by Essdras M Suarez, Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer

cap·ta·tion [kapˈtāshən]
definition:  An attempt to achieve or acquire something especially artfully; reaching after

All Articles by Essdras M Suarez

Where to crop and not to crop the human form and Why?

February 2018

Why is it that at times doing the wrong crop in an image gives the reader/ viewer a sense of “wrongness?”

The closest I’ve come up to a plausible explanation to this quandary goes back to a conversation I once had with a couple of MIT students while waiting around campus during an assignment for the Boston Globe.

Anyone who’s ever been on assignment would tell you a lot of what we do as photojournalists is to wait around. So you learn to make the best out of that down time.  At MIT, I didn’t mind the waiting since sometimes this would lead into having great conversations with brilliant people.

Most of the time, the content matter of these conversations would simply go way over my head. However, if the topic being discussed was photography or how the brain perceived visual information, then I’d be able grasp some of these concepts.

During this specific conversation was the first time I heard the term “Uncanny Valley.”  And it happened while I was waiting to photograph the head of the Robotics Department at MIT.

A couple of her students and I got talking and they explained to me a theory put forth by a Japanese roboticist, Masahiro Mori, who coined the term Bukimi no Tani Genshō, which roughly translates into “Uncanny Valley.”  

This principle talks about the relationship between the degree of an object's resemblance to a human being and our emotional response to such an object. The more this object resembles a human the more pleasant the response from the observer.

However, there comes a point where said resemblance reaches a point where it has the opposite effect. As in the virtual depiction of Tom Hanks in the “Polar Express,” which elicits a negative response from viewers.

At said point, the viewer’s perception of the human like object (an animation in this case) changes from a positive response to a negative response, thus eliciting an uncanny or strangely familiar, feeling of eeriness and even revulsion. The “Valley” part of the name refers to how this relationship can be graphed in percentages, and how after a certain point, a valley in the graph appears showing how the negative percentage numbers then change back once more to positive. As in DATA from Start Trek, which elicits a positive response from viewers.

This translates into photography because the way you crop certain images can cause the same sense of uneasiness on the viewer. A sense that something was “chopped off” or “truncated.”

When this happens, even someone who knows nothing of photography or someone without any artistic inclination for aesthetics might simply react negatively or might develop a degree of apprehension when looking at your photo. In other words, they just simple won’t like your photo without even know why this dislike.

Below highlighted in red are some suggestions of the places where you shouldn’t crop the human form: You don’t crop at the wrist; you don’t crop at the elbows; you don’t crop right at the shoulder where the arm begins; you don’t crop at the knees; you don’t crop at the ankle or cut off the tip of the fingers. You don’t crop at the junction of the neck and the head.


If you crop at any of these points, the viewer might react negatively to your image and might not even know why their dislike of it.

Below, I’ve marked some of the suggested places where it’s okay to crop the human form: You can crop at mid forearm; you can crop mid bicep; you can crop mid-clavicle; you can crop right below where the neck begins; you can crop the top of someone’s head off, you can crop mid torso, mid thigh and mid calf.


Having said that, we must always remember these parameters are suggestions and if within the content of a photo, we find “decisive moments” then these will trump any other element of composition.

When it comes to photography: Decisive Moments are king within the hierarchy elements that make a photo a good photo.

You could have a bad crop, or a bad exposure, or a bad light situation, or even a bad composition but if you have (a) decisive moment(s) in your photo then it is this/ these decisive moment(s) that will take precedent over any other characteristic within that frame.


Remember, every image needs to be judged, edited and cropped based upon its own merits. Below is an image that defies everything I wrote above about cropping. However, the decisive moments happening within the frame make it a good image despite the crop point on the arm of the woman on the left.


Also, cropping is not an exact science. A lot of times it depends on your own taste or that of the editor cropping your images. Here is another version of the same photo.


Here is one last image addressing unorthodox cropping. This one deals with cropping the human face. There’s no doubt this image works despite the dramatic crop but when it comes to faces my friends… that right there… is a topic worthy of its own column.


And remember my mantra when it comes to making photos…


Essdras M Suarez for photowrkshop dir

me by tom for Nikon


A two-time Pulitzer prizewinner, Essdras M Suarez worked as a photojournalist for over 20 years, the last 12 with the Boston Globe.  He’s also received multiple awards for his portrait, food, product and travel photography.  His images have been published in such well-recognized publications as the National Geographic, Time Magazine, New York Times and Washington Post and many more national and international publications. Having worked in over 60 countries around the world, he is now based Alexandria, VA, where he established EMS Photo Adventures to enable the sharing of the diverse experience and knowledge gained as a photojournalist to the photo enthusiast.

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