DSLR Photography 101: Cropping & Framing

Megan O'Neill


Over the past month, we’ve been diving into how to take better photos in our DSLR Photography 101 series. We’ve taken a look at ISO, shutter speed, aperture, and lenses. Today we’re diving into composition — starting with cropping and framing.

Cropping and framing refers to how your subject is positioned within the confines or edges of your photograph — how much of the subject and background you see and what is cut off.

Portrait vs. landscape

The first thing you’ll want to think about when shooting a photo is whether to shoot in landscape (wide or horizontal) or portrait (tall or vertical). What you select will depend upon what you’re looking to show in your photo. In the example below, landscape works nicely because it tells the full story of what’s going on by capturing the entire airplane in the background.

Horizontal vs Vertical Photography

Camera position

A big part of framing is the position of your camera. Try to photograph your subject at or just above eye-level. Photograph from too high up and your subject will appear very short; photograph from too low and you might be able to see right up their nose! If you’re photographing children, get down on their level. Not only will this make for a better shot, but it’ll help your subject connect with you better.

Fill the frame

One of the most common mistakes is not filling the frame with the subject. When the subject is too small, distracting background elements can take the viewer’s focus away. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule (for instance, you may want to shoot a subject within a larger environment to tell a bigger story).

You may remember from our post about choosing a lens that a telephoto lens can be helpful for getting closer in on a subject so you can fill the frame more fully when you are farther away.

Cropping of body parts

When photographing a human subject, you’ll want to be wary of where you crop, or cut off, different parts of their body. Cropping at any of the points indicated on the illustration below can make for an awkward looking image — a good rule of thumb is not to crop at any joints.

Crop lines photography


Headroom is also an important concept to understand. It refers to the amount of space above your subject’s head that is still in the frame. Too much headroom (or too little) can make for bad composition. We’ll talk about this more in an upcoming post on composition and the rule of thirds.

Head Room

Cropping after you shoot

“But wait!” you may be thinking. “Can’t I just crop my image after I shoot using Photoshop or a similar photo editing tool?” You can, but be wary of the fact that if you crop your image too much in post-processing then you’ll lower the resolution of the image. This can result in pixelation and poor quality prints. If your image is not cropped in post and you pay attention to getting the framing right when you’re shooting, the final image will utilize 100 percent of your camera’s megapixels and will appear sharper, less noisy, and have more clarity.

Just one final note: rules are made to be broken! While these general rules are recommended and will often result in a more pleasing photograph, remember that taking your own artistic license and breaking these rules can still produce stunning images. The important part is understanding those rules and knowing why you are breaking them in order to achieve a specific outcome.

Stay tuned for next week’s DSLR Photography 101 post, in which we’ll discuss the rule of thirds. To read the other posts in this series, visit the links below:

What is ISO? What is Shutter Speed? What is Aperture? Choosing a Lens Choosing a Portrait Lens

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