James asks: “In shooting models what are the cropping rules, what poses require or permit cropping at certain points as in arms, legs and other places?”
This is a pretty common question for photographers, especially as they start to look at what they’re doing with a more critical eye.
Cropping Rules for Portraits
Just as with composition, there are no real rules of cropping, only rules of thumb to help guide you. And these have come about over time based on what people would generally agree is aesthetically pleasing. And it’s that idea of what looks good that should be a determining factor for any image when it comes to composition, something very akin to cropping. After all, when you crop, you alter composition.
Common Sense Cropping
For some subjects, like still lifes, where to crop is about simple composition. But, where people are concerned, cutting out parts of the body in an image can give the viewer an uncomfortable feeling. Depending on the crop, the viewer might feel the subject looks awkward, or like a photo amputee, or just not right for one reason or another. But why is it that it’s OK to crop a person’s legs out at one length, but not another? It’s just how we process the point of the crop. Just as with composition’s Rule of Thirds, generally speaking, some things just look better to us one way than they do the other.
How do you know if a crop is wrong? The answer is: When it feels wrong.
But when does it tend to feel wrong? Think of it this way, the further down the length of a limb, the weirder we feel about it being cropped. That means if you cut off at a person’s hands or feet, that’s going to look odd. Cutting off at a joint in a limb is strange, too. But, cutting off mid-thigh or at the bicep is likely to be fine.
You can also crop off the top of the head in a headshot without it looking strange. Why? I don’t know. I would suppose it’s because it’s not a limb and the viewer’s mind doesn’t process the unseen top of the head as something that might be missing!
Cropping through the upper arms and legs: Generally OK. Cropping out below the elbows or knees: Not so OK. And despite these “rules,” if it looks good, it probably is good.
Here are some example shots featuring Julia O’Neill.