I've read What and how to crop? & yes, I really do understand the theory - even if it boils down to pick an aspect you like & emphasise it.
I don't want this to be a "which one do you like best?" question, but I'm struggling to decide when I've found the right crop to provide the most satisfying composition.

These are all just screenshots to try illustrate my point. Quality is suspect, but unimportant to the question.
I started with a sunflower, then faked in a huge amount of background, just so I could play around with the crop. The original is some 40 MP.
I've shown each crop attempt with the guides, so you can see what I was 'thinking' for each one.
I hope the question overall isn't too much like 'stream of consciousness'.

All images shrunk to not fill the page up too much. Larger sizes on right-click, open in new tab.

Full image.

Because it's facing left, my instinct is to set it to the right, so it's looking into frame.
This looks 'wrong' to me...

So, having eliminated that, I pushed it to the other side, left most of it in-frame & moved the right-hand 'line' of petals towards the ⅔ line.
OK - looks fair, but is it 'right' or is it 'too safe' ?

Push it a bit further & line up the flower centre more towards the ⅔ line.
Balance looks wrong.

OK, forget rule of thirds & let's have a look at a golden spiral...
It's dramatic, but once I remove the spiral overlay, will anyone understand what I was doing, or does it just look like it's falling out of the bottom of the frame?

Drop that idea & back to rule of thirds - staying tight...

I like it, but do I like it more than the 'safe' option?

What about a portrait crop, with a bit more breathing-room?

At this point I threw up my hands in despair.

How do I know when to stop?
Have I simply hit the point where science gives way to art & no-one can decide except me?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ just a small note: you do not usually dispose of the liberty to apply such different crops, in many situations the crop is dictated by what is in the frame and there is not that much possibility \$\endgroup\$
    – dannemp
    Aug 24, 2017 at 12:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ yes, but I don't do sports or paparazzo, I do portraits & flowers... lots of flowers, they don't get bored ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Aug 24, 2017 at 12:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ If I were you I would edit the question and change the word crop to the word composition) \$\endgroup\$
    – dannemp
    Aug 24, 2017 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fun with Stack Exchange and Imgur: to get a smaller thumbnail size, add am "m" just before .jpg. For example, i.sstatic.net/fxgxA.jpg becomes i.sstatic.net/fxgxAm.jpg. Then, you can link to the larger size directly. Markdown looks like this: [![Description][1]][2] and then have [1] be the smaller image and [2] be the full size one. This is better for bandwidth-constrained users because the bigger image isn't loaded until one actually clicks on it. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Aug 24, 2017 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ What are you trying to convey with this image? \$\endgroup\$
    – Caleb
    Aug 24, 2017 at 14:59

6 Answers 6


You know when to stop when you are satisfied with the result. There's nothing more to it. It is your image, your feelings, your point of view, your way of expressing yourself.

I don't think there's a definite answer, because this is very subjective.

Also, the "rules" you mentioned are not really rules. They're more like guidelines. You need to know them (as you obviously do), but don't stress about it too much! If you know why you chose a different approach and you like the result, stick with it even if it breaks some artificial rule. At the moment it seems you think about it too much.

If you shot the image for some company, they would have the final word. If you shoot just to make yourself happy, do whatever makes you satisfied without overthinking everything. After all, photography is all about feelings/emotions/atmosphere...


Have I simply hit the point where science gives way to art & no-one can decide except me?

You were past that point the moment you picked up a camera. The choice of framing and exposure and subject were all art not science. I'm not saying there isn't science to image making, but it is in the service of art (or some other real world purpose like journalism or crime scene forensics or passports). Whatever the purpose, developing an image is just as intrinsic to the process as the phase involving a camera and the subject.

Some random internet advice

enter image description here

  • Gridlines and cropping in the darkroom are just tools for expressing one's artistic vision. There's nothing to prevent rotation or mirroring. The image from the camera is just a starting point. There's no prosecutor who will say "AHA! So you admit the stem was on the right!" other than you.

