We all know that almost every image we see in the media has been manipulated in some way. Airbrushing, removing distracting objects, colour enhancement and lighting adjustments are common place and we’ve come to expect it in the images we see, but have you thought about the way cropping changes the images you see, sometimes dramatically?

Cropping a photo can completely change the context of an image. Celebrities have long been the subject of creative cropping. A photo of a popular star engaged in conversation with a potential ‘love interest’ would have the gossip mags in a frenzy. It’s important to remember that an image like this could easily be cropped from a larger image of the celebrity and a group of friends talking. It can easily turn something that is happening on a movie set into an image that could be perceived as something that is happening in real life. See the image of Jennifer Anniston below who looks like she’s been arrested by a plain clothes policeman.

One place where cropping is particularly controversial is in editorial. In a medium that is supposedly telling us the facts a quick image crop can visually tell a whole different story that most people won’t even think twice about. The cropping on this image removes a knife and on this one two thirds of the image are removed to create a more menacing photo.

It can also be used to great effect in advertising. In a recent campaign we created for a real estate company, we used creative cropping to get peoples’ attention. The first page in each of the advertisements is mostly white with a tightly cropped image, headline and logo. The juxtaposition of these elements makes you think of situations that you wouldn’t expect a real estate agent to put anyone in. However when you turned the page the message takes on another meaning by showing the exact same image but with the entire background, which puts it in context.

Cropping is a natural part of photography. You can only shoot a limited amount of the scene in front of you through the lens of your camera and of course you can use your zoom to limit this even further. The way in which an image is framed is a major part of what separates a good photograph from a poor one. When it becomes controversial is when crucial parts of a scene are deliberately left out to create an alternative reality.

Remember when you look at an image, it would have been cropped in some way, either through the camera or during post production. This could simply have been done to make it look better but on the other hand it could have created an image that is not quite what it seems.