I use my mobile phone for photography. Normally when I notice anything interesting, I take a picture with the point of interest somewhere near the region I want it to be. But I do this with the clear assumption that the final composition after I edit it using Snapseed might be completely different. I do this because I feel that I get a greater level of freedom and convenience when I compose offline, when I am sitting somewhere comfortably.

My question is whether this is a common practice among photographers? Or maybe traditional photographers do the composition when they capture?

More specifically, is offline composing considered as cheating or something?


Example of my offline composition


It wasn't me who added the "ethics" tag. And honestly I wasn't thinking of ethics when I used the word cheating. What I meant is taking shortcuts. Technology has made it very easy to take good pictures. A better phrasing of the question would be whether offline composition is frowned upon by traditional photographers?

I take photos as an outlet of my creativity. I don't intend to make money with it or use it for promoting anything. I just upload it to 500px.

I don't go to places to take photos. I take pictures of interesting stuff I find in places that life takes me. Being an introvert, I am not comfortable carrying a big camera and tripod etc in crowded places and attracting attention. So I prefer a phone with good camera specs(LG G6) now. And I prefer taking pictures fast and not sticking around. That's why I prefer to compose later. Of course I do minimum composition when I capture.

Even though I got the answers I need, I am finding it very hard to select the most appropriate answer here. Should I wait for a few days and select the answer with the highest votes?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "the final composition after I edit it using Snapseed might be completely different." can you clarify that please? Changing the composition can mean a lot of things from heavy image manipulation (like moving individual elements around in the image or removing them) to more subtle changes (like cropping the image). How severe those manipulations are has strong implications for whether they are considered "cheating" or not. \$\endgroup\$
    – null
    Sep 13, 2018 at 16:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know from watching nature documentary Discovery/BBC co-productions' "Making Of" episodes that it's standard practice to shoot in 4K with a viewfinder overlay showing where cropping to 1080p in the center would cut off the shot. This allows the camera op some latitude if the animals don't cooperate, and get "out of frame", because the editor can adjust the crop in post and make it look like the op absolutely nailed the shot. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13, 2018 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Ian that might be true for some genres of photography, but certainly not for all. Yes, for that fashion portrait, changing the crop in post processing is pretty much just style, but croping out a person from a journalism photo? Showing the gory details of a fatal accident or not? Moving some animals around in a nature photograph? I think there are ethical aspects to those questions. \$\endgroup\$
    – null
    Sep 14, 2018 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ It shoudn't be that difficult to respond to, since there is a wealth of historical writing and thought on the subject. I think this site is having problems responding to it because we haven't done a good job of attracting people with the relevant expertise and instead get mostly tangible engineer-friendly questions about how gear works mechanically or optically, and therefore get expertise on exiftool and sensor physics and building measuring equipment for robots. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And we should be able to do better here. :( \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 16:10

10 Answers 10


To paraphrase a passage from the ancient Hebrew Book of Ecclesiastes:

For everything there is a season.

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to break down, a time to build up
A time to keep, a time to cast away
A time to use 'Auto Exposure', a time to use 'Manual Exposure'
A time to use 'Single Point AF-S', a time to use 'Area AF-C'
A time to crop in post, a time to carefully compose the final image when shooting.

With many things in photography, there are some things that can be very useful when learning how to do photography that ultimately get in the way of doing the best kinds of photography. The trick is to recognize when something that was once useful has become something that is holding one back from becoming an even better photographer.

That's not to say that cropping is always in the former category and never cropping is always in the latter. There are also times and places when cropping after the fact will produce a better image than what the best efforts of the photographer, constrained by factors out of their control, can do in camera.

The oft-revered Henri Cartier-Bresson had this to say about cropping:

If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom’s enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there.

Yet even H.C.B. used cropping (and considerable dodging and burning in the darkroom, likely performed by someone else) when it was the only way to get the shot he wanted.

enter image description here

There was a plank fence around some repairs behind the Gare Saint Lazare train station. I happened to be peeking through a gap in the fence with my camera at the moment the man jumped. The space between the planks was not entirely wide enough for my lens, which is the reason why the picture is cut off on the left.

But in general, cropping as a means of saving or improving a less than ideally composed image is probably more useful as a learning tool in a photographer's development than as a primary tool in a mature photographer's bag of tricks. By cropping after the fact, the developing¹ photographer can self-critique their own compositions and consider ways in which they could have improved the photo by composing differently at the time the image was captured.

