Many of us learned habits in our film shooting that do not serve us well today, and many still propagate these outdated ideas to others.
In the days of film (and particularly for transparency film), the advice to shooters was to crop in camera. This made sense because many did not crop their images when mounted for projection. We also learned exposure habits to suit slide or negative film. But those habits no longer apply to people shooting digitally.
Now we mostly shoot digitally, and many of those who shoot film scan the film immediately so they can work with a digital file. So just as with film, we need to modify the way we shoot to suit what we are going to do with the images afterwards. What this now boils down to is two things:
- Expose to push the image data as far to the right on the histogram as possible without highlight clipping.
- Do not crop too tightly in camera.
You minimise noise in digital images by placing your image data as far to the highlight side as possible. This will often result in overexposed images but they are perfect for processing. In the process of pulling the darkest parts down to black (or close to it rather) we also minimise the image noise.
Remember too that the histogram display on the back of your camera does not display the RAW data histogram, but rather the histogram of the image after doing the JPEG conversion. This is even true when shooting RAW. So you need to discover just how much you can overexpose on the histogram and still not blow out the highlights.
Because cropping an image on the computer is such a natural step to take there is no need to over crop your images when shooting. In the early days of digital, close cropping in camera made sense because we were struggling with not having enough resolution for making larger prints. That’s not true anymore. Most of us have cameras that capture a much higher resolution image than we typically need. So we lose nothing by cropping later.
Giving yourself some extra space around your subject gives you flexibility when it comes to later uses.
And of course there is no need to stop with these two changes to your shooting. You could shoot some much wider images, just in case you need to do some radical changes such as going from landscape to a portrait crop, or turning a normal aspect ratio image into a panorama.
You can also shoot the images on each side of your main subject for the same reason. Even if you are not doing HDR at present, why not capture some under- and over-exposed versions, just in case. I think you get the idea.
Shoot for a digital workflow and also shoot for what might be in your workflow in the future.