I’ve lectured and taught photography to thousands of people over the past decade with over 250 workshops and seminars around the world and often people tell me, or I see it when they are shooting while “chimping” with their LCD screen, how they leave room for cropping their images to make the photo fit a matte and/or picture frame.  Obviously this is a problem more inherent to the United States, not for Europe.

My first thought is why? My second thought is you obviously have never worked with a photo editor for publication. My last thought is you probably bought your camera based on mega-pixel hype, or on the Jones’s standard, I have more mega-pixels than you.

Let’s look at the why part first. We’re a society that tends to be programmed as we grow up in life. Most of use grew up with (in inches) 11×14’s, 8×10’s, 5×7’s and the 3 1/2 x 5’s, the latter made famous by the Noritsu one-hour mini-lab explosion of the 1980’s. Though the 3 1/2×5’s graduated to 4×6’s, our problems with mandatory societal-cropping (think frames, mattes and photo albums) still didn’t end with our 35mm format cameras. Part of the non-ending I base on what I like to call, “the framing industry conspiracy theory” to sell us mattes with our frames. And to ground my theory, let’s look how it all developed, no pun intended, or the second part of obviously you’ve never worked with photo editors or editors before.

The first 35mm format camera was invented by Leica in 1913, not Kodak, Kodak invented film and introduced the “135” for film 35mm wide in a cartridge, but the actual images size is 24mm wide (11mm’s are used for sprocket holes and spacing) by 36mm in length. It’s based on metric units, not American and British units of measurement. It’s this format that led to the words, “full-frame” and sometimes “double-frame” in relationship to the “single-frame” 35mm movie format, which is another story in itself.

Now that you know the history of 35mm (135) film, let’s look at full-frame, because it’s this term you’ll hear photo editors tell photographers often when it comes to improper cropping in the 35mm camera in conjunction to the publication of images. A full-frame image makes (in inches) 4×6’s, 5×8’s, 8×12’s, and 10×15’s, thus to fit a full-frame, printed image in a standard picture frame, a photographer would have to purchase a matte, with an opening cut to fit the full-frame image, thus the matte would then go in a larger frame-think costs to the photographer and client here.

On the other hand, photo editors harp at photographers not to crop in the camera, or not to leave space for placing an image in a frame for several reasons. One, primarily based on the old film days, is that 35mm is so small that pre-cropping in the camera makes the useful part of the image even smaller, so when the image is enlarged, it gets grainy, or in the case of digital photography today,
is more prominent, especially with older digital cameras. This holds even more relevance if the photo editor needs to crop your image to fit a page.

But the other main reason photo editors harp on photographers to fill the frame totally when shooting is the fact that publications don’t place images based on frame and matte sizes, they place images based on column inches and percentages–to test this theory, first, notice how a magazine or newspaper normally has more than one vertical column of text per page.

Second, take a ruler and measure ten images within that publication, any ten. You’ll find various odd sizes and the chance of an image being exactly to standard framing sizes is rare. Not even the cover is a 8×10 inches, more like 8 1/2×11 inches in most cases, and the cover is one of the few cases where the original image is cropped.

Now let’s take this one step further, or the third thought, which is most cameras are purchased on the Jone’s theory of I’ve got more mega-pixels than you. Say a photographer purchases a DSLR, digital single lens reflex camera, based on mega-pixels. And since I’m not the best in math, let’s make it simple for math’s sake even though I know there are cameras with more mega-pixels than what’s needed for publication when it comes to the 35mm DSLR’s. Let’s pretend your camera is like the Canon 5D, approximately 12-mega-pixels. Let’s pretend you haven’t read this article yet, so you do what most amateur, non-published photographers do and leave room in all your images for cropping for that old 8×10-inch frame/print standard.

Now we know that a 35mm camera, film or digital, makes an 8×12-inch print when printed full-frame. But you want an 8×10-inch print, which means you’ll cut-off 2-inches from your full-frame. So 2-inches goes into 12-inches (full-frame) six times, as 12 divided by two is six. So we agree, we’ve lost two-full inches of image, or in the case of digital, 1/6th of the original mega-pixel information. Now we take that our original 12-megapixels and divide that by 1/6th loss of the original mega-pixel information and we two again. We then take that two and subtract it from the original 12-mega-pixels and we have 10-mega-pixels-in other words, we’re actually shooting 10-, not 12-megapixels and we paid for 12!

Confusing? Well it’s really not and I told you I wasn’t good in math, but in simple terms, when we crop in the camera while shooting for the print and frame standards society has programmed us for, we lose 1/6th of our original image which means we’ve paid to lose 1/6th of our mega-pixels. 

In all those years of teaching seminars and workshops I’ve had to explain my framing industry conspiracy theory to over half my students, so don’t feel bad if you spent $8,000 on a 24-mega-pixel camera and threw away $1,333 of your original $8,000 because of your shooting style (before you read this article).  One-sixth of 24 is 4-mega-pixels (24 divided by 6 equals 4) and you roughly paid $1,333 for each 4-mega-pixel block in your camera (8,000 divided by 6 equals 1,333).  Yes, I did 24-mega-pixels because the math is easier and the time of this writing only 21-mega-pixels was available, but hey, you only need 5-mega-pixels for standard magazine and newspaper publication and that’s another blog article as I have to run and see my ailing mother and time is running out today. God Bless, and all the best, rg sends!