Take, for example, the original image included in the OP.

enter image description here

Compare it to the OP's crop:

![enter image description here

This crop allows distractions to remain on three of the four edges of the frame in order to preserve, or even improve a bit, the (implied) lines between the man's head, the sun, and the sun's reflections in the water that form a triangle as a dominant feature of the composition. When we look at the photo, we can't help but notice it.

In many ways xiota's crop of the original in his answer is an improvement over the in camera composition and over the OP's crop of it with regard to eliminating the peripheral distractions. But it also introduces a new problem: The position of the sun and its reflection on the water is now too close to the left edge. The implied lines between the man's head, the sun, and the sun's reflections are no longer the dominant compositional features in the central part of the image. The much less interesting vertical line in the center fo the frame takes over.

![enter image description here

If the photographer had more carefully looked for a final composition in camera, they could have seen that and moved a bit to the right, while keeping the two vertical elements on the edges, to move the sun further inside the edges. Putting the man's head and the sun on opposite sides of the frame equidistant from the edge of their respective sides, framed by the strong vertical elements, would have vastly strengthened the overall composition.

It would have looked something more like this:

enter image description here

This could only have been done by more carefully considering the final composition and adjusting the shooting position at the time the image was captured.

Ideally, the photographer would have perfectly positioned the camera to get the strongest composition prior to taking the shot. Back in the medium format days, when pressing the shutter button cost about $1 a pop in film and developing cost, that's the way a lot of folks did it. If the people moved before that point, the shot would not have been taken at all. In the real world today, we would probably take the shot as the OP did, as a safety shot in case the people started moving. If they remained stationary long enough, though, we might have also repositioned the camera to get the more ideal composition and used that frame as our selected image.

¹ See what I did there?


First of all: Photography is a form of art and everybody can perform his art like he wants. With that said the so called photography "rules" especially the rules of composition are more of a guideline to help composition than a rule.

If you prefer to compose your image after the shot it is your style and your image but the "offline" composing has some disadvantages compared to the direct composition.

The first disadvantage is that you loose a lot of the image and the image gets smaller because of this.

Also you can only really change the crop after taking the picture but the composition also contains the angle and position where the picture is taken. This second point is also the thing where I don't understand your point of greater level of freedom because a lot of photographers think on a quite big limitation because of this. Composition is more than just the crop of the image. It is what is shown and how it is shown. So not only the crop is important but also the position from where the image was taken, the angle of the camera, the focal length,...

My question is whether this is a common practice among photographers? Or maybe traditional photographers do the composition when they capture?

A lot of photographers make crop tweaks after taking the image but it is always just cutting away parts of the image and you cannot add a lot in post. So you should try to get the composition itself as close to the end product in camera as possible.

More specifically, is offline composing considered as cheating or something?

Photography is an art form so cheating is not really possible as long as you stand to what you do and don't claim it to be anything which it is not. So for example don't call it documentary photography if you have changed things in the image like the removal of distractions.

The big problem is that the offline composition is way more limited than doing it online. So it is better to take your time before taking the picture and get it close than thinking a long time afterwards and be limited with your changes.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "The first disadvantage is that you loose a lot of the image and the image gets smaller because of this." Most phones already have to use cropping to zoom; might as well just do it in post when you have more time to do it carefully. If your phone has a separate zoom lens, you should definitely use it whenever possible, but this is still a pretty rare feature. \$\endgroup\$
    – Taudris
    Sep 13, 2018 at 17:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Taudris Why would a phone need to crop after being walked closer to a subject? (yeah, I got what you meant, sorry) \$\endgroup\$
    – Nobody
    Sep 13, 2018 at 19:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It depends on the look you're going for. If you want depth compression like you get with a zoom lens, you have to stand further back and crop. Of course, this costs resolution. \$\endgroup\$
    – Taudris
    Sep 14, 2018 at 4:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Most phones already have to use cropping to zoom; thats not completely true: on Android if you use the default Android photo app and you have not set to capture with the highest resolution possible it is just using another part of the sensor and not cropping. but my answer was not realy targeted to just phone photography but to whole photography also with better cameras. Also you don't really get the compression of a zoom lens with cropping... \$\endgroup\$
    – LuZel
    Sep 16, 2018 at 11:45

From artistic perspective a photographer is duty bound to use all means that are at his disposal to achieve the intended look. This includes cropping and / or other image manipulation techniques.

To illustrate my point - this is original frame from Alberto Korda. You are no doubt familiar with the edited version. It has been cropped and contrast tweaked.

You may agree or disagree with the outcome, but it was Korda's decision to make (and personally I think he nailed it).


