After spending so much time and attention trying to capture as much detail as you can in your photograph, it almost seems to be a waste to crop out any of the detail. However, cropping is a very useful tool for photographers. It can help you get rid of ugly elements in your photos and it can help direct the viewer’s attention to the part of the image that you want them to pay attention to. Cropping to a photographer is what the editing process is to a writer — a way to trim the fat and make the final product, whether it be an image or a story — a much better piece of art.
Here is a photo of a swallowtail that found its way to my butterfly bush. As you can see in the first image, the butterfly has a torn left wing. This didn’t hamper its ability to get around, but the insect is a bit less photogenic with a big hunk of its wing missing. The solution is fairly simple: crop the image to exclude that part of the butterfly’s wing.
Here, cropping the image resolved the issue with the damaged wing. I want the viewer to look at the butterfly and not be distracted by the tear in its wing. Cropping eliminates the imperfection but it also has the advantage of creating a look that seems more like a portrait. The curved shapes of the butterfly’s wings and the angle that it sits in the rectangular photograph also create a dynamic sense of movement that helps to make the whole image more appealing.
Don’t hesitate to remove parts of your images in order to end up with a better finished photograph. If you are unsure of how to crop the image, make any adjustments (lighting, color corrections, etc.) and save the image. Then make a duplicate of the image and do your cropping on the copy. You can always go back to the original photograph later if you change your mind. It’s always best to make backup copies — just in case.