How to crop a picture: using the Crop tool to maximise the potential of your images

How to crop a picture: master the Crop tool and maximise the potential of your images

Recently we looked at some of the classic mistakes people make when they crop photos and suggested ways to avoid them. In this in-depth photo editing tutorial we explain how to crop a picture and look closely at different ways of using the Crop tool.

How to crop a picture: master the Crop tool and maximise the potential of your images

This is one of an image editor’s ‘bread and butter’ tools as it has a lot to offer when it comes to making shots look their best. It enables us to remove or crop the edge of a photo to create a new composition or take out unwanted objects at the edge of the frame, much as a traditional photographer would use a guillotine to trim his shots after printing them in the darkroom.

When should we crop a shot?
When shooting on location, we may not have enough time to think about the best way to compose our scene, especially if we’re rushing from A to B.

The Crop tool enables us to reframe the photo’s subject matter in Photoshop’s digital darkroom at our leisure.

It even boasts optional features designed to teach us about the aesthetics of composition – check out the Rule of Thirds overlay step-by-step on the next page for an example.

As well as removing distracting objects from the edge of the frame, the Crop tool also allows us to correct common mistakes. For example, when shooting with the camera tilted at an angle you’ll create an uneven horizon. This can be as annoying as seeing a picture hanging lop-sided on a wall.

We’ll demonstrate how to use the Crop tool to make the horizon run parallel with the top and bottom of the frame.

When preparing a shot for printing, it can be a challenge to get a cropped shot to have the same shape – or aspect ratio – as the other uncropped shots from your camera. This can be especially irritating if you want to include the cropped shot in a gallery with non-cropped prints.

We’ll show you how to constrain the Crop tool to make the cropped image have the same shape and proportion as the original. We’ll also get the Crop tool to resize a shot so that it prints out with specific width and height dimensions and fits into a standard off-the-shelf picture frame.

SEE MORE: Photoshop for beginners – master your photo editing workflow in 24 hours

Crop photos the right way: classic mistakes and how to avoid them

Where do I find the Crop tool?
The Crop tool is located in a compartment at the top section of the Tools Panel which reflects its status as a frequently used item.

If you click and hold down the mouse button, you’ll see that it shares this compartment with the less useful Slice tools, which are designed to help web designers chop up a Photoshop document into their component parts for a webpage.

These Slice tools used to have a compartment of their own, but they’ve now been relegated to sharing with the Crop tool. Indeed, we wouldn’t be surprised if future versions of Photoshop dispensed with the Slice tools altogether.

What can I use it for?
Here we’ll show you how to improve your photo composition using the Crop tool’s Overlay option, straighten tilted horizons and resize your shots to specific print dimensions.

SEE MORE: Adobe Camera Raw – the secret to using it for just about everything

Improve composition with the Crop tool’s Overlay

How to crop a picture: master the Crop tool and maximise the potential of your images

Sometimes we might flick through a series of shots and only a will few that stand out as being of any real worth. The odds are that the more aesthetically pleasing shots will conform to the Rule of Thirds.

This is an artistic technique that involves separating the frame into nine equally sized boxes using a grid. By placing certain subjects in these boxes – or getting the grid’s intersecting lines to overlap specific objects in the scene – you can create a more pleasing and balanced composition.

For example, you could have a hill in the bottom third of the screen, a tree in the middle third and sky at the top. The tree could also overlap intersecting horizontal and vertical grid lines at the left of the frame as in this tutorial’s main image.

Pros like David Bailey zoom in to frame their shots and crop out the top of their subject’s head, producing a tighter and more intimate-looking portrait.

We can creatively crop a conventionally framed portrait to make a more eye-catching version with a square frame. We’ll show you how to combine a constrained aspect ratio with the Crop tool’s Rule of Thirds Overlay grid to create an aesthetically pleasing portrait.

SEE MORE: 101 Photoshop tips you really have to know

How to use the Rule of Thirds Overlay

How to use the Rule of Thirds Overlay: step 1


Open your start image. Grab the Crop tool. Hold down the Shift key to constrain the Crop tool and draw a perfectly square crop box. The areas that will be removed will appear as a grey shield. The areas we’ll keep remain 100% visible.


How to use the Rule of Thirds Overlay: step 2


In the Options Bar, set Crop Guide Overlay to Rule of Thirds. Drag inside crop window to make intersecting lines overlap her eyes. Drag outside crop window to rotate it, correcting the model’s head tilt and create a symmetrical portrait.


How to use the Rule of Thirds Overlay: step 3


Drag the crop window right to lose half of her face. The remaining features still correspond to the Rule of Thirds. We have an eye, nose and mouth in the left third, hair in the middle and space at the right. Hit Return.


Change shield properties

Change Shield properties
By default, the areas outside of the cropped window are greyed out by a semi-transparent shield, which helps you focus on what will remain once you’ve committed yourself to cropping.

If you want to hide the preview of the cropped areas entirely, you can change the Opacity of the shield overlay to 100% and it will become black and solid. You can use the Options Bar to change the colour of the shield or even turn it off entirely.

PAGE 1: How to crop a picture
PAGE 2: How to crop a picture to correct problems
PAGE 3: The Crop Tool explained


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