There’s more to using Photoshop Elements’ Crop tool than chopping out unwanted bits from your pictures. In this Photoshop Elements tutorial we’ll show you how to crop pictures to fix the composition of your images.
Curmudgeonly purists might argue that if you need to learn how to crop pictures on the computer then you didn’t compose them properly in the first place.
But, in truth, the majority of pictures will benefit from you having a fresh – and brutal – look at the framing after you get home. Besides, Elements’ Crop tool has more uses than simply improving the composition of your shots.
For a start, digital SLR cameras that have APS-C sized sensors provide a fixed aspect ratio – with one side being one-and-half times longer than the other.
The only choice you get in-camera is to take a 3:2 landscape-orientated shot, or to turn the camera through 90° for a portrait-shaped 2:3 aspect ratio. If you want to print your shot on traditional paper sizes (such as A4 or 10x8in) then you’re going to have to crop them.
It’s also worth remembering that most DSLRs show slightly less than 100% of the image area as you frame up the shot in the viewfinder – so a slight crop often restores what you saw when you fired the shutter.
In this Photoshop Elements tutorial we’re going to show you that the humble Crop tool is much more than just a pair of digital scissors: it provides options that will help you to improve your compositions, and that will help you fix horizons and buildings that don’t look quite straight.
There are also some handy features that take out the guesswork from changing the shape, and even the file size, of your picture.
Step by step how to crop pictures to fix your composition
1 Straighten up
Open up your start image. The shot has been unintentionally taken at a slight slant. We can correct this with the Crop tool – but first zoom into the centre of the shot. We’ll use the harbour buildings’ vertical lines to straighten the shot (don’t use lines towards the edges of an image, as these can be slanted due to lens distortions). With the Crop tool, draw a rough rectangle in this area.
2 Adjust the crop box
Click and drag outside the crop box to rotate it, and line up the sides of the box with the vertical lines of the buildings. Zoom out to see the whole image.
The crop can now be adjusted to suit the composition by clicking and dragging any of the eight handles at each corner and side of the box; selecting the Rule of Thirds grid from the Overlay menu in Elements 10 or 11 can help you create a more effective composition.
3 Maintain your proportions
The trouble with simply cropping by eye is that your image can end up an odd size – so it may not fit a web gallery template, or a standard print size. By entering in 2 in the W box and 3 in the H box, you ensure the aspect ratio stays the same as the original picture (if you want crop to A4, enter 210 and 297 respectively). Don’t enter any figures in the Resolution box, or the image file will be resized.
4 Square deal
Radical crops can often create new pictures from old shots. With this image, if we hit the two-way arrow between the W and H boxes, we create a new landscape-shaped crop with the usual APS-C 3:2 dimensions. We can then use this to create a different interpretation of our scene. Once you’re happy with your crop, click the green tick below the crop marks, double-click within the crop box or hit Enter.
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