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Use your enlarger to make selective crops - darkroom guide

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Category: Darkroom Printing

Use your enlarger to make selective crops - darkroom guide - If you own, or have access to a darkroom, you could be using an enlarger to help improve your photographic composition. There is no substitute to a well composed picture in the first place, but often, through no fault of our own, we capture a picture on film that needs further help.

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The main reason we have badly cropped pictures is either because we didn't take the time out to look carefully at the composition when shooting. This is usually because you spent all your efforts focusing on the subject and making it sit in the centre of the frame...it's a common occurrence. Then we have the subject that's moving too fast and here you don't even have time to think...just point, press and hope for the best. The third reason is hardware related. The subject is often too far away from the camera that the lens can't fill the frame with the important detail. In such cases you can sometimes move closer, but often that's not an option either.
Here are four examples of pictures that need the help of darkroom cropping.

 
First lets look at how you use the enlarger to crop a picture.
The enlarger has an adjustable head that moves up and down to increase or decrease magnification. You may have always used this to fill the enlarging easel with the full negative, but you don't have to. By taking the enlarger head up higher you can start to print just parts of the image, using the easel to mask off unwanted surroundings.
1 Place the negative you want to enlarge in the enlarger's negative carrier
2 Set the enlarging easel to the size of the paper you will use.
3 With the enlarger switched on adjust the height of the head so that the image projected is filling the easel.
4 Adjust so that just the area that you want to print appears within the frame.
5 Focus so the image in the frame is sharp.
6 You may have to readjust the height as a focused image can alter the magnification slightly, refocus as necessary to fine tune.
7 Switch the enlarger of and insert a piece of printing paper into the easel and make a print.
If you need help with exposure and printing techniques check out our archive of articles in this technique section.

Cropping so that the subject is pointing into the picture will add a sense of direction. The car looks as though it's coming into the shot and also gives it an extra touch of speed.
Use this option to reshape shots of your kids running at the school's sports day - yes we know your kiddy's in the middle of the photo! Put them to the side that they are running away from to give that extra sense of speed. Also use it with aeroplanes, cars, bikes, buses, crowds, animals jumping etc.
With balloons try with the sky above showing where the balloon's going or plenty of ground below showing where it's come from.
As the sky is so dramatic you could get away with this composition. Alternatively you could make the shape more creative by cropping just the top and bottom and then mounting it in a usual shaped frame.


This is the closest I could get without falling into the harbour. I didn't want either the water in the background or the mud in the foreground to appear in the photo and a slightly tighter cropped would help. While I was at it I sepia toned the print too.

A common poor crop is when you're shooting pets. Move any closer and I'm sure this kitten would have pounced and either scratched me or licked the lens! Keep at a distance and crop later is the best option.

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