  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ What an amazing example. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 13, 2018 at 17:01
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "duty bound to use all means" ??? Where does this "duty" come from? What if I simply don't want to? Or maybe I can achieve the same, or close enough, in less time by using less than everything at my disposal? \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @xiota I agree, that's a weird thing to say. \$\endgroup\$
    – Clonkex
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:59
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great example, but it's only one. Certainly there are counter-examples, but finding them does not really answer the question. :( \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xiota "duty bound" is perhaps an overstatement, but I do share the sentiment that putting in your work anything less than your best effort into your work is disrespectful to your viewers, to yourself, and above all to the work itself. So yes, I do feel that there is some sort of moral duty, and do not have a good opinion of photographers who deliberately cut corners and publish subpar work. \$\endgroup\$
    – user29608
    Sep 16, 2018 at 20:25

My question is whether this is a common practice among photographers? Or maybe traditional photographers do the composition when they capture?

Photographers generally aim to capture an image that's as close to the final image as possible. Three reasons for that:

  • control: There are a lot of aspects of an image that you can't change after the fact. You can't change focus or point of view or the point in time when you took the image, for example. Those things are baked into the image, and in order to get them right you generally need a pretty good idea of what you think the final image will look like.

  • resolution: Framing the image in camera as you'd like the final image to be framed means that you don't have to crop the image, or you don't have to crop it much. That means you're using all or nearly all of the data from the sensor, so you end up with the highest resolution image. If you crop out a significant portion of the image, then you're left with fewer pixels to work with.

  • time: If you compose an image the way you want it when you take it, you don't have to spend as much time editing it later. It might not seem like a big deal to save a couple minutes, but if you've taken a hundred or two hundred photos in a day, reducing the time you have to spend on each one later makes a big difference.

Now, that doesn't mean that photographers don't change their mind later. It's not uncommon to notice something in a photo that you didn't see before, or to realize that the photo would be even better if some part of it were left out. But most of the time, you know what you're trying to capture when you take the photo, and you try to use all the camera's controls to make the image you want. You have the most control over an image at the moment of exposure.

More specifically, is offline composing considered as cheating or something?

It's not cheating, and if it works for you, go with it. Just be aware of what you're giving up if you're routinely cropping away large part of your images.

There are cameras on the market that capture more data than you need for a single image exactly so that you have the freedom to adjust later. Light-field cameras have special sensors that record light at multiple focal planes, so that you can change the point of focus later. And some cameras can record a series of images instead of just one, so that you can change the point in time when the final image was recorded, or even combine parts of several images to get a photo where everybody is looking at the camera at the same time, even if that didn't actually happen.

A better phrasing of the question would be whether offline composition is frowned upon by traditional photographers?

I've never heard anyone else use the phrase "offline composition," so I don't think most photographers really think of it in those terms. What you've shown as an example is a pretty typical example of cropping — you decided later that the bridge was more interesting than the sky or the subjects knees. Photographers do that kind of thing all the time, and if someone frowns on you for doing it, who cares? Don't worry about it.

That said, I think most photographers also do try to think about composition when they're taking the shot, for the reasons I outlined above. If you're happy with your process and satisfied with the images you're creating, don't change a thing. But if you're interested in improving your photography, then one thing you can do is to try to be more mindful of composition while you're shooting.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Another example I find amusing to go along with the light-field cameras is that many slow-motion cameras record continuously, and save the last 2-3 seconds of footage when you press the button. That would mean you literally get to choose the composition after the fact. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cort Ammon
    Sep 15, 2018 at 16:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CortAmmon Only that single aspect of composition. You need to set up the shot before hand - can't add light or change the focal plane after the fact! \$\endgroup\$ Sep 16, 2018 at 1:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @curiousdannii Or change the camera position. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Sep 17, 2018 at 0:35

This answer focuses on the cheating aspect of the question.

... is offline composing considered as cheating... ?

Cheating is gaining advantage with deception. Whatever personal photography rules you follow, it is cheating if you ever feel the need to lie. As long as you're upfront about what you're doing, it's not cheating. Even with something as banal as cropping, if you say you didn't, but you did, it's cheating. Since you openly admit to "offline composing", it is not cheating in your case. For someone claiming the image was produced entirely in-camera, it would be cheating.

This is not specific to photography. Take sports. Why is taking certain drugs cheating? Because everyone agreed not to, and those who do gain advantage by lying about it. If there were a sports series where taking performance-enhancing drugs were allowed, taking them would no longer be cheating.

