Cropping Images For Maximum Impact

When adding images to your site or blog posts do you take the time to crop them to create a more dynamic and visually interesting image? Here’s a simple trick when you have an image that includes the horizon though the main idea will work with the subject of any image.

Consider the image below of a sunset over the ocean.

sunset over the ocean with horizon centered vertically
photo credit: Waves at Sunset

At first glance it’s a nice image. We have the sun setting over crashing waves. But where is your eye drawn? What is the main subject of this image? Where you should you look?

Odds are your eye goes back and forth between the waves and the clouds always drawn back to the sun and the horizon in the center of the image.

The center of an image is not the ideal location for the horizon (or any subject). It leaves the viewer questioning whether to look at the sky or the earth below. Centering the horizon creates a static image.

Crop image with the horizon at bottom

sunset over the ocean with horizon at bottom

Here I’ve cropped the image so the horizon sits at the bottom. Notice where your eye is now drawn. Mine ends up on the cloud directly above the sun.

Here there’s no question where to look. The sky dominates the image and becomes the focus. This image is more dynamic now that the horizon has been pulled down and off center.

But those waves looked nice didn’t they?

Crop image with the horizon at top

sunset over the ocean with horizen at top

Here’s our same image again only this time cropped with the horizon at the top. Our waves are back, though much stronger. Your eye isn’t being pulled away from them toward the sky as it was in the original image.

Without the sky you can feel the force of the waves.

Again by moving the horizon off center we’ve created a stronger and more dynamic image with greater tension.

How to decide where the horizon belongs

Neither of the images above is automatically better than the other. Your choice of where to crop depends on the image and what you’re trying to communicate. You have to decide what feeling you want to convey and which crop works better with your design or content.

The main thing to take away is that a centered horizon is generally a bad idea unless you’re trying to communicate the concept of static. Most of the time you’ll do better to place the horizon above or below the center and the further away from center the more dynamic your image will be.

When taking pictures do you notice yourself placing your subject dead center? Do you crop your images later to create more visual interest?

Try moving your subject off center either when capturing the original image or later through cropping.

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

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