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To Crop Or Not To Crop, That Is The Question

While some like to present their photographs unedited or straight-out-of-camera, it turns out that a little snipping here and there can transform good images into great ones. Did you know that some of the most iconic photographs of the century are actually cropped versions of their originals? Check out the gallery below and tell us what you think!

Properly framing your shots to include vital imagery and information can result in some magnificent photographs. Sometimes, less really is more, as these powerful images have shown us. We’ve compiled some of the most recognizable pictures and put the original and cropped versions side by side for comparison.

Tank Man

“The most used photograph of the event was taken by Jeff Widener of the Associated Press, from a sixth floor balcony of the Beijing Hotel, about half a mile (800 meters) away from the scene. Widener was injured and suffering from flu. The image was taken using a Nikon FE2 camera through a Nikkor 400mm 5.6 ED IF lens and TC-301 teleconverter. Low on film, a friend hastily obtained a roll of Fuji 100 ASA color negative film, allowing him to make the shot. Though he was concerned that his shots were not good, his image was syndicated to a large number of newspapers around the world, and was said to have appeared on the front page of all European papers.”

The Beatles album cover artwork for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

“The Grammy Award-winning album packaging was art-directed by Robert Fraser, designed by Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, his wife and artistic partner, and photographed by Michael Cooper. It featured a colourful collage of life-sized cardboard models of famous people on the front of the album cover and lyrics printed on the back cover, the first time this had been done on a British pop LP. The Beatles themselves, in the guise of the Sgt. Pepper band, were dressed in custom-made military-style outfits made of satin dyed in day-glo colours.”

Dali Atomicus

“Dali Atomicus (1948) by Philippe Halsman in an unretouched version, showing the devices which held up the various props and missing the painting in the frame on the easel.”

Napalm Girl

Phan Thị Kim Phúc is a Vietnamese-Canadian best known as the child depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The iconic photo taken in Trang Bang by AP photographer Nick Ut shows her at about nine years of age running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack.”

Igor Stravinsky (1946) by Arnold Newman

“The final image, composed of a few strong, simple shapes, resulted from a severe cropping of this original negative.”

Aretha Franklin, Halos, by Art Kane for Esquire Magazine (1967)

“Wanting to highlight her strong Gospel roots, Art Kane tried waving the camera in a circular motion to try to make halo shapes from the light in Aretha’s eyes. This photo is also a rare Art Kane crop as virtually all his images are composed in full frame.”

Guerrillero Heroico

“Guerrillero Heroico (English: “Heroic Guerrilla Fighter”) is an iconic photo of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara wearing his black beret taken by Alberto Korda. It was taken on March 5, 1960, in Havana, Cuba, at a memorial service for victims of the La Coubre explosion and by the end of the 1960s turned the charismatic and controversial leader into a cultural icon. Korda has said that at the moment he shot the picture, he was drawn to Guevara’s facial expression, which showed “absolute implacability” as well as anger and pain. Years later, Korda would say that the photo showed Che’s firm and stoic character. Emphasizing the image’s ubiquitous nature and wide appeal, the Maryland Institute College of Art called the picture a symbol of the 20th century and the world’s most famous photo. Versions of it have been painted, printed, digitized, embroidered, tattooed, silk-screened, sculpted or sketched on nearly every surface imaginable, leading the Victoria and Albert Museum to say that the photo has been reproduced more than any other image in photography."

The Decisive Moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Million Dollar Quartet (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash)

Surgeon’s Photograph (1934) (Loch Ness Monster)

Purists might prefer untouched photos, but perfectionists may choose otherwise. It’s definitely a matter of choice and taste so let us know in the comments below if you you usually crop your shots or not!

Sourced from PetaPixel’s recently published article, The Uncropped Versions of Iconic Photos.

