Wick Communications

Was it cropped?

In Photography on 12 Mar 2015 at 2:18 pm

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 2.38.32 PM

Rarely has a photo’s composition gotten more scrutiny than this one. It’s a front-page photo that appeared in the New York Times on March 7. It’s a re-enactment of the famous “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. As you can see, the first family is all in attendance along with some icons of the civil rights movement and a few thousand of their closest friends.

What you don’t see is former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. They were also in the front line of marchers and are just a bit to President Barack Obama’s left — out of the frame.

Conservatives were afire and saw the photo as a liberal media slight against the former president. They accused the Times of cropping out the Bushes to further an agenda and promote the wrong notion that Republicans don’t care about events in Selma.

For his part, Times photographer Doug Mills told the newspaper’s ombudsman that the photo wasn’t cropped at all. It was taken with a long lens. Wider shots with Bush in the picture didn’t work for technical reasons. Bush was in bright sunshine and washed out of a photo that captured the faces of the current president further down the line.

“… Bush was in the bright sunlight,” Mills said. “I did not even send this frame because it’s very wide and super busy and Bush is super-overexposed because he was in the sun and Obama and the others are in the shade.” …

What do you think? I buy Mills’ explanation. That said, I also think he might have gotten an even better photo had he waited another minute for Bush to come into the shadows.

I read the comments of one photographer who paraphrased former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by saying, “You don’t always print the photo you wished you had.” Or something like that. In other words, Mills was at a dynamic news event and he came back with a photo worthy of the front page. I get why he wouldn’t want folks off to the side to be overexposed.

It’s an interesting question. Do you run the best photo you have? Or do you run one that best conveys the moment even if it’s out of focus, overexposed or otherwise messy? More often than not, I’d run the former.


  1. A Chicago Tribune photographer’s advice to me a few years was that sometimes the best photo won’t run because it doesn’t convey the entire story or headline. He was mainly talking about sports photography—a great injury overriding an epic catch shot— but I think his advice holds true. That said, the above photo does fit in both categories very easily. Its an iconic shot.

    I’m also unsure how I feel about Bush being critical to this photo/event when considering the cultural and societal implications of the first black president leading a march honoring a major civil rights movement. Let’s face it, one president holds a lot more significance than other in this case.

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