The Crop Tool allows you to crop to a portion of an image to enhance the subject matter, remove an unwanted object, and/or improve your composition.
Cropping your image in Photoshop is one of those rare functions that has both creative AND procedural aspects to it. This blogpost is about the procedural – the “How-to”. Once you fully understand the “How-to”, the creative aspect is yours to discover & explore as a photographer.
Where to Find:
The Crop Tool can be found in the Tools Panel, or by pressing its Speed Key, which is “C”.
Crop Handles / Crop Box / Aspect Ratio:
• When the Crop Tool is chosen: notice the ”Crop Handles” at
the four corners of the image, as well as one on each side, creating a “Crop Box”(the area being cropped). If there’s no defined crop size, then the “Crop Box” starts on the outside edge of the image – see diagram.
• Click on a ”Crop Handle”, hold the mouse button down and drag the handles to the desired shape. A “grid” will appear. When a constrained crop size is chosen, such as an 8×10, the Aspect Ratio remains the same, no matter which handle you drag and move.
• Notice that the mouse cursor changes to a double-headed arrow as it’s hovered over any handle – you’re now ready to click, hold and drag to create the “Crop Box” – see diagram.
• In addition, hovering anywhere slightly outside the “Crop Box” will change the cursor to a 90-degree double-sided arrow – now you can easily rotate the cropped area by clicking and dragging – see diagram.
• To create a “free-from” crop, click and hold inside the current “Crop Box”. Drag up or down to a diagonal opposite from where you started, such as Top Left to Bottom Right, and so on. Release the mouse button. This creates a new “Crop Box”. Be careful with this – the final cropped version may be a different “ppi” than the Master File!
Moving the Image in the Crop Box:
To move the image inside the “Crop Box”:
• Click in the “Crop Box”, then quickly release the mouse button – a “grid” will appear – see diagram.
• Click again & hold this time. Move to the desired location. Notice that the image moves, not the “Crop Box”.
• For “fine-tuning” (with the “grid” still showing), hold down the “Option” key (“Alt” on a PC), then use the “Arrow” Keys on the keyboard for minute movements.
What’s in the Options Bar?
• “Presets” Drop-down Menu: this gives you a series of preset crop sizes. In the spirit of K.IS.S., I rarely use this menu – but it would be handy if you need to create your own custom crop presets.
• “Aspect Ratio” Drop-down Menu: These are presets for some popular aspect ratios in photography. The aspect ratio of an image is the ratio of its width to its height – for instance, a typical DSLR camera has an aspect ratio of 3:2, an 8×10 print is 4:5, and so on.
Again, in the spirit of K.IS.S., I rarely use these presets – preferring to manually enter the values for “Width”, “Height”, & “Resolution”. For ultimate creativity in cropping, I prefer not to be limited by a fixed aspect ratio – unless a particular final print size calls for it.
To enter the values manually, select “W x H x Resolution” in the menu (as shown) – this is my preferred method.
• Swap Height & Width: switch the width and height values by clicking here – this is handy if you’re deciding between a horizontal and a vertical crop, or you entered the values in the incorrect order (guilty!).
• Clear: when clicked, this clears the “Width”, “Height”, & “Resolution” values – it’s rarely used.
• Straighten: See Chapter 39 in my Photoshop book (or Photoshop Help) on how to straighten the horizon (or a vertical!) easily.
• “View / Overlay” Drop-down Menu: Here’s an easy way to judge the crop properly with an overlay. By default, the overlay is the “Rule of Thirds” (see sample image below) – check out the other views. If you need to remove the overlay, just click on “Never Show Overlay”.
• “Options / Crop Shield” Drop-down Menu: I never check the “Use Classic Mode” – it’s outdated and slow. But I do use the “Crop Shield” quite a bit. It helps to visualize what the final crop will look like before committing to it (see below). See the image sample below for an example of the “Crop Shield” enabled with “50% Opacity”. Feel free to play with the “Color” and “Opacity” options – I typically use “Match Canvas” at “75% Opacity”.
• Pixel Data: This determines if pixel data outside of the “Crop Box” is retained or deleted. I’d leave this button “on”, as shown, which deletes the pixel data (it’s still in the Master File, if needed).
• Reset: Pressing this clears the “Crop Box”, “Image Rotation”, and “Aspect Ratio” settings – it’s rarely used.
• Cancel: This COMPLETELY cancels the current crop operation, and you’ll lose all settings (the “ESC” Key does the same thing).
Commit: Once you have EVERYTHING set the way you want it, pressing the “check” symbol commits to the current crop operation.
• Want to see cropping in action? Check out “Class 4” of my “Photoshop 101” series of FREE online & live Photoshop Meetups – available nationwide:
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• By the way, this is just one chapter from my Photoshop book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:
Questions? Please contact me – also, feel free to comment and tell your photography friends!
Thx again, and cheers,
John Watts 🙂