It's All In The Crop

You cannot comment if you do not have the room. You cannot compose if you do not have the space. Oftentimes, the visual statement you are witnessing will not present itself in the best way in the confines of your viewfinder, and it will need nurturing during the processing stage.

It's all in the crop - and the tilt...

This is an image that presented itself when I visited Gloucester Quays - home to a small museum dedicated to the Glorious Glosters.  There is also a small sea-farers chapel that reeks heavily of stale beer that I was tempted to visit after dark - but the opportunity did not arise. (You're welcome).

"Cardboard salute"
I was thinking of the 28th when I took it - and wondering, as I composed for a golden spiral, if the lady was Egyptian.

(The 28th fought-off Napoleon from invading Egypt as part of our Expeditionary Force during the Battle of Alexandria - at the cost of many, many lives).

There were numerous young school parties, being disgorged from a number of coaches when I arrived; but none visited the museum while I was there - perhaps because its small size could not accommodate them, or, more likely, because it was not on the curriculum.

Who wants to know about the lives spent by the Celts and their English cousins defending far-away lands whose rescued Muslim descendants now class us all as invading Crusaders?

I was encouraged to take some footage to capture all those different coloured skins, veils, and robes; but, hey, what old man takes footage of young school children now - at the risk of being spotted and accused of perversion?

(You youngsters will have to step-up to that task).

I'm old, ex-military; and I also roll my own Amber Leaf - so I guess there's a lot of me in that image - not that I was aware of that at the time. I was fully focused upon achieving the composition that spoke of how society now looks upon its veterans.

Oh, yeah. Crop and tilt...

Apart from dodging and burning, those two darkroom manipulations were the only means by which the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson permitted themselves to modify their images. Either by cropping the projected negative image that was presented to the photographic paper, or by tilting its easel.

I've used both methods during processing (employing Photoshop's tilt-blur feature in simulation of the darkroom method to impart a sense of evaporation).

This was my crop...

The point to remember is that the viewfinder imposes its own proportional frame around what you are witnessing, and the danger is that you then try to compose what you are seeing under those restrictions - rather than let the image dictate what proportions are best suited to its tale.

What you need to do is mentally frame what you are witnessing in your mind's eye - and then transfer all those elements to the confines of the digital canvas, in the viewfinder, from where they can be extracted and recomposed later.

This was obviously a 16x9 from the outset (before I raised the camera to my eye) - just as it obviously lent itself to a golden spiral the moment I recognised why I was automatically assuming the lady was Egyptian.

What about this though?..


It's all about him, now, isn't it?..

Society's 'cardboard salute' is now being directed at him - not them.

Do you see?..

Now put your thumb over her - and see how the story's angle changes again...

Now it is just about the Glorious Glosters and one of its veterans (possibly) - the sphinx just identifies the regiment - it says nothing of the reason why so many gave their lives.

Take away your thumb and the story is of him and his only remaining companion. An outcast, recognised only by the cardboard remains of his old regiment (it was disbanded in 1994).

Now move that golden spiral's point away from him, back to her, to include the second dead warrior on the mural as in my original crop.

Do you see how powerful our cameras are?..

It never fails to amaze me that the general public (and our police forces) still cling to the erroneous belief that 'the camera never lies.'

The full phrase actually goes: 'the camera never lies; photographers often do.' (Send three and four-pence, we are going to a dance).

As a photojournalist, your duty is to witness - not to spin like your newsroom activist colleagues.

Remember that; and remember to be true to the moment and its whole image. Don't crop to make it something you wanted to see - always file what you actually saw...