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Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


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Pixel Problem
Old 09-27-2019   #1
Bill Pierce
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Pixel Problem

When I first started taking news pictures, the camera of choice was a 4x5 Speed Graphic. It has one primary lens, usually a moderate wide angle. But the 4x5 inch format provided a crop friendly negative that could provide the angle of view of necessary for a portrait. You didn’t change lenses, you cropped the image. (Of course, if you were lucky your employer had a long lens for sports, maybe even a 4x5 SLR, the Graflex D.)

Over time journalists moved to smaller formats until 35mm became the most used film format. You could crop for the relatively small and relatively low resolution images for publications, but when it came to exhibitions with fairly large print sizes, photographers tended to avoid cropping if at all possible.

Sound familiarly like the early days of not so many megapixels digital? For many of us it meant maintaining our “cropping is evil and the devil’s work” attitude. But now we have many megapixels. Leica has spoken from on high and told us that we can crop the 28mm frame of the 47.3 megapixel Q2 as though it were a 50mm lens or even a 75mm lens. And these days there are many other cameras with a somewhat similar megapixel count.

So, the question is - ARE YOU CROPPING? If that sounds like a silly and somewhat stupid question, it is. But after years of 35mm film, I seem to be in some kind of deep rooted anti-cropping mode instead of the earlier Speed Graphic crop like mad mode. I’m paying for the pixels, but I’m not taking advantage of them. I wondered what you are doing.
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Old 09-27-2019   #2
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No. I learned to frame the image in the viewfinder shooting slides.
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Old 09-27-2019   #3
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Yes, I’ll crop when I feel it will enhance the total image.

I shoot a lot of street photography and the opportune moments are fast and fleeting. There’s not a lot of time to frame the subject in the viewfinder and nail the focus. When I get home after a day of photography I go through my images and edit as I deem necessary. That usually entails straightening the image a degree or two, and a little cropping to eliminate an undesirable object or to better place the main subject in the frame.

In a perfect world I wouldn’t need to crop. Fortunately I don’t live in a perfect world.

All the best,
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Old 09-27-2019   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I seem to be in some kind of deep rooted anti-cropping mode
I seem to be stuck in a "make it beautiful" mode where cropping, cloning, horizon, h/v perspective all come into play... plus I like cinema mode rather than 800:533

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I’m paying for the pixels, but I’m not taking advantage of them
Now days most of my photos end up in forums and/or social media... paid work is long past. On occasion the tripod comes out and that's a different story.
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Old 09-27-2019   #5
Ronald M
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I learned in late 50`s and early 60`s and as a student,
35 mm was all I could afford, Waltz Envoy with 50 2.0 Nippon Koagu (nikor) lens. Tried lens converters but they were junk. There was nothing to crop except a millimeter or two.
Graduated to Pentax Spotmatic , still 35 mm.
Tried a Mamiya tlr, 330 and 5 lenses. Not happy with images. Kept the Spoto.
Tried a RB67. Better lenses, but way too much to drag around. Kept Spoto.
Got a Leica, finally a winner. Sold the spotos. Still not much to crop.
Zone 6 4x5 and 6 lenses. Old lenses were junk. Moderns make sweet images. Still have it, but 6 lenses do not require cropping. View cam+ LF lenses + film holders + meters are a heavy load.
Still have the leicas + digital Leica M. These can be cropped, but why? Lenses are small and use what is in your pocket.
So no I don`t crop. Get it right in the camera by habit.
My Nikon DSLR + zooms are a decent crutch, but I prefer primes.
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Old 09-27-2019   #6
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Somehow my uncropped photos get published in local media.
I like to work my prime and get it framed on exposure. It is more easier to frame with prime by walking instead of zooming to me. Every time I could, I switch from zoom to prime.

The 4x5 era news paper photos looks terrible.
Not terrible, but any 28 to 50 crop sucks.
Pixels doesn't count, it is cropped out draw of the lens.
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Old 09-27-2019   #7
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I select a crop that will best frame the image. Sometimes that's none at all, other times it's to fill a 16x9, 8x10, 5x7, or 5x5 frame.


4x6 is almost no crop at all, but there is always that little slice on the end that doesn't make the cut.


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Old 09-27-2019   #8
Michael Markey
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Always try and get it right in the camera but like Mike says ,its not a perfect world and I`m not perfect either.
The only time I shoot knowing I`m going to crop is if I can`t physically get close enough either because of obstacles or for safety reasons.

