Sports Photography Tip: Crop for Impact USA Today director of photography explains why and how you should consider cropping your sports photos

Today we continue our sports photography special series and this time we have a video by sports photographer Jerry Lai who is the director of photography and content at USA Today. This video has to do with cropping, why we should crop, and how to do this in the best possible way.

Unlike studio photography, landscape photography, and some other types of photography when you can plan your shot and even set it the way you want in advance, in sports photography in most cases you are shooting from the sidelines from a fairly fixed position, sometimes quite far away with less than optimal lighting conditions and most importantly your subjects are usually moving erratically and quickly through the field. This means that you can’t always create the perfect composite in camera.

Lai explains that the main reason we crop in sports photography is to create a greater visual impact. Typically the larger your subject is in the frame the more impact you might get (this is a rule of thumb and there are exceptions of course).

The first basic tip here is to crop to fix the horizon. In many situations, especially when we shoot quickly and move around (or our subject moves and we track it) we get a shot where the horizon isn’t exactly leveled. It might look cool in some situations but in most cases, we should try and fix this by finding our horizon and cropping based on it (in Photoshop there are several ways of doing this – here is one that takes under 30 sec). Lai shows a slightly different method in the video you can use it as well although you can go with whatever works best (and fastest for you).

The next reason why we might want to crop our sports picture is to remove distractions. It can be another player, a judge, or even just dead space that takes away attention from your main subject. It is important to mention that cropping in post is as much an artistic decision as framing in-camera (even more so because you are determining how the final image will look).

Finally, as we mentioned initially – the more you crop the more raw emotion you can show in your image – but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should always crop your images super tight (or even crop at all). It is important that you first try and figure out what story you are trying to tell with your image – do you want to show the epic struggle between to NBA players trying to catch the ball or do you want to show how the crowed behind them goes crazy – this can determine the way crop (or not crop) your shot.

For more on sports photography please check out our special sports photography subsection here on LensVid.

Iddo Genuth
Iddo Genuth is the founder and chief editor of He has been a technology reporter working for international publications since the late 1990's and covering photography since 2009. Iddo is also a co-founder of a production company specializing in commercial food and product visual content.

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