Lesson 58: The Rule of Getting Close

In Lesson 53, I talked about what “filling the frame” means when you’e shooting a landscape.  In Lesson 3, I talked about filling the frame when you’re shooting a person (or dog).  In Lesson 3 (and a few other times), I’ve mentioned not to use the zoom function on the iPhone but to use your feet instead.

There are two times when using your feet might not be a good idea.  First, sometimes getting physically closer to your subject is not possible without peril (like Capa, who, as I mentioned in Lesson 53, was killed stepping on a land mine).  There can be physical obstacles or social ones to getting close to your subject sometimes.  Second, as I mentioned in Lesson 41, getting too close can cause unattractive distortion in the your subject’s face.

So, if you’re not supposed to use the digital zoom feature on the iPhone (the only “zoom” capability the iPhone offers) and you can’t get physically closer to your subject, what are you supposed to do?  Well, the only other option is cropping your photo.  I showed you how to crop a photo using Snapseed in Lesson 41, but I thought I would show you today how cropping compares to using digital zoom.

Compare the following 3 photos:

The first one is taken with no zoom and I didn’t crop it.  The second one is zoomed in all the way using the digital zoom capability.  The third one is actually the first photo cropped to approximately the same “zoom” amount as the second photo.

Notice that the digitally zoomed photo is blurry and very grainy compared to the cropped photo.  In theory, this should not be the case.  In theory, taking a photo and cropping it after you take it should result in the exact same quality photo as digitally zooming while you’re taking it.

Since my dog doesn’t usually hold perfectly still, it’s possible the increased blur is due to him moving rather than the difference in zoom vs crop.  To test that, I did the same exercise using a wooden bear carving since, so far, it has never turned its head in the middle of a photo:

Interestingly, I got the exact opposite results.  The digital zoom yielded a slightly sharper image than cropping a non-zoomed photo.

This is not exactly a scientific process, but my experience in the field is that I have consistently gotten better results by taking the photo without zooming and cropping to the degree the photo can tolerate before it gets too grainy and blurred over trying to zoom in while I’m shooting.  the main advantage to not digitally zooming while shooting is that you can decide later how much cropping your photo can stand without creating graininess and reducing sharpness.  If you shoot the photo already zoomed in, you cannot go back–the only photo that got recorded has the noise and blur recorded, too.

As a side note, in case you’re curious, I also got out an old 10 megapixel DSLR (to make it somewhat more comparable to the 8 megapixel iPhone–although it’s still apples and oranges) to demonstrate what optical zoom looks like.  Optical zoom is always better than cropping (assuming all other variables remain the same).  You get closer to the subject using a lens rather than degrading the quality of the image by spreading out the remaining megapixels when you crop (or digitally zoom).  Here’s a comparison for you:

Your Assignment:  Try the digital zoom function.  Do a similar exercise to the one I did–take the picture both zoomed in digitally and without zooming and cropping later.  Are you able to get better photos with the digital zoom or by not zooming and then cropping?  How about with a subject that doesn’t necessarily hold still all the time?  Do you get the same results?


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