There's a tendency to go for the expected with photography. When you think of an artillery range, you don't think of a green field with flowers, you think of scorched earth. But that's part of the reason this photo is so effective, the tanks in the distance, the tranquil blue sky--all of these engage the reader because they challenge assumptions.
This is the only spread I designed in this presentation. I include it not because I'm inordinately proud of it, but because I can tell a bit of the story behind it. The photograph is of Philadelphia's school superintendent. He seemed a nice man and a dedicated educator, but he was a bit stiff on camera. Additionally, he had a press office that was quite concerned with his image. They were unwilling to permit a set portrait, but only allowed us to photograph him at large speaking events. As a result we were forced to illustrate the story with pictures of him on a podium, or working large crowds--all fine choices for secondary photos but none really appropriate for a lead. A number of people--including the photographer--tried to dissuade me from using this photo because the subject's eyes are closed, although my editors were supportive. Art directors get in the habit of eliminating photos that are a little blurry, or for other flaws like this one has, but in this case the passion with which he appears to be speaking says more about him than a more "normal" picture would. (The teaser for the story on the cover was "The Intense Superintendent.") Even if the reader doesn't get this, the closed eyes at least create a little intrigue--and separate this shot from the thousands taken at meetings.
Theres a lot of group-think when it comes to cropping photos. When Matt Drudge first hit the big time, there was exactly one photo of him and it ran everywhere. That's not uncommon--Chandra Levy and Monica Lewinski both existed for a while as a single image though, as with Drudge, other pictures of them eventually became available. Everyone or nearly everyone gave Drudge's photo a very tight crop like the one on the left. The cropped image reduces it to what I had assumed was a publicity photo until I saw the full-frame version. The uncropped photo is much more interesting. In a dark and dirty apartment staircase we learn a bit more about the blogger than that he uses a computer and wears a goofy hat. Running this picture uncropped also allowed the paper where I worked at the time to show Drudge as no one had shown him--even though we were stuck with the same wire photo everyone else had.
Conventional wisdom is that most photos benefit from cropping. Conventional wisdom is wrong--both because it is conventional (you don't want your magazine to look like every other magazine) and because good photos are composed and framed by the photographer. Their judgement should not be discarded unthinkingly. The uncropped image of Drudge is just flat out more interesting. NEXT