Cheating is serious. People have medals, degrees, and honors revoked because of cheating. People are expelled from universities for cheating. Papers are retracted because of cheating. Cheating is wrong. People know they're about to do something wrong when they begin planning the coverup and generating excuses in case they're caught.

It is not true that cheating isn't possible because photography is "art". Again, cheating is using deception to gain advantage. Someone might lie about how some "art" was produced to increase sales or win a contest with clearly defined rules. That is cheating.

Suppose a documentary photographer edits and publishes some photos. Documentary photographers claim to show stuff "as it is", with edits restricted to publisher guidelines. When they edit photos beyond what's allowed, they're lying to gain advantage. Hence cheating.

... is [offline composing] a common practice... ?

There is nothing wrong with "offline composing" as long as there is no deception involved with its practice. Most people have straightened and cropped a photo at some point. It is impossible not to for some types of photos with specific size and ratio requirements, such as passport and profile photos. Cropping may be part of the image upload and selection process.

Many who haven't (ever) cropped likely simply don't know nor care how. They likely are not making any sort of principled stand against cropping. They're the typically ones who don't have profile photos on any of their accounts and have their grand kids setup all of their electronics.

Reasons not to crop, to get it done in camera, include maximizing film/sensor area, avoiding post-processing effort, and the satisfaction of having an image come out "perfect". It makes no sense to lie about cropping. Whatever "prestige" is gained by the lie is offset by still having to do the post-processing, and missing out on the dopamine rush from getting it right in camera.

[Do] traditional photographers do the composition when they capture?

It depends on how traditional. Film only? Develop yourself? Print yourself? In a darkroom with enlarger? Mix your own chemicals? Etc. Some media cannot be easily cropped, such as slide film and glass plates. Some formats lend themselves to cropping, such as square medium formats with a fixed focal-length lens.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Compliance with the rules of any particular photo contest seems like a separate issue. A photo contest could have a rule like All photos must be taken with the camera held in landscape orientation, right-side up, but outside the context of that contest nobody would consider holding the camera upside-down to be cheating. If a contest rule is No cropping, then of course submitting a cropped image and saying that it wasn't cropped is cheating, but I don't think that's what the OP is getting at. \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Sep 13, 2018 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Caleb Art contests with clear rules is just an example where there are specified rules and it is easy to determine when someone is cheating. Lying about the background of a piece of art to increase sales would be another example. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Many contests expect cropping (and quite possibly rotation) but also want to see the original to check that you haven't done things like move objects, or crop out bait in a wildlife shot, for example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Sep 14, 2018 at 9:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Reading your cheating example, I thought of this debacle (telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/27/…) However, it does make me wonder...Is freezing a bug and placing it on a leaf on par with using a fake animal? (I'm on a complete tangent from OP, just asking) \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Hueco Suspicious that an anteater wandered in and struck a taxidermy pose. Also suspicious that he has no raw file with the anteater in it... If people say they like your bug image and want to know how you did it, if you tell them what you did, including chilling the bugs in the fridge, it's fine. If you try to hide or deny it, it's cheating. Even if it's against the rules and accidental, if you openly admit it (without trying to cover it up first) and make appropriate amends, it isn't cheating. Even better if you preemptively describe your methodology. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Sep 15, 2018 at 16:48

There are basically two reasons for "rules" in photography. Well, three. The third type of rules are things that are dictated by mechanics or physics: you can't have two subjects at different distances both in focus, the earth spins at a certain speed, the sun can damage your camera and your eyes, etc.

But discounting those kinds of practical things, there are two reasons for rules:

First, guidelines to simplify things for beginners and others unsure of composition. This applies to the "rule of thirds" and other "divide by lines" rules, as well as many other suggestions for "proper" composition and exposure. See some examples:

These kinds of rules are also the kind of rules that are made to be broken. They don't really apply in every case, and if everyone followed every such rule, photography would be boring and sad.

Second, though there are more-or-less arbitrary rules which can work as tools for creativity, like forms of a poem. There's nothing magical that says a love poem must be three quatrains and a final couplet, but a lot of people enjoy the challenge of making them so. It isn't "cheating" to pick something other than nineteen lines with two repeating rhymes and two refrains for your meditation on life and death — but intentionally sticking to villanelle has yielded some incredibly powerful and lasting works. (Even if you're not into poetry, you know these lines: "Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.")

