DevelopLightroom Tips

What the crop? Part 1: Visual tension

Cropping is a big part of editing… of course you are trying to get everything right in the camera, but often in the heat of the moment the framing might be a bit off… or your vision of what you are trying to say with the image changes and the way you crop the picture can give you a completely different feel. The great thing about Lightroom is that the crop is never baked in and you can create and maybe even print virtual copies of the same image cropped different ways to help you decide which way tells the story you want the best.

But there are a few things to be aware of when cropping and in this first part I want to talk about visual tension or the space around and intersecting with the edge of the frame and how important it is.

Let’s start with a simple portrait… you can see the tape marks on the floor and so you can either try to clone them or crop them out. What should guide your decision?


original crop out of the camera

The room between the object of focus and the edge of the frame is very important… crop too close to the object and you create visual tension. What that means is that our brains don’t like that near contact and we actually spend mental energy trying to imagine more space between the object and the frame and our minds think over and over again as if stuck on a loop “I wish there was just a little more space!” That is not what you want your viewer to be focused on, but if you crop too close it will happen… guaranteed.


cropping too close to the feet creates tension and too much space at the top leaves it feeling unbalanced


It is even worse when the head feels cramped by too close a crop at the top

So you will have to become aware of how much space you are leaving for your subject in relation to the frame… too much and it feels tight… too loose and it looks unfinished. However if you start to grasp how interaction with the frame can help clarify or confuse, you can start to use your cropping in the same way a writer uses grammar to help craft the story.


top and bottom have decent spacing, and honestly I think I cropped the bottom of this screen shot too close… still a little tension

Just a warning… once you start paying more attention to how you crop it opens a whole new can of worms. Do you crop vertical? Landscape? More room on the left? etc… We will address some of that in Part 2. 😀