Cropping, Orientation and not letting rejection define your work…

What makes a great picture? Is it the subject, the lighting, the styling, the composition? Well a great picture is all of these things. Unfortunately there is no definite answer to what a great picture is. What makes a picture great is going to be different to everyone. When it comes to pictures of food this couldn’t be any more true.

In my opinion a great food picture should make you hungry. As a professional food photographer, that is what I aim to do. In looking at a food picture and I can feel my mouth begin to salivate and say, “Wow, I really want to eat that right now” Then I will define it as a great food picture. To make this happen, you need to have good lighting, subject and styling, but sometimes how you compose and crop the image can have just as much effect. The first decision is, do I want to shoot the image vertically ? or horizontally?

Generally speaking.

You will shoot vertical if the subject is taller than it is wide.

and horizontally if the subject is wider than it is tall. These are general rules and by no means are absolutes. Rules are made to be broken. Sometimes an image that should be shot vertical ends up looking great as a horizontal. For example:

This cupcake is taller than it is wide, so it should be shot vertically. But…

It also looks great as a horizontal. Adding the negative space around the cupcake gives the image a different feel. So when it comes to shooting pictures of your food don’t be afraid to shoot a “vertical” image as a horizontal and vice versa.

There are times when you don’t have a choice whether to shoot vertically or horizontally. The orientation of your picture can be determined by the layout of the final product. For example, when I am doing work with magazines, the Art Director or Photo Editor will tell me, before the assignment, if they need it to be shot vertically or horizontally. They have a  layout of the story and already have the spaces for images in mind, so it is up to me to shoot it the way they need. The same is true if you have an end use in mind for you picture. Say you are writing a cook book and are shooting your own images. If your book is 8 1/2 x 11 and you want to have full page pictures in the book, then you will have to shoot vertically for it to work.If you are doing a full 2 page spread, you will need a horizontal image.

So what do you do if you have already shot your images and your don’t know your final layout orientation or size. I would suggest shoot both horizontally and vertically, but sometime you can only get one shot. This is where you can crop. Here are some examples of what you can do to images when cropping. ( I am using Lightroom 3 to do my cropping in) With cropping you can transform a horizontal image into a vertical one

Or you can go from vertical to horizontal.

Cropping is great for changing an image’s orientation when you are in a pinch, but it does have a draw back. It completely changes the composition of the original image. In the pizza slice picture the uncropped horizontal image has plenty of negative space with plenty of breathing room around the food. When turned vertical, you lose that breathing space and the focus is on the pizza. The same goes for the crabs. The original uncropped vertical image had enough breathing room around the crab and showed the nice shape of the circular dish. By cropping in, you change the entire feel of the image.

Going from vertical to horizontal and horizontal are extreme cases in cropping. Be prepared for the fact that cropping by changing an image’s orientation loses a large part of the image. This is not the only way to crop. You can crop in any ratio or size you choose.

For those of you who visit the food sharing sites such as Tastespotting, Foodgawker, Dessert Stalking, Photograzing, Dishfolio, and many more, you are aware with the 1×1 or square crop. These sites all require images to be cropped to 250×250 pixel squares. Can you guess what all these squares have in common ? ( I will answer it at the end of the post)

When shooting an image that needs to be a square there are special considerations to think about. Both vertical and horizontals can make images, but you need to think about where to leave extra space. If you are shooting vertical, the square crop will look like this.

If you don’t leave enough space around the subject in the original shot the square crop will leave you with something that looks like this.

When going Horizontal and cropping 1×1 it looks like this:

Notice how I am able to fit the full plate in, but I am forced to leave out the napkin. Horizontal orientation,  I have found is a bit easier to crop a square out of, but if you have food on the edges of the plate, or if you want the entire plate in the picture, you will have to leave enough room. Here is an example with just enough room to fit the whole food into.

 

As you can see cropping and the orientation that you choose for you pictures will have a great effect on how you can use the final image. When shooting, I always try to shoot a few verticals and a few horizontals, this way I have images that I can use in many different ways.

What looks best is like everything in photography, it is subjective. How you crop should be determined by the required final size of your image and what you want that image to say. Be careful when cropping and remember that cropping at the end will change the composition and sometimes final meaning of the image.