  • Another 'rule' If your photographs aren't good enough, you're not close enough Robert Capa

  • A book I like is How to See Creatively

  • Sometimes a carefully planned shot just doesn't work out. Take another shot.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, sometimes, If your photographs aren't good enough, you're too close. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    Aug 24, 2017 at 16:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ More generally, If your photographs aren't good enough, you are at an incorrect distance from the subject. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2017 at 9:11

I just thought I ought to add what finally happened to that crop/composition.

Caleb's comment made me think - "What are you trying to convey with this image?"
Answer -
Big flower! In. Your. Face.

So I went with the tight crop & sent something approximating the one near the end of my original question to the client's phone.
For some reason we had our wires crossed & they were actually expecting a portrait not landscape...
...so they turned the phone 90°.

This will be in their hallway, on a 50x40" canvas by next week.
The hallway, you guessed it, is bright yellow. This will be a feature on the end wall.

enter image description here

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for following up with the final result! I like it - it's a bit like a sideways and upside-down Hurley headshot, but it works really well because it's a flower. \$\endgroup\$
    – J...
    Jan 23, 2018 at 0:25

In all of your crops you are chopping off some part of the flower's "limbs" - ends of petals, leaves, whatever. If nothing you're cropping looks right, sometimes it's worth it to consider whether your original framing is what is throwing you off - that your original shot didn't get enough scene to crop something good to begin with. You're trying to go for a certain composition but to get there you're cutting too deep and losing critical parts of your subject.

Consider, for example, adding some meat to the left of the frame :

enter image description here

Now, I have no idea what your aim is with this photograph, but a classic composition might treat the subject like a person. Humans like to recognize themselves in other things, animate or otherwise. It's what we do. If this flower was a face, where would its eyes be? Where would you put it in the frame? Maybe something like the above?

In any case, the point is that you sometimes have to look beyond what's in the original picture and ask yourself what's not in the original picture.


When it comes to photography as an artform, there really are no "rules". An expertly framed and cropped image is about telling a story or creating art that "pops" at the viewer.

On a recent trip to the art museum, one of the members stood there criticizing Monet... because he didn't observe the rule of thirds. This Bozo had the gall to criticize one of the World's great masters?!?!? When some "expert" presumes to disrespect my work I keep comments like that in mind. Soliciting advice is good and it helps us to grow and improve. But... don't abandon your own "style" just to please others or to follow some arbitrary "rule".

My advise to anyone is if THEY think it's a great shot, then it's a great shot. All of your sample images look fine to me from a technical standpoint. I do like images 5 and 6 best but someone else might prefer different ones.

Yours is not the type of photography I am into but for the subject you have chosen, a tight shot that fills most of the frame usually works well. The folded petals add interest so if you wanted to follow the rule of 1/3rds you might consider a cropping adjustment accordingly.

This is not a criticism of your work at all, but the reason why I don't enjoy that type of photography is that single posy images have been shot to death. It's extremely difficult to create a fresh, creative image that hasn't been done a gazillion times already. I don't know that you'll ever get many ooohs and aaahhs making images of that sort of subject.

Bottom line for me is that selecting an interesting subject is way more important than "properly" cropping a ho-hum subject. This doesn't happen often but when someone looks at one of my images and smiles, I KNOW that it was a really great shot. YMMV.

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    \$\begingroup\$ ... criticize Claude Monet for bad composition? Kind of like criticizing Shakespeare for being full of clichés :) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 25, 2017 at 14:04

There are three rules - all derived from how most people see the image and what they infer from it.

  1. put important things in important places
  2. emphasize aspects of the image that add to the impact
  3. minimize aspects of the image that detract or distract from the impact

Yes, those 'rules' assume you have some idea of how the placement of objects, the sharpness, the brightness and the color are 'seen' by the viewer.


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