Giving My Subjects a Haircut

Slicing off the top of Jackie's head puts her near eye in a "rule of thirds" point of interest. This crop gives the composition a feeling of movement and energy.

Cropping decisions plague many photographers. Whether we make the decision in camera, in software, or while matting, deciding what to leave in and what to leave out can be paralyzing.

When director John Slade showed me a rough poster design for the Ojai Art Center Theater production of Never Too Late, I noticed that the cast portraits were very tight crops, so I decided to give it a try.

I’m not sure why it’s been so hard for me to crop like this in the past. When I look at these, I’m reminded of Robert Capa’s famous observation, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Overall, I’m very happy with the results and look forward to incorporating this approach into my future portraits.

Historically, I included a subject's entire head with some room around it, but you can see that even beautiful Jackie looks like she's being booked into county jail with this mug shot. The cropping choice makes it look like a document, not a photograph.


A tight crop provides all the information you need and none you don't. What would the top of Mr. Bailey's head tell you about this relationship that isn't already in the picture?

1 Comment

Filed under Composition, Dance and Theater, Portraiture

One response to “Giving My Subjects a Haircut

  1. Myrna Cambianica

    absolutely agree on tight crops … i have found that on occasion it is hard to convince your client that this is o.k and that this kind of crop enhances the mood and dynamics of their picture!

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