This brings me back to the square cropped images of deep fried cookie dough, limeade and carrot cake. I asked you to think about what all these images had in common. Well the answer is that they were all rejected by the food sharing sites for either composition, lighting or sharpness. Before I go any further I just want to make it clear that I am by no means bashing these sites. Assigning concrete criteria to something as subjective as photography is not an easy task. I might  get annoyed for getting rejected for rather vague and subjective reasons such as composition and lighting. I also realize that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between depth of field and lack of sharpness in a 250×250 square. However, I do appreciate what these sites do have moderators who control what goes on them, and I can’t even imagine trying to moderate the thousands of submissions they get a day. I will continue to visit them and share my posts with their visitors.

This being said, I do still get annoyed when getting rejected, but I DON’T LET IT DEFINE whether or not I have taken a successful picture or not. AND NEITHER SHOULD YOU! I feel that the deep fried cookie dough, limeade, and fried carrot cake are all pictures that make me hungry. They are images that I am proud to put my name by and share with you on my site. Rejection sucks, but don’t let it discourage you or let it define what you do as “not good” enough. Just because a website doesn’t accept it, don’t worry.  As long as you are proud of the image that you took and it has meaning to you, then in my opinion that really is all that matters. If your goal with your photography is to get onto these sites, then I would love to help you improve your photography.

If you have worked on your photography, improved and made it onto one of these sites then congratulations! If you are repeatedly getting turned down for the same reason say lighting, then maybe these lighting tutorials will help Lighting Tips and Shooting at night

I just don’t want you thinking that because your image didn’t make it on, it is a bad one. I have talked with other pro photographers and they to have been rejected from these sites, so don’t take it personally. Keep practicing, keep shooting and learning. Most importantly enjoy doing it!

I hope these tips have helped. If there are any more food related tips you would like to have answered leave a comment here or in the Food Photography Tips, Tricks, and Techniques section.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    Such a great post! I was just taking some pictures this afternoon for a recipe I’m sharing this week, and as I was looking through what I had captured I found myself realizing none of my images were well suited to the darn 250×250. I am CONSTANTLY getting rejected by tastespotting – only 3 of my images from 3.5 years of food blogging have been accepted.

    Thanks for the tips on image composition – and the good advice not to let the rejection get to me.

    Cheers

    Waspy

  2. says

    Taylor,
    Thanks for putting so much art and effort into this post. I agree with you that in most cases, it is the subject that dictates the visual approach and unless one is specifically shooting for a particular type of media, fitting a lovely rectangular peg into an arbitrary square hole is not going to work well.

    I usually judge rejection on its own merits. Understanding that every criticism has its biases, there are still many things to be learned from the constructive kinds. “It didn’t fit” is not a valid one for me.

    Richard

  3. says

    Great post! I’ve been blogging for less than a year and I can see my photos getting better and better. Every time I cook, I think about colour and how I’m going to plate something. It’s nice to read about food photography from other food bloggers. I usually take a vertical and a horizontal shot, but I find that I mostly use horizontal shots because they fit better on a website. I’ve submitted many images to Tastespotting but only ever got 1 accepted post. I took it really personally but hopefully in a few more months, I will have the confidence to submit some more images to them. Part of being a good food blogger is to be able to look at your images critically. If you think that all your images are wonderful, you won’t learn anything.

    • says

      Just keep practicing and you will definitely build that confidence. Glad to hear that you are able to take the criticism constructively and learn from it. Thanks for the comment!

      • says

        I went home last night after reading your post and I submitted 3 new images to Food Gawker. They were all accepted this morning. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve never had anything accepted by Food Gawker before and then 3 in a row. I must say as much as we hate rejection after rejection, the ones that do get excepted make us feel sooooo good. Success is all the more sweeter after the bitter taste of rejection.

        • says

          Bunny,

          Congrats on getting images accepted by Food Gawker. Did you shoot with the square format in mind?

          I’ve always thought that a measure of my success as a photographer is how much the rejections affect me. If they are accompanied by constructive criticism, as on the recent critique post on Dario Milano’s blog then they are a welcome lesson; if just rejected out of hand, I find myself still stinging a bit. It’s good to know I still have room to grow as a photographer.

  4. says

    Awesome, Taylor!
    I’m new to photography & the blogging world, so it’s very cool to read your tips and insights! They’re very informative & I hope you will post more “tutorials” like this in the future! Your photos are beautiful, thanks for sharing!

      • says

        Amazing! I would love to hear about whether or not you ever use lightboxes at all, and your experience with artificial lighting. I don’t have a lot of great lighting where I’m at, so I’m thinking of constructing a lightbox and using “daylight” bulbs. Any tips?
        Thanks, Taylor!

  5. says

    Loved reading this. I often felt that when I’m excited about a picture which I think was far better than many others, it still gets rejected and some that I’m not sure of gets accepted. Its hit and try thing but as long as it brings traffic no one’s complaining.

