There are are several good reasons to avoid cropping in on images. While it may be acceptable and a valuable part of photography for some (namely wildlife shooters). I do the best I can to get the image just right in camera when shooting my landscapes.
1. Image Quality
When shooting it is my goal to accomplish the highest quality images possible. This is why I do focus stacking, use the lowest ISO setting, and other various methods. The best is the most simple of all which is to capture the best composition right from the start. I use a zoom lens and my feet to make sure I am getting exactly what I want in the frame. Being picky at this point in the creative process is very important for this reason as it helps to lower the amount of work later as well as give you a higher success rate of keepers.
Think about a camera sensor like your image in print form. The more you have to expand the sensor to match the eventual print size the more you enhance defects and flaws. Stretching pixels is ok to a certain extent before becoming ugly viewed up close. Cropping the image is just decreasing the original sensor size even more!
2. Perspective Manipulation
Also part of the image quality debate therefore is that of perspective changes. When you crop an image from the wider field of view it changes the way you originally had the perspective being. A 24mm lens was never meant to be a 50mm lens and it feels weird when cropped in as such. It is especially evident at the wider focal lengths as the difference between the look of 600mm and 300mm isn’t as much as the difference between 25mm and 50mm.
3. Improving Photography
The last reason I don’t crop images is because of how it makes me a better photographer. I am not saying that I sit atop a throne ‘better’ than anyone who does chose to crop their images. It is, however, a mindset that I have when shooting that forces me to perfect the composition in the field because I won’t let myself do it later.
I have also learned that the mindset of not cropping has led to me developing my own style. I know what I am going for compositionally and I shoot to get that in camera every time. My photography tends to be of tight compositions without distractions or empty spaces on the sides or corners. It is what I like in post-production so I just get all of the detail I can out of the camera and scene while there. I also now shoot at longer focal lengths than I used to in order to accomplish my vision.
The challenge of getting things right in camera make photography more fun and satisfying for me overall. It isn’t easy and it forces me to focus on my craft that I enjoy so much. Always forcing myself to one-up the last at bat and compose each time is part of what makes photography so engaging, but I am not the only photographer out there and there are plenty of good reasons why you may want to use cropping. (To be continued?…)