This can also be true in photography, and indeed some of the masters were kind of obsessed with not cropping — not because it's cheating per se, but because it isn't the spirit of their photography. For street photography pioneer and legend Henri Cartier-Bresson, photographs are about "the decisive moment". He says this about cropping:

[W]e have to have a feeling for the geometry of the relation of shapes, like in any plastic medium. And I think that you place yourself in time, we’re dealing with time, and with space. Just like you pick a right moment in an expression, you pick your right spot, also. I will get closer, or further, there’s an emphasis on the subject, and if the relations, the interplay of lines is correct, well, it is there. If it’s not correct it’s not by cropping in the darkroom and making all sorts of tricks that you improve it. If a picture is mediocre, well it remains mediocre. The thing is done, once for all.

Likewise, the Group f.64, of which Ansel Adams was a member (along with Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others) valued making straight contact prints from large-format view cameras — the image might be heavily manipulated, but it was seen as failure to crop. From an article about Weston:

Huntington Curator of Photographs Jennifer Watts said Weston never cropped his photographs: "He's really about finding the form in nature. Be it gnarled form in the stump of a tree, or clouds, and honing in on that in a clear, concise, framed way."

So, yeah, there certainly are "traditional photography rules" which cropping in the darkroom (or now, on the computer) are seen as failing. But that's okay. Not every great poem is a sonnet. In fact, from the Group f.64 manifesto:

There are great number of serious workers in photography whose style and technique does not relate to the metier of the Group.

"Metier" means "business or calling", and in this sense that's not really professional work as much at is the particular rules that group chose. So, this group of very-well regarded traditional photographers strict adhered to a particular set of principles and found it important and valuable to do so, they didn't feel a need to enforce those particular rules on everyone.

But, it's important to also realize that the rules that they chose aren't just arbitrary. They fit into history in an important way. The artists of Group f.64 were reacting to the previously-in-vogue pictoralist school of photography. To grossly summarize, that earlier movement tried to validate photography as Real Art by emphasizing what are really non-photographic aspects of creation, including adding brushwork and other overt manipulation. By contrast, members Group f.64 believed that photography has is own language, and that the language of photography is directly informed by the mechanics of the process. So, there's something almost sacred about from the framed shot to a contact print.

While the result — an avoidance of cropping — is similar to that of Cartier-Bresson, the reasons for choosing that rule are different. Or, rather, different in the specifics, but actually identical in spirit, because the rule reflects what photography means to all of these different photographers.

I'd encourage you to find the rules that fit your style, and what photography means to you. For me, it's avoiding zoom lenses; I often crop after the fact to change the aspect ratio, but I do kind of see situations where I didn't get the framing right in camera as a failure. But for other people, this is all just a tool in the toolbox. Going back again to poetry, many casual readers see Emily Dickson's work as crazy free-form poems because they don't follow a traditional rhyme scheme, but in fact they are carefully metered and measured. She's wasn't cheating by not writing sestinas or whatever, but she definitely had a particular voice. Rules like "get the framing right in camera" can help you find yours, but it doesn't have to be that rule.

  • \$\begingroup\$ "And we should be able to do better here. :(" ... Everyone was just waiting for you to answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Sep 15, 2018 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xiota I mean.... my background here is basically "I've read a bunch of stuff". There are certainly many people who know much more than I do. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 16:28
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ And yet H.C.B. left his darkroom work to others, who did do dodging, burning, etc. and even the occasional crop. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark That's a great link with some interesting perspectives from several different well-regarded photographers with different approaches. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:29

No, I would not consider it as cheating.

In some cases you just don't have the right lens at hand (or better at camera) or the subject is moving, so you have to take the picture as it is and compose it later on.

For me, I like Wildlife photography, but no matter how gently I ask, the deer (or whatever) will move in the worst directions. So, I take the picture as long as I can and compose or post process it later on.


It can be a useful thing to do.

  1. Your lens is sharper at the center
  2. Your camera often auto-focuses better on the center (more sensitive/accurate focus point)(some old cameras auto-focus only on the center)
  3. Your camera gives more weight to the center of the image when it determines the exposure.

Of course you can center the subject, half-press the button to have the camera set up focus/exposure, and then shift the frame to compensate for 2) and 3) but this still puts your subject where the lens is softer.

So shooting with a centered subject is sometimes technically better especially if you have an entry-level camera and lens.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Exactly this. And you can't center the subject, half-press the button and then shift the frame if you're trying to take photos of a formula one car moving at 200mph... \$\endgroup\$
    – AndyT
    Sep 14, 2018 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Whether it is useful or not does not answer the question. Clearly, the question-asker found it useful to do so in the example. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:38

As many have pointed out, it depends on the intent of the image.

