Imagine if life was a liquid. Everyone is given a canteen. As we travel down the road, we can refill the canteen with life from fountains. However, when we run dry, there is no more road to travel.
With this in mind, we would fill our canteen often and make sure it's completely full each time. We should do the same with our images.
Within the rectangular frame there is life. Each time we bring the camera to our eyes, we fill from the fountain. We have a chance to look at the world around us and refill our wonder. Given this opportunity, we should fill our frame with life. We should fill it often and make sure it's full.
Resolve not to crop
When I was in college, I shot and printed full-frame. This means all my prints had a black border surrounding the image to show the image was not cropped. Realistically, it meant I cropped everything in camera.
This approach is good training for new PJs. It makes PJs refine their vision and pay attention to what's happening on the edges of the frame. It also means PJs must go to class and defend the frame edges and image element placement.
The true point of this exercise is to make sure to fill the frame completely. The rule is, keep anything that adds to the image and remove (by in-camera cropping) anything that detracts from the image.
The end result is a solid, defendable image from border to border.
To get to this point, it takes commitment. Yes, the traditional commitments (time, knowledge, endurance, etc...), but it also takes a commitment not to crop. PJs are on the line for everything within the frame. There is no after treatment of the image. It's scanned or printed as it was shot and the PJ's name is placed under the image for all to see.
The question becomes, is it good enough? Is the full-frame image good enough to risk the PJ's name and reputation? Did the PJ try hard enough? Is the frame full enough?
It should be. This is what makes a pro.
Why not crop?
Last time, we talked about the golden ratio. We know the frame is already configured to adhere to this ratio. Therefore, it's best to use the whole frame because it's immediately "correct" for Western art.
More pragmatically, the more an image is cropped, the smaller it must run. There's a finite level of information contained in a negative or in an image capture. Beyond a specific point, it becomes blurry shapes or pixels.
Consequently, the more information we contain within our submitted images, the larger it can run. Our goal is to tell stories. To do so, we want to make important images and have them run large and prominent. To get this, we must retain enough information for the image to run large.
Large is relative to the final image use. At 200 ppi (pixels per inch), an image can run large in a newspaper, but at 300 ppi its use may be limited in magazines, books and posters. It comes back to the PJ's initial capture. If the frame was filled, the image can run large. If a crop is involved, the image runs smaller.
After enough small images, the canteen begins to runs dry.
How to fill the frame
Later, we'll consider what makes a frame full, but the initial problem for most shooters is learning to fill it completely. To fill the frame, it must literally be overflowing. We must not have any room left within the frame, or it's not full.
Robert Capa said, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."
To fill the frame to overflowing, we can get closer. We can also use a longer lens. Lastly, we can wait for the subject to move toward us.
Most PJs live by Capa's quote and find the opposite is true as well. Sometimes, we're too close to see the "whole picture."
However, it's easier to back away or go wider than it is to rush a subject or go longer. Consequently, most PJs err on the side to being too close or outglassed rather than being too far or underglassed.
Somewhere between too little and too much is the right image - a full-frame image. This is when we refill our canteen from the fountain of life.
Enough for now,