also see the downside, there are some seriously strong ales in that part of the world after all. Plus, my passion for landscape photography is at least as strong as David’s passion for beer, so we hit a compromise. Photography until sunset (only 4pm after all), then pub!

“But what about the lack of light?”, David enquired. “Surely light is the thing that adds depth and interest to a landscape photograph”. This is indeed correct and an extremely valid point, especially from a man who is used to shooting in the tropics where gorgeous light is the norm. But there are things that one can do when the sun decides not to play ball, a scenario that I am much more used to than my spoilt brother.

When life deals you lemons make lemonade right? Well, when life deals you a lack of colour in a landscape, simply think about removing all the colour. The temptation can be to try and shoot the scene and then bring out more contrast when post processing but whilst this is certainly an option I have never found it to be as satisfying as going down the black and white route. But to get the best out of black and white photography you have to think a little differently right from the moment you arrive at your location. You need to think in black and white and shoot accordingly.

Think Black and White

What do I mean by think black and white? When shooting colour it is very much about the light and the colours but when shooting in black and white I find it better to think about textures and shapes. Strong textures and shapes are the order of the day. Using the Olympus OM-D E-M1 as I do I am lucky that there are some great settings that allow me to visualize the scene through the viewfinder and the screen in black and white, I always make full use of this functionality and it is one of the things that I love about using the micro four thirds format.

Textures

When shooting black and white images I think much more about textures. I look around the scene and identify subjects that have interesting textures and think about how I will bring out those textures when post processing. In the above image the boathouse and rocks have a very defined texture. The sky too has texture to it, albeit a little more subtle. The water too had texture to it as there was a fairly stiff breeze but for me landscape images like this are all about contrast so I wanted to flatten the water out. I did this by using an 11 stop filter to get an exposure time of 36 seconds at f8. To my eye the smoothness of the water draws the eye to the rocks with their bold texture and these in turn lead the eye to the boat house.

Shapes and lines

Strong shapes and lines add to the dynamism of any black and white shot and landscapes are no different. The line of the horizon, the solidity of the boathouse and the triangular shape of the collection of rocks in the foreground all help to create a strong dynamic.

 

The beauty of black and white is that it can remove distractions allowing the mind of the viewer to concentrate on the main elements of the photograph. It’s beauty is in it’s simplicity. Take the distant mountains in the above photograph, even with relatively flat colours (take a look at the video below to see how dull it was) that a dull day displays the eye would still be drawn to these, perhaps more so than on a sunny day as the viewer would be subconsciously searching for some interest. But in black and white, whilst still an important element of the scene as a whole the mountains stand out much less allowing the main elements to become more bold and striking.

So, next time you look out of the window and it is dull and overcast remember, beautiful locations are beautiful locations no matter what the weather, you just need to shoot in a way that brings that beauty out in the best way that the conditions allow.

Dicki

 

OMD

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I am often asked “what camera do you use”. My old blog was pretty much dedicated to wobbling around the world on an old bicycle, and until recently this question had never crossed my befuddled mind. But as time moves on and circumstances change photography has become an increasingly important part of my life, both as an expression of the way I see the world, and as an outlet for the passions of a slightly confused fellow drifting through life in his own slightly off-skew sort of a manner.

During those years of drifting along my interest in photography has grown immensely. I originally began photographing my journeys because one of my closest friends, who happens to be a professional photographer, convinced me to do so. “You go to interesting places and do interesting things” he told me, “photograph it!” Well, there seemed little arguing with this logic, and so I followed his instructions, and as time passed I began to get an insight into what photography is about, and as this insight developed so did my interest, and with the developing interest seemed to come a development in ability and understanding of what I was doing. A new awareness of light and life began to emerge. And so did my photography, I think in the direction of travel photography which perhaps explains the question regarding the camera.

Two or three years back in an attempt to lighten my load I tried moving away from my cumbersome Canon DSLR camera and its two lenses to a compact camera. The compact was a great camera for its design brief; a point and shoot camera for the mass market; people who want a camera to make all the decisions beyond composition for them. But for the photographer who wants to take control and tell the camera what to do it was very limited.

Fortunately for me a great new system had just emerged, micro 4/3. Designed jointly by Panasonic and Olympus these cameras have a sensor half the size of a full frame DSLR but around 9 times bigger that a run-of-the-mill compact. IE, it has a sensor big enough to fulfil the needs of pretty much everyone. Micro 4/3 cameras offer full manual control and have a wide array of high quality interchangeable lenses that freely swap between M4/3 brands.

For several years I used Panasonic’s wonderful little GF1, a camera that had, and possibly still has, an almost cult following. Back then the only lens I used was a tiny but perfectly formed Lumix 20mm f1.7 lens. With the sensor being half size this equated to a focal length in 35mm film terms of 40mm. Loitering twixt the classic focal lengths of 35mm and 50mm this was the perfect lens for street photography and travel. For those of you wondering, the lens has an organic zoom system, called legs.

Times move on though and micro 4/3 developed a new darling, the Olympus OM-D EM5. This may not be the catchiest moniker on the market but the camera does, to my mind at least, have the most wonderful styling. Harking back to the Olympus OM range that began life in 1972 the OM-D could easily be misjudged by anyone other than a very keen observer as a relic of an era gone by. This in itself is, to my mind, a bonus for street photography. There is something disarming about odd eccentrics travelling the world by bicycle and using ageing film cameras. People from developing countries cannot quite grasp why a fellow from the land of milk and honey is travelling in the manner of the poor and using technology from the dark ages, and so the luddite traveller is treated with caution and kind concern from a discrete distance. The thing with the OM-D EM5 though is that beneath its ageing exterior lies one of the most advanced cameras ever built for the mass market. Even that stylish exterior is an advanced weather sealed magnesium body, a step beyond all but the most exclusive of Canon DSLR cameras.

And it is a Canon full frame DSR that I have just been comparing my old EM-5 with. For those interested in the technical ins and outs of the OM-D EM5 there has been much written about it over the past couple of years, a good start for real world use would be Robin Wong’s informative review, and for a more technical review look.here.

Time though moves on, and even though the EM5 is very often the camera I grab to take out of an evening when I am fortunate enough to have both cameras with me, it is it’s successor, the outstanding Olympus OMD-EM1 that now travels everywhere with me. But more of that, and the way I travel the world, a little later.

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OM-D WITH 14MM LUMIX LENS NEXT TO CANON’S SEMI PRO 5D WITH 24-105 ZOOMS LENS. LUMIX LENS USES ORGANIC ZOOM
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CANON’S FANTASTIC L SERIES 24-105MM LENS WEIGHS IN AT 690 GRAMS. THE OM-D CAMERA AND 2OMM LENS COMBINED WEIGH 566 GRAMS. ADD THE 45 MM AND 14MM LENSES AND THE TOTAL WEIGHT COMES TO 762 GRAMS.
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BOTH CAMERAS IN IDEAL STREET PHOTOGRAPHY MODE. THE OLYMPUS SPORTS A 20MM f1.7 (40mm equivalent) THE CANON WEARS A 50MM f1.8 (50mm equivalent). CANON = 1050 grams. OLYMPUS = 566grams

All images on this post were shot using a Panasonic Lumix GF1 (360 grams) combined with a Lumix/Leica 25mm f1.4 lens, a M4/3 heavyweight at 232 grams