When you get a professional headshot made, your photographer will ultimately very likely crop the headshot. But what is cropping and why should it be done?
To crop is defined as to cut off the ends or a part of something. A full frame camera sensor captures an image in a 3:2 aspect ratio. Nowadays, with so much resolution available in high-end full frame sensors, photographers often shoot photographs with some space to crop.
Such a practice provides some creative options in post processing. It’s also often just safer to do so as you can always crop away but you can’t crop back what you left out in camera.
Why Should You Crop a Headshot?
So, probably the number one reason to crop a headshot is because headshots are commonly output as 8×10” photos, or a 4:5 aspect ratio. This isn’t a hard rule, it’s just that it’s most common, particularly for professional actor headshots.
As mentioned, professional photographers commonly shoot photographs a bit further out than what they ultimately output. Even if they shoot for close to how they’ll crop, many times there are background elements that are desired to cut out of a finished headshot.
Such items to crop might be a soft box or light stand in a studio. It might be a studio light or part of a background that is cut out. Outdoors there are infinite things to trim, particularly with busy backgrounds. Cropping is important because it keeps the focus on the person’s face, which is the main point of a headshot.
Crop Factor Considerations
There are many crop factor ratios that are common: 1:1, 4:5, 2:3, 5:7, 16:9. The 1:1 factor was popular for use on Instagram. The 4:5 doubled is 8×10, primarily used with headshots. Similarly, 2:3 is best known for 4:6” prints as is 5:7 for 5×7” prints. 16:9 is most known for your standard widescreen TV format.
If you’re considering how to crop your headshot, first consider what it will be used for. You might need different crops for different uses. For example, on LinkedIn currently the crop is a circle. So, outputting to a 4:5 crop factor will require you to further crop in when posting your headshot to LinkedIn.
Why Not to Crop Any Part of Your Head
Cropping a headshot is an art. There are some applications that will have hard rules, such as for passports. Otherwise, it’s your call how to crop one. And one common practice is to partially cut off the top of your head.
This isn’t recommended because it can be the question “are you hiding something.” Particularly for acting headshots, it’s important show casting directors your entire face and head. This way you leave nothing to imagination.
Other Advantages to Cropping a Headshot
In almost all cases, when you’re cropping, you’re often zooming in on part of a photo, altering its composition. Changing the composition is often why photographers crop, so they can alter the main focus of a photo.
You might also crop to change the orientation of a photo. Perhaps the photographer took a photo you want to use but the camera was slightly off angle. Using a crop tool in post-production software, the photographer can level the image.
How you physically crop a headshot varies by software of choice. On powerful desktop applications, such as Photoshop, there are tools to select and then you can drag the crop in or out with a mouse or pen.
Cropping a headshot isn’t just to ensure it conforms to the common 8×10” size. It’s also to help emphasize a subject, to center you in a photo or even to not center you. How you crop is part of the art of photography, but it should match why you need to crop too.