Make every pixel count

Most of us have heard the old adage, ‘get it right in camera’. So, we often change white balance, use filters, and adjust exposure settings to get the best captures we can given conditions. If we really want to make every pixel count, I believe we also need to avoid cropping our images whenever possible.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291mm, efov 786mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 291mm, efov 786mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-800

Today’s high pixel density sensors make it increasingly easy to simply crop images to get the final composition we desire. And who can blame us for doing that? Advancements with digital photography now allow us to shoot with camera bodies with excellent sensors delivering 24, 36, 42 or even more megapixels. If we didn’t get the exact capture we intended – no big deal! A crop here…a crop there…and we have our desired image.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 24mm, efov 65mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO-800
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 24mm, efov 65mm, f/8, 1/40, ISO-800

Like most folks I still crop some of my images. It is difficult to capture every single image exactly as we want in camera. Sometimes the ideal framing of an image doesn’t fit the native ratio of our camera’s sensor. And, we all know that not cropping an image can be especially challenging when photographing birds and other nature subjects that may be a bit distant. Regardless of these issues, I do my best to frame and capture an image without the need to crop it at all.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 53mm, efov 143mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-1600, extension tubes
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 53mm, efov 143mm, f/8, 1/500, ISO-1600, extension tubes

Some of that comes from my choice of camera system of course. I no longer shoot with a Nikon D800 with its outstanding 36MP full frame sensor. So I don’t have as much leeway as I once had to crop my images and still end up with something usable. But that’s not the real reason why I try extremely hard to not crop my images.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, efov 297mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-400
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, efov 297mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-400

Quite simply, regularly cropping my images tends to make me a lazy photographer. In the past when I’ve fallen  into a bit of a pattern of cropping images I found that I didn’t work as hard to get my framing as precisely as I could. I became more static physically, moving around a lot less to find better shooting angles. I didn’t do as good as a job as I could have with my final image ‘circle checks’. And, I often failed to get my ‘corner exits’ and leading lines exactly as desired. Regularly cropping my images makes me sloppy.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 228mm, f/5.6, -0.7 step, 1/125, ISO-560
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 228mm, f/5.6, -0.7 step, 1/125, ISO-560

In the past I sometimes pressed the shutter when I knew that I really shouldn’t. Invariably the majority of those images were deleted. All I ended up doing in those instances was burn up some shutter count and shorten the life of my camera bodies needlessly.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, efov 297mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-1100
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 110mm, efov 297mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-1100

Over the years I’ve become more selective with my image captures. Three of four years ago I’d take 10 to 15 shots of the same landscape scene or still life subject and then make a decision in post regarding which to keep and which to discard. It was a tremendous waste of time and effort, both during the process of capturing the images and in post. Heck…I’d be away for a couple of weeks and come home with over 10,000 images – and be proud of it! There’s some good learning in being able to look back at one’s own actions and see the foolishness in it.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 170mm, efov 459mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-200
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 170mm, efov 459mm, f/5.6, 1/2500, ISO-200

Everyone is different of course and I can’t speak to how you may capture your images. All I know is that I produce much better quality photographs when I consistently fill the frame with every pixel that I truly want. Rather than take 10 or 15 images of the same static subject…I’m much better when I create only 1 or 2.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-160
Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-160

It keeps me better focused. It makes me more discerning. It makes me expect much more of myself.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77mm, efov 208mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-1600, extension tubes
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 @ 77mm, efov 208mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-1600, extension tubes

NOTE: All images in this article were captured hand-held in available light. All are 100% captures without any cropping. Photographs used in this article were created using RAW files using my standard process of OpticsPro, CS6 and Nik Suite.

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5 thoughts on “Make every pixel count”

  1. I have been (sometimes a bit slowly) coming to the same conclusions myself. Thanks as usual for making your points so eloquently.

  2. Good advice! Going through a ton of images after downloading can get tiring.

    Right now while using my old and worn point and shot camera I am finding that I really need to do a lot of cropping because of a few things: I need to put the subject in the middle for the camera to be able to focus on it, the little back screen is small and very scratched up and hard to see anything when outside, so I am shooting pretty blind. I am taking extra shots just hoping that one will come out with the subject in focus.

    1. Hi Joni,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences! It helps to point out that we all need to consider our unique situations when deciding how many images of a particular subject we need to capture.

      Tom

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