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Cropping means masking the negative in the enlarger so as to use only part of it when printing.

At its simplest, it can be used to remove unwanted details (such as a bystander’s shoulder or a lamp-post) from the edge of the scene. It can also be used more creatively.

Crop - Ian Edwards

Photographers disagree over cropping during printing. Some traditionalists, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, have insisted that the final image should be composed when taking the picture, and what is on the negative should be printed. But most photographers would consider that attitude too extreme, and would insist that cropping is a useful technique.

Cropping can allow the printer to improve the balance of the composition, focus the viewer’s attention selectively, or permit the production of a portrait format print from a landscape format negative.

It can also open up new possibilities around the “feel” or emotional “charge” of an image. For example, cropping so as to include a doorway near a human subject may give a sense of vulnerability (or, depending on the scene, security), which would be absent if the cropping excluded the doorway.

To visualise the possibilities of a picture, cut two L-shaped pieces of black card. Use these as a variable frame, together with a magnifier, when examining contact prints. Mark on the contact sheet the masking that you intend to try, and use the markings to guide you during printing.