Navigation

How to harness the power of a well-cropped photo

By Christine Mark | Web Design | Jan 28, 2014

As a website designer, I’ve always been fascinated by design (of any kind) that “works” and why.

Of late, I’ve become particularly appreciative of the power of photography to anchor a visually appealing design that tells the right story, triggers the desired emotions, engages the viewer, and enhances the content (whether by breaking it up or calling it out).

This newly refreshed appreciation for photos really took root in Venice this past fall.

 

Venice: described as the “Most beautiful city built by man”

I’d always heard about Venice! And I had expectations I tell you! Expectations of a quaint, beautiful and romantic city built on the water — utterly different than anything I’d ever seen.

But in reality? … Venice is kind of a dump.

It’s weather-beaten, crumbling and run down. When you view it as a whole, you see a bunch of disparate scenery mish-mashed together. It doesn’t mean to be, but Venice is poorly dressed in rags and tatters.

But… When you look at Venice in tiny bits — when you let your eye “crop” out the surroundings and focus on one finite area — it’s a very different experience. There are so many details to delight the eye. Especially the eye of a designer who takes inspiration from everything that her gaze meets.

After realizing this, I could shift my focus from “the whole” to the details and back again and appreciate ALL of it. Venice really is a beautiful city.

The key takeaway here is, there is great power in cropping stuff out, so that what’s left in is a stronger.

002

Picture of Venice, before cropping (left) and after cropping (right).

004

One of my favorite “details” of Venice. The photo on the left is the raw image off the camera. Here, I did the cropping with the camera by zooming in to this detail. On the right, is the same image cropped further.

 

Photo crops that work

In the rest of this article, I’ll share some of my favorite photo crops from recent projects I’ve worked on.

Some are personal projects. Some are professional work through Gravity Switch (the web design and marketing agency where I’m cofounder). But all of them tell a story.

Fitness Fusion

Fitness Fusion is a niche studio gym known for intense, creative and fun group training and 1-1 personal training. When redesigning their site, I poured over 600+ photos in search of pictures that’d work in an extremely horizontal format — not an uncommon format for a web banner image, but always a challenge.

006

At first glance, the image on the left looks like an unlikely candidate. But when rotated 90 degrees counter-clockwise, flipped horizontally, and with the (now backwards) word “coach” on the cap stamped out, it’s a powerful banner image. Perfect for the “Meet the Trainer” page!

The crop above works because of:

  • the warm lighting;
  • the splashes of color;
  • the genuine, focused, and approachable look in the eyes.

Together with the smiley photo of the page body content, the overall feelings conveyed are approachability, expertise, hardworking, a down-to-earth attitude, and fun!

008

Here’s another of my favorite banner image crops from this project. By removing parts of the original image (cropping it), we get a more dynamic, intimate, and interesting visual experience — a cool image that shows hard-work, dedication and sweat. The subtle touch of the gym’s branding on the wristband was an accidental bonus.

Stockbridge School of Agriculture

Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst is known as the top school of its kind in the country. It has diverse programs that attracts very different types of students (e.g. the prospective who’s interested in Turf Management is very different than the person who’s interested in Sustainable Food & Farming or Equine Management and so on.)

The challenge was finding a home page photo that:

  • felt appropriate for a school of agriculture;
  • was a strong image to draw the viewer in;
  • didn’t alienate any potential prospect to any potential program; Do no harm!

On the technical side, we needed a photo that would work as a “floating crop” (i.e. the crop changes as the window is resized and it always needed to look good).

We did a specific photo shoot just to capture the image for the home page. We got many great shots. We narrowed it down to these 7:

010

Then we picked this one to go with:

011

We played with the zoom level of the crop in PhotoShop, to confirm that the photo is strong as a floating crop. Here’s a few explorations:

012

Here’s how it looks on mobile and desktop respectively:

015

Pioneer Valley Information Exchange – PVIX

Here’s a stock image that was used for a website in the healthcare industry… trying to show teamwork, family, positivity, energy, optimism:

017

Here’s an image treatment I tried, but didn’t like. You lose too much context zoomed in this much:

018

As an alternative (that I also didn’t like). I zoomed all the way out so you could see the whole photo. To make the width work right, I added blue space on the left:

019

A happy medium (cropping some of the image) works best:

020

Parenting blog post

I was looking for a picture of my son to be the “banner image” in one of my blog posts.

I found this picture. I love the expression on my son’s face. But he’s so tiny in the image and you don’t appreciate that detail:

021

Here’s how I cropped it. Works much better:

022

 

Getting it right

We’ve all heard the saying, “A picture is worth 1,000 words.” But how do we craft our images so that they convey the 1,000 words that we want?

Getting it right requires:

Good raw photos: If you can, hire a professional photographer so you can get shots and compositions that look good and are customized to your purpose. If you can’t hire a professional, there are many stock photography options — some are good, some less so. It’s best to have someone you trust to have an “eye for it” handle the job of photo hunting.

Good post-production: Color-correction, Clean-up and Cropping. I call it the three C’s.

Good photo placement: Incorporate photos into the design in the right spot, next to the right content, on the right page, and then the they will help tell the right story. Location, location, location.

 

How do you select images for your designs? How do you choose which parts of images to crop? Let us know in the comments.

Share this post
Comments (no login required)
  • http://www.creativebeacon.com/ James George

    Great post Christine! This is a subject that many designers just don’t understand. This is how you can use stock photography to your advantage. Cropping it in just the right way can set the mood, while creating an intimate experience for the user/viewer.

    • Christine Mark

      Thanks James!

  • Barbara Palazuelos

    Very cool! I’ve stumbled upon great shots by having no choice but to crop some of my favorite photos. I never thought of using cropping as a tool though, really great.

    • Christine Mark

      Nice! It changes the game in a good way, doesn’t it? Have fun with it!

  • Mary Carmichael

    I just did a blog posting http://www.handzon.com/blog/?p=194), reminding users of that old saying “A picture is worth a 1000 words”. It is remarkable what just cropping a picture can do, especially for your website. I have found that many clients initially think that they have to hire a professional photographer, and usually don’t want to pay that cost. I’m telling them to just take lots of pictures, and use something like photoshop to adjust them. Like your article shows, if all they do it crop them, they can have a striking image to display.
    Thanks for the article.
    Mary Carmichael

  • http://www.kairos-vision.com/ KairosVision

    Excellent topic! I always harness the power of cropping :). Really helps bring an image to life! It’s worth noting that this technique works well when the photograph is high res.