“If you start cutting or cropping a good photograph, it means death to the geometrically correct interplay of proportions. Besides, it very rarely happens that a photograph which was feebly composed can be saved by reconstruction of its composition under the darkroom’s enlarger; the integrity of vision is no longer there.” – Henri Cartier-Bresson
A common mistake many photographers make is that they over-crop their images. They are “crop-a-holics,” in which they crop every single photograph they take (even when unnecessary). I am also a recovering “crop-a-holic.” I would unnecessarily over-crop my shots (even when the edges would be interesting).
Another downside to being a “crop-a-holic”: I would be lazy when shooting street photography. I shot really far away from my subjects, thinking that I could just crop and zoom in to my subjects, instead of moving physically closer to my subjects.
I would always tell myself in the back of my head, “Eh, if I didn’t get the shot right, I can always crop it later.” This made me lazy, and prevented me from improving my composition and framing.
When I first learned that Henri Cartier-Bresson (the Godfather of street photography and the master of composition) didn’t crop his images (and forbade his students to do so), I decided to also try the assignment for myself.
In the beginning, it was difficult not to crop my shots. Also by not cropping my shots, I realized how sloppy I was when I framed my images. Therefore by imposing this rule of not cropping on myself, I began to focus on “filling the frame” and creating better edges in my shots, which improved my composition dramatically.
I am not saying that you should never crop your photographs. There are a lot of master street photographers who heavily cropped their photographs (Robert Frank did some radical cropping for his seminal book: “The Americans,” even turning some landscape shots into portrait shots with cropping).
If you want to improve your composition: go an entire year without cropping. I can guarantee you that a year later, your composition will improve dramatically. And if in the future you do decide to start cropping again, always do it in moderation (I recommend cropping less than 10% of a frame).
When you’re shooting in the streets, avoid “tunnel-vision” (only looking in the center of the frame). Focus on the edges of the frame and particularly the background to improve your composition.