  6. says

    Thank you for sharing, I loved reading this. I’m just a beginner at photography and most of my photos get rejected; I did manage to get one accepted, and that was a huge boost.
    However, I try not to take the rejections personally, and just strive to improve my photography.
    By the way, I love the horizontal version of the cupcake!

  7. says

    This is probably the best and most comforting blog post I’ve read about food photography, specifically because I love your attitude towards the definition of a good picture.

    Thanks for the reassuring advice!

    Beth

  8. says

    Great post! Definitely a challenge cropping down for Tastespotting, foodgawker, etc. from a full-sized image if you don’t plan ahead. And their rejections can hurt (especially the “non-sharp” rejection when the image is, to the contrary, quite sharp) but you’re right–it’s a tough job moderating those images and somebody has to do it. Just keep on trying.

  9. says

    Hi there, I surfed on over to your site, ironically from one of the food sharing sites :) Thanks for the great tips and the encouragement. It does get disheartening being rejected over and over and over again, but the good part is that it makes me think a lot more about taking the photo, and to learn as much as I can about how to take a better photo. Thanks to people like you, I’m learning more every day.

  10. says

    Thank you for your tips and for such a great, informative post. Your pictures always look incredible to me! The cropping thing has definitely been an issue for me. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

    Shanon

  11. says

    When you see such beautiful photos be rejected, it makes me feel a bit better about my photos that I love and then see rejected myself.

    Every time I get rejected though, I do get frustrated and annoyed but after I vent and shake it off I try harder to improve my photos for not just getting it accepted but for myself and those who come to look at my site weather a photo site says it’s good or not :)

    Thank you for taking the time to share with us all important techniques that can help us all with our photos, but more importantly for telling us that it’s ok to be rejected as long as we keep trying!

  12. says

    Great post! I have found it very interesting… and also encouraging! It is true I’ve sometimes get some photor rejected that I love, and sometimes I get it published in one site, and rejected in other… So I’ve learned not to mind much about rejection! Thanks for sharing!

  13. says

    Thanks for the fantastic post! It’s helpful to know that even professional photographers get rejected because it can get pretty frustrating. That said, it does make it even more exciting when a submission is accepted! Still, I can’t believe that all three of those photos were rejected? They make me hungry!

  14. says

    Getting rejected every now and then on vague reasons doesn’t piss me off… too much. What really pisses me off is to see photos published that are definitely worse than mine (that “definitely worse than mine” thing is defined by me, of course ;)).

  15. says

    Thank you to everyone who has looked and commented on this post. I am so glad to hear that you are finding the information useful. It sounds like many of you have a great attitude about the food sharing sites, just keep practicing and trying new things! Thank you all for your comments!

  16. says

    Your post on cropping is wonderful! ..There is nothing more respectable than a person willing to help others.
    I would like to introduce myself, I am Bobbie from bobbiesbakingblog.com

  17. says

    It’s refreshing to hear that even a professional photographer gets rejected from those sites. I know my shots aren’t all winners but sometimes when one I love gets rejected it’s hard not to feel the sting. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experiences with us!

  18. says

    Great post Taylor! I have yet to get any pictures accepted onto any of those sites, but I know my pictures need work. Your pictures always make me hungry, so you have accomplished your goal.

  19. says

    Such a great post! I play around with cropping all the time- it’s amazing how the same photo can look so different when cropped in the ways you suggest. I happen to love tall photos and enjoy cropping vertically, but a lot of times, I then can’t figure out how to resize those photos for the food sites. So it’s good to take photos from all orientations, so you’ll later have lots to work with when editing. I have stopped getting annoyed when a photo of mine doesn’t make it into TS, FS, etc. It doesn’t means it’s not a good photo…the ones you used to illustrate this point- the limeade in particular- are all beautiful!

  20. says

    Great post! Thank you so much :D I just got my first dslr in January and I’m soaking up any and all tips and tricks that I can. I love that you mention that being rejected by FG or TS doesn’t mean you’ve taken a bad photo. It’s so frustrating especially when one accepts it and the other rejects it, but I always remind myself – it just wasn’t what they were looking for. Plus, I realize I have so much to learn still :) Cropping is something I’m really working on right now. It really makes all the difference!

  21. says

    Wow! Thank you so much! This post is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I just got rejected by tastespotting for lighting and composition, although I kind of expected it as I am a VERY amateur photographer, but I was still very disappointed . Thanks for the tips. This is a GREAT post!

