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[Detail] Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947

Framing and Cropping Photographs

As suggested in discussing props, one aspect of composing a photo is framing—deciding what details should be included in the photograph. Framing includes deciding how much background or foreground to show in the photograph and determining how close to get to the subject. Framing is more challenging in candid photos than posed photos because the photographer has less control over the surroundings. Another aspect of framing is deciding whether to make the shot horizontal or vertical. Gottlieb preferred vertical photos because they parallel the human body. However, when photographs appear in print, they cannot always be vertical.

To make a photograph fit the space available, to make a photograph more visually pleasing, or to keep the viewer's focus on certain elements of the picture, the photographer or editor may crop the photograph. Cropping changes the framing by cutting out some portions of the photograph. Framing and cropping can both have powerful effects on the meaning a viewer takes from a photograph.

Study the picture of Charlie Parker (on saxophone) and Tommy Potter (on bass). Charlie Parker, the more famous of these two musicians, struggled with addictions throughout his life. Given Parker's greater fame, why do you think Gottlieb composed the photo as he did? Listen to Gottlieb's reflections on this photograph and look at the cropped version of the photo that appeared in Down Beat.

  • How do Tommy Potter's face and bass provide an effective frame for Charlie Parker?
  • How did Gottlieb describe Parker? To what extent do you think the photograph conveys what Gottlieb hoped it would about Parker?
  • Is the cropped image more or less effective than the original photograph? Explain your answer.

Print out a copy of this photograph of Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie.

  • What problems do you see with the framing of the picture?
  • If you were using the photograph, where would you want viewers to focus?
  • What are the most visually appealing portions of the photograph?
  • Imagine that you are a magazine editor who is going to use the photograph. You have a space about 3 inches wide x 2 inches high. How would you crop the photograph? (Use pieces of white paper to block out the parts of the photograph to be cropped.) Compare your cropping with the cropping used in Down Beat magazine. How similar are the two cropped photos? Which do you find more appealing? How does each focus the viewer on people or objects?

Gottlieb took a series of posed photographs of Doris Day and Kitty Kallen in Central Park. Composing these photographs offered a special challenge because the setting offered two horizons (strong horizontal lines)—one created by the ground, the other by the New York skyline. Many photographers follow the Rule of Thirds in composition. Photographers imagine a tic-tac-toe grid placed over the image and try to place the subject at one of the points where lines intersect. If there is a horizon—whether an actual horizon where land meets sky or an artificial horizon created by a strong horizontal line such as a road—in the picture, it should be located closer to one of the horizontal lines of the grid than to the center of the picture.

Use the full search to find the series of photos of Day and Kallen.

  • To what extent did Gottlieb adhere to the Rule of Thirds in placing the horizon in these photos? In placing the subjects in these photos?
  • How did he use trees and buildings to frame the photos?
  • Choose your favorite photograph from the group. How would you crop the photo to make it even more visually appealing? How would you use the Rule of Thirds in cropping the photograph?