So the majority of the time I probably don`t crop but it`s not an issue , I just do what I have to do.
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Old 09-27-2019   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ptpdprinter View Post
No. I learned to frame the image in the viewfinder shooting slides.
Same here. I still shoot some slides, so framing exactly is a strong habit. I rarely crop my black and white negatives by much, just to eliminate unnecessary foreground. With digital, I often crop to 16:9 whenever there is unnecessary foreground and sky.
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Old 09-28-2019   #10
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In theory, when 24x36 DSLR/MILCs achieve the number of pixels plus good lenses to roughly compete with fine grain 4x5 film, cropping can be done as freely as with the old Speed Graphic w/135/4.5 standard lens. I crop my Nikon 24x36 and Fuji APS-C cams to get alternative aspect ratios, but somehow the idea of simply zooming in in Lightroom in order to get "an 85mm shot" out of a frame I originally shot with a 35mm lens is abhorrent.
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Old 09-28-2019   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pluton View Post
…. but somehow the idea of simply zooming in in Lightroom in order to get "an 85mm shot" out of a frame I originally shot with a 35mm lens is abhorrent.
Is there a technical /aesthetic reason ?
Interested because I`ve never come across this in over fifty years of shooting.
I always thought it common practise in the newspaper industry
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Old 09-28-2019   #12
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The concept of cropping being a mortal sin must be the silliest photographic concept ever fostered on young photographers. Bill's original post shows how beneficial cropping can be. So, yes, I crop when necessary. And "necessary" to me means improving the way the picture looks. Because the way the picture looks is more important than following some silly rule.
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Old 09-28-2019   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
The concept of cropping being a mortal sin must be the silliest photographic concept ever fostered on young photographers. Bill's original post shows how beneficial cropping can be. So, yes, I crop when necessary. And "necessary" to me means improving the way the picture looks. Because the way the picture looks is more important than following some silly rule.
I’m not so sure it is silly. The major thing we do in photography is put a frame around something in a compelling way. It is best to do this in your viewfinder. There’s a difference between cropping in the way that Bill is talking about vs. trying to save a poorly framed image. When he was using that 4x5 I’m sure he was thinking about the crop while shooting.

I crop sometimes... but I’m thinking about that crop while shooting. IMO, A badly framed image is rarely saved by cropping.
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Old 09-28-2019   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
The concept of cropping being a mortal sin must be the silliest photographic concept ever fostered on young photographers [...] the way the picture looks is more important than following some silly rule.
I could not agree more... I was once told that to crop was sacrilegious but if it was absolutely necessary it must be done in the same ratio as the original image... I never heard a bigger crock...
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Old 09-28-2019   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
But after years of 35mm film, I seem to be in some kind of deep rooted anti-cropping mode instead of the earlier Speed Graphic crop like mad mode. I’m paying for the pixels, but I’m not taking advantage of them. I wondered what you are doing.
It may be irrational - but even with 6x9 medium format film - I still try print or display, at least 90% of the narrowest dimension of the frame.
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Old 09-28-2019   #16
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I am the opposite. My local photo lab crops the edges of my scans (the mask on her scanner cuts not only left and right but also top and bottom; she caters to people whose idea of composition is putting a subject in the middle and that's all she seems to understand). This drives me insane. Almost always this ruins edge elements in the composition and then I need to rescan at home if I want to publish something.
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Old 09-28-2019   #17
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For the most part I try to use the entire frame when composing and shooting and that's what I generally end up presenting/printing. Now I do make exceptions when I feel a slight bit of cropping or a change in aspect ration will result in a better final image/print.
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Old 09-28-2019   #18
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There's no really right or wrong way to do it. It's photography, it's not splitting atoms.

I like the video I saw years ago where Eddie Adams explained how to take good pictures. He said you buy the Eastman Kodak book on how to take good pictures, read it cover to cover and memorize the rules and then finally throw the effing book away, forget the rule and go out and take good pictures.
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Old 09-28-2019   #19
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I treat 35mm digital like I treat 35mm film. I try my best to crop in camera, but in some cases I modify the crop in post, but mildly.

