What is “correct” margin space?

Home Forums Photography Q&A What is “correct” margin space?

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    James Staddon

    Hi @frazer-family, thanks for the questions on the webinar last night:

    How do you decide how big of a margin to use, when composing? When do you use a “close” crop?

    This is when it’s nice to be that person of whom people say, “oh, they have an artistic eye”. 🙂 Those with “artistic eyes” doesn’t generally use mathematical formulas or “golden triangles” to compose their shots. They just seem to be able to see what’s nice and do it. God has given them this gift. For the rest of the population who don’t have a natural “artistic eye”, the beauty in art has to be learned and developed and trained until it eventually does becomes more a natural ability to see artistically.

    So, setting aside why it looks good, from my understanding of graphic design and my experience and research in that field, I personally think somewhere around 12% of the shortest edge of a document is enough space to give the impression of sufficient breathing room. Of course, I have not applied this to photography before, so it would make a fun study. I think though, that if you strictly followed this formula for a while, you would start to see what “artistic eyes” are already seeing naturally, and then be able to break the “rule” as desired from there. Just like the “rule” of thirds.

    As for when to intentionally close crop, think about it. Photos are tools of communication. What invisible messages would a close-crop give? I think of impressions along the lines of “claustrophobic”, “modern”, “edgy”, “urban”, “abstract”, “unconventional”, “far-fetched”, “excitement”…. If that’s the story or feeling you’re trying to communicate in the photo, then use it. Here’s a example of a typography poster that effectively breaks the rule to help get the point across.

    I generally find myself photographing natural scenes which tend to be more along the lines of “peaceful”, “nostalgic”, “majestic”, so my eye is more trained for composing for those emotions I think.

    Would love to hear other’s comments on this!

    • This topic was modified 50 years, 7 months ago by .
    David Frazer

    That is a neat thought! I have rarely seen a favourite photo where the main focus of the picture has less than that 12% margin “rule”. Of course just like the “rule” of 3rds, this is not a “rule” but a guideline.

    Just to test the theory, here are three examples from an international dog photography contest: (1st 2nd and 3rd prize, puppy category) https://www.dogphotographeroftheyear.org.uk/2019-Winners-Gallery/Puppies/

    The 1st prize picture does adhere to the 12% “rule”, as the bottom of the puppies’ feet are about 12% from the bottom edge. The 3rd prize follows or exceeds the 12% “rule”. But the 2nd prize (taken by a graphics designer incidentally!) does not strictly. It does place the puppy’s eye on a 1/3, 1/3 power-position however. How would the picture have been if they had followed the “rule” of 12% margins? I really don’t know, but I think you would either have to break the “rule” of margins or the “rule” of 3rds. I think they used a close crop to convey intimacy, or closeness.

    Anyone else have thoughts? Take a look at the pictures you really like and notice how big the margin is. Do your favourite pictures have a 5% margin, a 12% margin, a 20% margin?

    Of course, when actually shooting you do have to bear in mind how your picture is going to be presented. If it is going to be printed on a wrap-around canvas you had better have an extra inch or two all the way around in addition to your 12% margin.

    • This reply was modified 50 years, 7 months ago by .
    Frazer Family

    Thanks for the thoughts, @jamesstaddon and @dfrazer.
    I think I’m getting a handle on the concept. I wanted to give the attached photo an aggressive feel to match the cat’s expression, so (among other things) I cropped it really close. I think it worked well, though maybe I overdid it…
    (Sorry, it’s not that great of a photo otherwise.)

    David Frazer

    Actually, I would say that it almost does follow the 12% margin rule – the parts that are in focus (except the whiskers which you could argue don’t really count) are all at least 12% from the edges except the nose, which is just a hair closer. Personally I would have cropped a bit more off the top if the idea was to have a tight crop, but that is just my opinion. The cat’s right eye, which is the one that is in focus, would also end up a little closer to the 1/3 1/3 power point.

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