Digital Toolbox: Lesson Three: Cropping an Image

The hardest part of cropping is simply deciding what kind of crop you want. Using the crop tool if fairly easy, most make it easy to explore a variety of crops. I'm using Photoshop, but you should be able to follow along with any editing program with a crop tool.

Step 1: Open the Image

I'm using a tutorial image from Complete Digital Photography
The focus of the image should be on the birds on the telephone wire.

Step 2: Drag out a Crop
Select the crop tool. In Photoshop, you can do this by pressing C. Click to define the upper left corner of the crop you want, and then drag out a rectangle to define the crop. It doesn't matter if you don't get it correct the first time, you can always correct it later.


Step 3: Adjust the Crop
A rectangle of dotted lines will appear, indicating where the image will be cropped. In Photoshop, you will have the option of masking out the uncropped part of your image. Blocking out the uncropped areas makes it easier to tell what your image will look like. In the control bar at the top of the screen, you can define the color and opacity of the crop mask, called the Shield.

An advantage of using the semiopaque shield is that it allows you to see what else is in the image.


The crop rectangle provides control handles at the corners, and in the middle of each edge. You can drag these to reshape the crop. Make any adjustments that you want. I clicked the bottom handle and dragged (or is it drug?) up to crop out the tree.

Step 4: Make the Crop
Press Return, or double click within the crop rectangle to accept the crop. Your image will be cropped and appear in a new, smaller window.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you like the crop until you've accepted it. If you decide it's NOT what you want, undor and try it again.

This example uses a free-form crop, meaning the final image has a different aspect ratio than the original. There will be times, however, when you want to ensure that your final result has specific proportions and you'll want to constrain your crop to a specific crop ratio.


Step 5: Revert to the Previously Saved Version
I want to try a different crop of the image. Choose File>Revert to return to the original version.


Step 6: Configure the Crop Tool
I want to print this image on a 4"x6" paper, so I want to ensure that the final image has the proper proportions. Select the Crop tool. On Photoshop's control bar, enter 6 in the width field and 4 in the height field.


Step 7: Make Your Initial Crop
Click and drag to define a cropping rectangle, just like you did previously. This time the crop will be constrained to a rectangle with a 6:4 aspect ratio.

Step 8: Adjust the Crop
When working with the constrained tool, it can be difficult to get the crop exactly right on the first try. After you've defined the initial crop, you can then click within the cropping rectangle and drag the crop around to position it.

Step 9: Make the Crop
As before, press Return or double-click within the croipping rectangle to make the crop.


In Photoshop, you can open the Crop menu on the control bar to access the predefined cropping constraints.


Remember that you don't HAVE to crop to the same aspect ratio your camera shoots, or to any aspect ratios in your image editor. Very often, the best crop for an image has an unusual aspect ratio. Landscapes often look better with a long, skinny, panoramic crop, while other situations may look best with a narrow, vertical crop. The crop tool allows for great creativity, so don't be afraid to experiment! Don't hesitate to play around with different crops.


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  2. Thanks! I think cropping is often overlooked as image enhancement, when clearly it is!

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