I remember when I tried to get comfortable shooting medium format 6x6. All the literature said you didn't have to turn the camera to shoot portrait or landscape mode, you could just make an image and crop it in post. That concept never worked for me, just not the way I see images.

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Old 09-28-2019   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dogman View Post
There's no really right or wrong way to do it. It's photography, it's not splitting atoms.

I like the video I saw years ago where Eddie Adams explained how to take good pictures. He said you buy the Eastman Kodak book on how to take good pictures, read it cover to cover and memorize the rules and then finally throw the effing book away, forget the rule and go out and take good pictures.

I think rules are good to follow when starting out but as one gains experience they should be considered more as guidelines and finally as suggestions.
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Old 09-28-2019   #21
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Professionally: yes, with medium format, but not with 4x5 inch or my personal work on black and white 35mm or the digital equivalent.
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Old 09-29-2019   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
...
So, the question is - ARE YOU CROPPING? If that sounds like a silly and somewhat stupid question, it is. But after years of 35mm film, I seem to be in some kind of deep rooted anti-cropping mode instead of the earlier Speed Graphic crop like mad mode. I’m paying for the pixels, but I’m not taking advantage of them. I wondered what you are doing.

Hi Bill,

you already paid for the last generation of pixels why not use them for the best possible result, i.e. milking the inherit quality of all the pixels? If you crop the image of the latest and greatest 60+ MP sensor camera, you are indeed throwing out all the info the pixels outside of your cropped area have captured. You could have bought an APS size sensor camera and care about better framing at time of exposure.

I typically try to get the framing right when I take the shot.
More MP's just allow people who don't care about framing to get sloppy.
Not my way in photography and in life in general
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Old 09-29-2019   #23
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Generally I do not crop but if useful to have a more powerful image I have no objection to it.
It's the final image which counts.
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Old 09-29-2019   #24
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Quote:
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Hi Bill,

you already paid for the last generation of pixels why not use them for the best possible result, i.e. milking the inherit quality of all the pixels? If you crop the image of the latest and greatest 60+ MP sensor camera, you are indeed throwing out all the info the pixels outside of your cropped area have captured. You could have bought an APS size sensor camera and care about better framing at time of exposure.
That would be true if you did it all of the time... but most people only crop once in awhile while utilizing their whole frame most of the time.
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Old 09-29-2019   #25
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Ask yourself this: When you look at another photographer's work, in a gallery or book, will you be one of the sticklers who ask if everything was printed full frame? If not, why impose such limitations on your own work?
Of course we all preferably crop as little as possible to preserve image quality, but there are many situations when cropping can help achieve the picture we want.

I get the mental thing though. It's the same fallacy as overeating because you paid for it, and it will go to waste if you don't. No - it was wasted the moment that more food than you would eat was prepared, not at the time you were full. Same with those pixels, cropping after the fact isn't wasting pixels, shooting in a way that wastes them was. Ok that's as far as the analogy goes, throwing away pixels isn't inherently bad of course, less may simply be sufficient.
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Old 09-29-2019   #26
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It depends, Bill.. I crop when:
- I see a picture that requires a different aspect ratio to what I'm using
- I can't change my camera position or FOV to get the picture - then I will if I have enough detail (pixels or film) to play with - this tends to happen on the street when timing is everything, it's either crop or miss the shot

Theoretically, if I had a very high Mp sensor and was working a crowd where lots was happening eg in HK at the moment, there might be several potential images for each exposure. I believe the Chinese govt is implementing 500Mp cameras in public spaces to enable individual portraits from large crowds!
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Old 09-29-2019   #27
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I grew up, photographically speaking, shooting slides, where cropping was unavailable, so I learned to compose tightly in the viewfinder. A 35-70mm zoom came in handy for cropping before I tripped the shutter. It is just the way I learned. Force of habit is strong. Most of the time these days I print full frame because that is the image I intended to make. I am not above cropping. I did a series of 7:17 panoramas cropped from 3:2 wide angle landscapes. It is not about rules or religion; it's about previsualization. I do my composition in the viewfinder, not at the easel. You can do that with the Leica Q2 with its dedicated framelines, though I think that is mostly about marketing.
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Old 09-29-2019   #28
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Does it matter? Many of the iconic pics of the last century were cropped. A famous example here:



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Old 09-29-2019   #29
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I crop when:
  • I use my iPhone
  • I use my X-100T or X-Pro 2 images for immediate, on-line comsumptio
  • I want to remove converging verticals and, or the camera was not level with respect to the horizontal axis
  • whenever I use FUJIFILM's lens corrections in LR Classic

The first two cases are of no concern because images for immediate on-line consumption are highly compressed. They are essentially disposable. Loss of pixel resolution does not matter.