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written by denisesanjose


  1. theoclunk


    I crop sometimes, because often by doing so I can show more vividly what I originally set out to capture with a shot.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  2. superlighter


    I'm not opposed to this technique however I never cropped my photos in postproduction, but before shoting, all the example showed below are surely better in the cropped version, I liked also the uncropped version of the Tank Man picture but in this case the photo acquires a different meaning and is not easy to see the little man facing the row of tanks.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  3. mafiosa


    Great article. Fantastic examples of the power of framing and cropping. I generally tend not to do too much cropping for photos I post on lomography, but sometimes do before printing.

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  4. jliceralde

    I'm not really comfortable with cropping a photo. I want to bwork on composing my shots properly. But that's just my personal preference. Although there are cases where in you can't avoid cropping a photo. The article on the other hand is very informative, although seeing "The decisive moment" by Henri Cartier-Bresson cropped sent chills down my spine, especially since HCB (Henri Cartier-Bresson) never cropped any of his photos.
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  5. micky_s


    er, i'm pretty sure the tank man photos are two different ones....

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  6. zoe191


    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  7. ripsta


    normally after scan i just crop the black border ,example like Guerrillero Heroico

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  8. lomonesia


    why vintage photo can be cropped?

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  9. dudizm


    great article...

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  10. kendralugo


    This is something that I've wondered many times! Great article

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  11. rachelleah


    the act of capturing a photograph in the camera to film (or file) is cropping a scene & framing it in the way the photographer wants it presented to the world. Cropping in post is the same. Subjective photojournalism or not images captured are the interpretation of the moment by the photographer.
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  12. iamtheju


    I never really crop these days but if it would help the photo i would. If i was working with digital photography i would be more likely to take wide shots that would need cropping but in 35mm I try to crop as i shoot to get the best negative i can first time.

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  13. schlogoat


    Yes I try to frame ths shot as I shoot it but I don't mind a bit of cropping.

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  14. smu


    I haven't cropped my Pics by now as I love to work on my skill and get what I intend at initial shot. Especially as I'm mostly shooting slides, where everything HAS to be right (I love to project the Pics on walls, not only to scan them). But one of my most recent films led me to think about cropping a few days ago, as the results would definitely be more what I intended to do, but I was limited by not having a close up Lens for my Bronica. With a min focal range of 1 m, I sometimes have objects or people in the back of some of my pictures that I did not really want to have on them. When you e.g. want to capture just the structure of something, you only want that structure in the picture, not also a trash bin at the left side or something like that. But you can't get closer as the picture would be blurry then... So I thought about cropping, but haven't made my mind up, as this feels strange... It is interesting to see, what you think about this technique...

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  15. befaster


    Great article, really enjoyed it. I tend to crop in digital (more to straighten my perspective or in portraiture to get more emphasis) and just do the full frame in film because I like to see the edges. If I was enlarging them I'd probably crop a bit I guess, but I haven't done it much before.

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  16. sirio174


    This is a great tutorial. I use crop very often. Crop is almost inevitable in street photography!

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  17. iamdnierod


    This answered my cropping questions! Thanks for this article!

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  18. dmgphotography

    I avoid cropping and try to frame within the viewfinder, nice and easy with a zoom lens. But sometimes crop when I've corrected 'tilted' photos. Have to point out though, the 'uncropped' photos of the Sgt. Pepper album sleeve isn't the same photo. For starters, it's in black and white and the Beatles aren't in their finished photo poses. Also, I'm pretty sure, from books and magazine articles, the actual photo sessions were taken on 6x6.
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  19. feelux


    Great article. It was worth the read! I tend to avoid cropping but I guess it's good to crop to realign. Gonna try that out next time!

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  20. af-capture


    great article....I do it once in a while...but yes sometimes it enhace the message or what you had originally in your mind....my profile pic has been cropped. thanks again for the article

    about 2 years ago · report as spam
  21. pangmark


    Cropping? I thought it was against the rules. Quite disappointed to see the decisive moment wasn't quite original.

    about 1 year ago · report as spam

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This is the original article written in: English. It is also available in: Italiano, Français, 한국어 & Spanish.