I completely agree with Jindra Lacko regarding the artist's obligation. That's right on the money.

Your phrasing suggests that you are using your photography as a creative outlet (personal art). In that case, there's only one kind of cheating, because there is only one rule: the final image needs to meet with your artistic vision. If it doesn't, you're cheating yourself and your viewers.

WRT cropping: It's an arbitrary and unreasonable burden on your artistic vision and interpretation of a subject to require that the final image match the frame proportions of the equipment used in the capture. To maximize image quality, you SHOULD strive to frame the image initially so that you need only crop along one axis (width or height). Sometimes, that is simply impossible. Then it becomes a matter of sacrificing a bit of quality vs. sacrificing a shot...it's usually worth the trade off to shoot it.

Speaking of the capture...the capture of the image data is only one step (I count 5) in the creative photographic process. It is a critically important one to be sure; but it is only one. The main function of the capture is to capture enough image data that it can be manipulated into your vision for the image during post-processing. If you "blow out" important highlights or let important shadow detail fall into black, the image is beyond repair (without resorting to extreme measures). This fact is the motivation for HDR imaging (for digital) and the zone system (for film), because very often, the lighting range (aka dynamic range) of the scene makes it impossible to fit it into the physical limitations of the capturing system (the camera/sensor/film).

The great pictorial photographers (Adams, the Westons (Ed and Brett), White, etc.) spent long hours in the darkroom working their images to meet their personal artistic vision. The technology of the times limited them quite a bit. The fact that software now makes adjustments fairly trivial doesn't change it one bit because it never was about the process, it has always been about the vision. I would argue that like much of technology, it makes the bar much higher in terms of expected level of refinement because it is so much easier to achieve.

A final note: Your artistic vision changes throughout your life. I recall reading a story about Minor White working on some images for an upcoming exhibition. One of his friends asked why he was reworking prints when he had existing prints from the same negatives. He replied "Yes, but now I see them differently."

  • \$\begingroup\$ You aren't. I misinterpreted your intent. If you aren't interested in expressing yourself artistically, there's no reason to feel obligated to do so. I guess I could've saved myself a lot of typing by simply saying: There's nothing wrong with cropping. \$\endgroup\$
    – sidstar
    Sep 14, 2018 at 2:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ No need to delete your entire answer. I simply disagreed with the first three paragraphs about "obligations". \$\endgroup\$
    – xiota
    Sep 15, 2018 at 1:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ You mention Adam and Weston, but these photographers didn't generally crop their photographs. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Sep 15, 2018 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm - I'll take that as true without verification. My point wrt cropping is this: If a photographer recognizes an image which works best (for example) as a square, there's no reason to forego shooting the image simply because you have a 2:3 camera. My reference to Adams and Weston was to point out that they knew that what was recorded by the camera/film at capture could differ from their vision, but it was within their means by mastery of the medium to realize it in post. Technology hasn't changed capture much, but it has revolutionized the post-production phase of image production. \$\endgroup\$
    – sidstar
    Sep 20, 2018 at 22:34

Composing for the final result while photographing has several advantages: you get the full framing power of the camera and its full resolution. You'll get exposure and dynamic range suitable for the best end result. This is blindingly obvious when using off-camera flash guns: if they end up on the image, that has significant consequences for the dynamic range available for the result, particularly if your equipment and workflow allow using TTL and thus will dial down the exposure to avoid overexposure of what should not end up in the final image anyway. Of course this is similar for light sources or glaring highlights that are likely to end up out-of-frame for the sake of composition. Cropping tends to be the least of evil, any rotation or stretching or perspective correction will cost you in terms of image sharpness.

So there is a good point in pre-framing properly: it gives you the best material to work with afterwards. Pre-framing does not mean getting the framing perfect: that would not leave you the leeway of making the frame larger if it proves necessary (for example for padding to a different aspect ratio than originally designed for). You should have enough slop to work with in after-production for all intended purposes.

I recently messed up photographing a cat cornering a vole on the patio. It turned out that a good framing divided frame space more or less equally between vole and cat (imaging just a looming half-head of the cat rather than the full animal and surroundings). As a consequence of the wrong framing, what I had was not just low-resolution but also seriously underexposed in spite of using a flash.

In fact, some of the more consequential framing errors I make tend to be when I try capturing a complete entity when a good framing would warrant only a considerably cut down fraction of it. In particular since "just" capturing an entity tends to be of little use for framing purposes (outside of product photography): either you want to picture how something fits into the context or not.


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