Since I use the OVF most of the time, the frame lines are just estimates.

Cropping due the second two cases is usually minimal.

Framing where the plane of the sensor is not square to the subject is always avoidable for the horizontal axis. Sometimes I don't take the time to carefully remove horizontal tilt. But I always attempt to minimize it. So the resulting crop has a low impact.


Intentional converging verticals are sometimes useful visual tools. Sometimes they are unavoidable. When neither applies I correct converging verticals in post production. Again, cropping is minimal unless I was really careless with my framing.

When I was doing interiors photography I would intentionally include more of a scene in the frame than needed. Then if I had to correct for small horizontal and, or vertical tilt areas the crop would be irrelevant. For building exteriors converging verticals were often impractical to avoid. This is one case where a high pixel density is very useful. A very large crop due to large vertical tilt corrections still retains a reasonably high pixel resolution.

Applying on-board lens corrections results in a cropped imaging. The crop is small. However, when precise framing is important I switch to the EVF. Now the lens correction is displayed in real time. For precise framing I use a tripod.
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Old 09-29-2019   #30
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Many years of 35mm shooting taught me to frame when shooting - when possible of course. I still shoot in 3:2 format or on rare occasions in 1:1.

3:2 is about the right format for traditional photographic paper or for printing in A-formats. The largest sensor I've got is a 16MP Fuji. Should I have to crop down to 12 MP on occasion it is no big deal; I can make a nice A2 print from a 12 MP file. No reason to fuss about it as far as I am concerned
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Old 09-29-2019   #31
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I'm in the camp of get it right with the VF, but it doesn't mean that I don't. so I actually do crop quite often.



Most of my cropping is to other aspect ratios, my digitals (m43 and phone) are 4:3 and my main film cameras (35mm and GW690) are 3:2. Sometimes it is plain correction, other times it is for fun and seeing other ways of framing.

As of film, I just came to the realization of Bill about 4x5 when I was printing from some of my 6x9 Negs that I do crop a bit, sometimes It's a matter of enlarger configuration and don't mind slight cropping. Did a print run of a friend portraits and there I did crop quite often, which brings the 40mm equivalent of the GW690 towards a longer lens.
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Old 09-30-2019   #32
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My favorite form of photography is candid portraits. That is, tightly framed images of the natural expressions I get when the subject is unaware of my presence. With film and early low-resolution digital bodies that type of shooting required long glass. Shorter lenses brought me close enough to the subject that I would be noticed and get the "I'm being photographed face". A 70-200 f2.8 zoom was my most used lens and on occasion I would go to a 200 f2 or 300 f2.8. Now I have reached "a certain age" where the weight of my camera and lens is a factor in how much I enjoy the shoot.

Currently with my 45 mpx body the 24-120 f4 is my most used lens and the 85 f1.4 and 105 f1.4 come into play. Through cropping I still get the images I want, but with a smaller, lighter and less noticeable rig.

Purists decry "throwing away" pixels, but if one does not intend to make very large prints, of what use are they?
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Old 09-30-2019   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Markey View Post
Is there a technical /aesthetic reason ?
Interested because I`ve never come across this in over fifty years of shooting.
I always thought it common practise in the newspaper industry
My personal attitude about substantial cropping is purely cultural.
1. The culture of the 35mm shooter, for all those film years, dictates that substantial blowups (like 35FOV to 85 FOV) are likely to compromise image quality and "look like junk" and are to be avoided.
Today's hi-res cameras can deliver a large amount of cropping w/o severe degeneration of image quality.
Newspaper printing, even today, can tolerate an even greater degeneration of photographic image quality than a moderately sized (13x19") enlargement via inkjet print(my main end product).
2. There is an ego factor as well, eg: If I design the shot *at the time of shooting* for a substantial crop, then that's fine. I do this frequently.
But...if the crop is a complete afterthought, then I wasn't designing or planning the final shot at the time of shooting, which demonstrates that I don't know what I'm doing, or am trying desperately to save a lousy shot, etc, etc.
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