Is it a sin to crop a photo?

On a summer night in Mont Saint Michel you can find the quiet peaceful harmony. In the daytime tourists buzz around the medieval town. Photo by: Jacob Surland,
Nikon D800, Sigma 12-24mm, 17mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 0,5 sec (0-exposure)

This photo is from the famous Mont Saint Michel in France. It has a long, and in periods very violent history. According to legend, the Arch Angel Michael appeared to the bishop of the nearby town of Avranches. He was named St Aubert. The Arch Angel instructed the St. Aubert to build an oratory on the rock, just off the shores of Normandy. However, the bishop did not act on the instructions, and the Arch Angel got angry and burned a hole in the bishop’s skull.

The skull is on display in Saint-Gervais Basilica in Avranches. It is generally considered more likely, that the hole in the skull stems from trephination, an old medical treatment, that required drilling a hole in the skull, to treat certain diseases in the head. Whether it actually is St. Auberts skull is also unknown.

But St Aubert got the message, and had built an oratory in 709.

Is it a sin to crop a photo?

Many photographers consider it a bad practice to crop a photo. You should get it right in the camera! They say. But is that really the truth? And what’s the big deal?

Todaythe entry level DSLRs are up to 24 Megapixels. And I don’t think that you can even buy a new digital camera with much less than 12-16 megapixels.

I have an A1 poster in my living room, printed from a 10 megapixel camera. A1 is 23.39 × 33.11 inches. That’s a pretty big poster. If I go really close, I just MIGHT be able to tell the pixels. On a 3 feet distance, no way, that I can tell the pixels, even if I really tried.

For anything, that I am ever going to print, I think that 10 megapixels would probably be sufficient.

These days I carry cameras of 24 megapixels and 36 megapixels (Nikon D600 and D800). I could print photos from these cameras in enormous sizes, and even if you got up really close, you wouldn’t be able to tell the pixels. But do I really need this? There is a ‘masters of the universe’ power in having a 36 megapixel photo, but I don’t really get to use all these wonderful pixels, or do I?

I love to shoot with my wide-angle lenses. My darling, is my Nikkor 14-24mm, but often I do find 24mm to be just a little bit too wide. I do have a 16-35mm; I could attach that on my Nikon D600 and then switch camera, whenever I wanted just a little bit more than 24mm. But let’s do a little calculation.

I got more megapixels (36 all together) on my Nikon D800, while I “only” got 24 megapixels on my Nikon D600. If I crop a 24mm on a 36 megapixel camera, to 24 megapixels, then 24mm translates into 36 mm. In other words, I effectively can convert my 24 mm to a longer lens, by cropping.

If I could live with 10 megapixel, I would effectively convert my 24mm into a 86mm. That is quite a change!

On the other hand, I can’t convert into anything wider. What’s outside the border of 14mm I can’t capture. I often end up at 14mm, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything and I do not want to switch lenses all the time. In other words, I have to crop on the long end, if I can’t get exactly the length that I need.

I respect people who believe, that the photo should be right in the camera, but personally, I believe that as long, as you can get anything larger than 10 megapixels, you really are home safe. And if it is an improvement to the photo, do it!

Only if you in advance know, for a fact, that you want to print larger than A1, you need to be aware of the megapixels.

Can you use cropping constructively?

Another approach is to go just a little wider, than what you think is enough. I do this a lot, and I did it when I shot this photo. The thing is, if you go too tight and miss something, when you shoot, there is no way that you can ever get the rest. You would have to go back and reshoot.

If you, on the other hand, went just a little wider than you think is good enough, you can always crop it when you get back home.

This is the original of the photo:

Mont Saint Michel empty street - Original

As you can see, this is a wider cut of the image. The stairs are pretty much in the center of the photo. This is not too good, but I can change the composition by cropping, and push the stairs off-center. This way the stairs will be in one of the golden intersections (using the rule the Golden Ratio).

Mont Saint Michel empty street - crop


But that is not the only thing, that I can fix. I can make three of the leading lines start in the corners; this is a strong improvement on the composition too.

This I could probably have seen at location, but I worked really fast, and I really wanted many different shots from Mont Saint Michel, during the blue hour. By going just a little wider, I could postpone the decision to later, when I had more time and had time to shoot more photos.

In this case I still got a 24 megapixel photo out of the situation. That’s not bad! The Canon 5D Mark III is only 22 megapixels.


2 thoughts on “Is it a sin to crop a photo?

  1. Who say that the picture must be done right in camera, generally say this because think that the eyes must be “trained” to see the scene, the point of interest. Also a well done shot require less PP and certainly some think that a “real” photo are those you take in camera. I think that a picture well framed from the start is better but a crop is not the evil, also it is not not always possible to do it. You love the wide angle lens, what about the perspective? In mount Saint Michel in example you can’t walk all around easily, and if you get some wall distorted, why you should leave the photo as is as? Correct the perspective is easy and the photo after is better, yes to do this you must crop the image and there is nothing wrong in this. Again if you are outside without a tripod and then you need to straighten the skyline, there is nothing wrong to do it. There are other reason to say that cropping a photo isn’t wrong but to do short the story, as usual: know the rules and understand it, and then break them!

    • Hi Alberto,
      Thank you for your comment. Yes that’s true, perspective correction, is absolutely cropping too. I used my 12-24mm in Mont Saint Michel, because of the narrow alleys. I like your last comment about knowing and breaking the rules.

      Have a nice day and great histograms 🙂

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