When cropping heads isn't a photographic crime

Have you ever had someone take a photo of you and a friend, only to find out later that they cut off the tops of your heads? It looks ridiculous, and if someone’s head 'sticks out' of the composition, your photo is ruined. In other words, it’s not hard to imagine where the don’t-crop-people’s-heads rule came from. When you are working with people and portraits you will soon learn that there are good ways to crop people, and others that are not so good. Cropping heads is at the top of the naughty list. Don’t do it! Slicing off some of the lovely Sarah's head would not have been a good look

Except that, sometimes, cropping heads can be highly effective.

When can you break this rule-of-rules? When you've got in close—really close—to your subject. If your composition is focused only on somebody’s face, it can improve the shot to crop in close.

Get closer!

Don't be afraid to break the rule and crop in close and slice something off of the top, bottom, or sides of the head when the features of the face are the focal point of your composition. The reasoning is this: if you’re going to get in close, get in really close. By filling the frame completely with someone’s face it can make cropping her or his head unavoidable, but it also doesn’t look unnatural.

The key is to decide whether your composition is mainly about the body, upper body (shoulders and above), head, or just the face. Each type of shot has a different purpose, and only the face shots will look natural if you decide to crop the head. Otherwise it merely looks like you failed to plan your shot.

Intentional or accidental? It's hard to tell.

But in-keeping with the adage that if you're going to break the rules, break them properly, if you are going to crop into somebody’s head, make sure that you do it properly. A composition where only a thin sliver of someone’s head is cut off looks accidental. If you go even closer and cut them off across their forehead, the composition looks a lot more powerful, and at least nobody is left wondering whether or not you did it by accident!

Be bold - get in close!

Be bold!

Rules Screen Shot More unusual ways of looking at things, remembering rules, and then breaking those rules, are in my lovely book, The Rules of Photography and When to Break Them. It's available as an e-book and in a dead tree version (UK, US).


Digital zoom: best avoided

Whenever I'm asked for quick tips for better smartphone photos, I usually proffer the same advice that I give to any other type of photographer: get closer and tuck your elbows into your body. But with smartphones (or indeed with some point-and-shoots) that first pointer in augmented with an admonishment to avoid digital zoom. So that's do get closer, but don't get closer using the capability that manufacturers have baked into their devices to accomplish it. Get closer, but nix the digi-zoom.

The truth is, digital zoom sucks. One day it might not, but right now it does. It sucks because digital zoom is nothing more than a glorified cropping tool. Whereas optical zoom relies on the physics of lenses to ensure that what you see appears larger or closer, digital zoom simply crops away the extraneous pixels and enlarges those remaining in the picture. While this might get you closer to your subject—and that's rule number one—it has an unfortunate effect on your images.

Get closer!
Get closer!

By enlarging the pixels that are on display, you've degraded your picture quality. You're spreading your information more thinly over the same surface area. It's the technological equivalent of spreading one teaspoon of jam over a slice of toast rather than two. Even if the processor is clever enough to use interpolation to enlarge the image, there's probably still some degradation.

Don't believe me? Have a look at these examples and tell me which is superior. I'll bet you a friendly pound that you prefer the image where I've got closer to my subject using my hands and my feet rather than the slider on my iPhone.

The first step in the art of getting closer is to do so physically: walk in, reach in, lean in. Getting optically closer is your next step. And if you're still not close enough, take the photo with what you've got and crop in after the fact. You'll still be spreading those pixels more thinly, but at least you'll have better control over the final image.

Get really close with an Easy-Macro band
Get really close with an Easy-Macro band

And if you want to get really close, try an Easy-Macro band. It's $15 well spent.

Calumet Photographic closes its US doors

In a largely unexpected turn of events, the 75 year old photography stalwart Calumet Photographic has ceased trading in the US. With no prior notice to staff, a defunct website, a closed Twitter account, and only a Facebook announcement to go on, what do we know about Calumet US' shut-down?

  • All 14 stores across the US have not opened on Thursday 13 March.
  • The company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which enables company liquidation, on Wednesday 12 March. This usually follows a failed attempt at re-organisation after Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • According to papers filed with the courts, Calumet listed only $50,000 assets against liabilities estimated to be in excess of $1,000,000. It has 585 debtors.
  • Calumet stores in Europe will continue to trade - although they share the same name, they are separate business entities

According to comments left beneath the Facebook announcement, staff were only informed of the loss of their jobs when they arrived for work this morning. The situation doesn't look good for them, and neither does it look good for any customers with products on order or any kind of credit with the company.

(Headsup to Amateur Photographer and additional information from Photo Business Forum)

So long, Everpix

Everpix, the San Francisco-based photo management and organisation app, has announced that it has commenced shut down of its service and will cease operations entirely on 15 December 2013. The idea behind Everpix, founded in 2011 by two ex-Apple employees and an ex-Odopod designer, was to bring organisation to the thousands of photos that we all have, scattered across different devices, sorting them according to creation date, making them searchable, and allowing you to share them easily by email, photo page, or social media. According to the Everpix team, in a blog post, 'We were unable to secure sufficient funding in order to properly scale the business, and our endeavors to find a new home for Everpix did not come to pass. At this point, we have no other options but to discontinue the service.'

There are full details on the shut-down process on its support site, and users will be emailed in due course, too. But the team has assured users that their images will be available for download until 15 December 2013, they will receive refunds on the cost of their apps, and their data will not be sold or transfered to any other companies. From now on, no one will be able to sync images from their devices to Everpix and sign-ups have been suspended.

You'd think with so many million photos in existence, there would be ample demand, but Everpix's demise proves that it isn't easy money. The image storage, sharing, and back-up space is a crowded place. Everpix isn't the first, and I doubt that they'll be the last, especially now that the likes of Flickr and Google+ offer oodles of free storage and the beginnings of automated back-up. If nothing else, please remember not to place all of your eggs in one basket.