  22. says

    Thank you so much for this masterful tutorial. I think most of us crop by feel or gut instinct, not because we necessarily know the ramifications of what we are doing. This put into words what cropping something vertically, horizontally or tightly actually does in terms of showcasing the subject matter. And thank you for expounding on the meaning of the rejection reasons from those food photo aggregate sites. I often get rejected for “composition,” too, but have not really understood exactly what that meant — until now.

  23. says

    Great post! It’s nice to know even professionals get rejected. I agree with some of the other commenters, though – I feel like my pictures have gotten better and better and feedback from those big sites (and practice) has really helped them. Cropping is really one thing that can make or break a picture.

  24. says

    I have SUCH a long way to go in improving my shots, but this piece came at just the right time! Thanks so much for this perspective. A great read.

  25. says

    What a great post! I try to play around with cropping all the time and when you try to put your photo into 250×250 it is hard sometimes to get everything you want into that photo. I have stopped getting annoyed when a photo of mine doesn’t make it into TS, FS. Again thanks for the great tips again.

  26. says

    Thanks for this post. I finally got my nerve up a few weeks ago to submit to Foodgawker and Tastespotting. I’ve had 4 accepted and 2 rejected for being underexposed. I anticipated one of the rejections because the shot was slightly out of focus. The other rejection I didn’t expect and it hurt a little but I’m over it. I’m going to try to take the best shots I can and not worry about what those photography sites think.

  27. says

    Thank you for your insight and for your wonderful tips! It’s frustrating to be accepted one day and rejected the next for two equally great photos. But like you said, “great” is subjective sometimes :) I’ve also noticed that I have to grossly oversharpen my photos so they don’t get rejected as “unsharp”. Those 250×250 squares are a killer!

  28. says

    Hi Taylor,

    This is a great post. Your photos are beautiful and your insights and tips very helpful. I have had photos that I didn’t like accepted on the food sites and ones that I thought were a sure thing rejected. What looks great to one person may not to the next and this is certainly true of food photography.

    Gwen

  29. says

    LOVED reading your article, and have to say each one of your pictures makes me SUPER hungry. You make me feel better about rejection too. Great article, well explained … and beautifully illustrated. A picture is worth a 1000 words, and yours are even more. Food photography is certainly therapeutic.

  30. says

    Great post!! I really enjoyed it, esp the last bit. Well, not that the pictures got rejected (I know the feeling too, too well) but that moral message of not letting a subjective photo site bring our self-esteem down. I think your pictures are stunning, and I’m wiping drool now. :-)

  31. says

    Love your tips! And now I feel better about when I’ve gotten rejected from those sites. It’s disappointing when the photos you think will get picked for sure, don’t. And I always took it kind of personally, but now I think I’ll look at it a little differently.

  32. says

    Wow. Now I know why Foodgawker’s editor even suggested reading this post! Fantastic! I agree with 100% of what you’ve written in this post, especially the last part about being rejected. I wish I could have read such a post when I first started out blogging, but it is still helpful today for me and for many other food bloggers out there. *APPLAUSE*

  33. says

    Taylor. Am I allowed to call you Taylor? I’m just assuming we’re on a first-name basis here in blogland. =) Listen. I love these posts about photography! Not only are they educational, but they’re SUPER encouraging to those of us who are just starting out and tend to get wayyyy too emotional about rejections and end up eating chocolate chips straight from the bag (not that I’m describing myself, or anything…bahaha). I’ve loved reading every post! And all your other posts. And salivating. Too much? Okay I’m done.

    ANYWAY. So I think the reason I get rejected the most is composition. I checked your Tips, Tricks, and Techniques section and didn’t really find anything specific to that area of photography. I know it’s interspersed throughout your posts, but will you be devoting a post solely to that anytime soon? I know I would appreciate it, but also understand that you have PLENTY of topics to cover in your photography posts!

    Thanks again for showing us that even the best get turned down sometimes! Looking forward to more tips in the future!!

  34. says

    Every time I have a question in mind, I come to your blog. Thank you so much for extending your talent and knowledge. I am amazed that I am going down the same path as all of the previous commentors here. I am having a nice level of success with TS and FG but I bit my nails and cringe each time I open one of their e-mails. The specific problem I have is this: My photos in i-photo are clear and crisp. Even on my blog and SmugMug they are clear and crisp. When I upload them to TS and FG. they blur. I just wish they looked as nice as the original shot. Do you have idea if I need to change any settings on my camera?

    Does anyone else have this constant blue occur when they upload photos to these websites?

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