Quite often a successful photo is merely a matter of editing, namely compositional cropping. How an image is cropped is a big part in the story it tells.
I was at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge a couple days ago and came home with this image of an american white pelican. It portrays my favorite pose for pelicans, taking off of the water while leaving a splash behind the bird.
The image was big enough it left me with a decision on how to crop around the pelican. The first image is a tighter crop with less room in front of the pelican and gives more emphasis on the splash behind the bird. The second image leaves room before the bird giving some thought to where the pelican is going. Leaving room in front of a moving subject tends to give emphasis as to where it is headed. Leaving room behind a moving subject gives notion to where it has been, in this case giving notion to the splash.
Both croppings give a slightly different feel to the image. Both are correct and depending on what is trying to be implied by the image one might be preferred over the other. I love the splash and many times I crop to give emphasis to the back of the pelican and the take off splash. If the splash is small I would tend to crop around the pelican giving emphasis in front of the bird helping to imply motion.
Photography is a way to tell a story. A story without words but can speak volumes to its audience. How that image tells the story comes down to how it is cropped and where the subject is positioned in the image. The best way to learn about cropping is simply by trying various crops on a particular image and see what comes of it. The great thing about digital photography is the ease in editing and re-editing images to our liking. Don’t be afraid to try different things with an image until you get what you think is right. There are no hard fast rules in art, only guidelines so play with those guidelines and explore what can be done with a little practice and creativity through compositional cropping.