Updated – 10/15/21 – with Video:
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 in the Options Bar (which we’ll discuss in a bit), then the “Crop Box” starts on the outside edge of the image – see diagram.
• To get started, click on a ”Crop Handle”, hold the mouse button down and drag the handles to the desired crop.
• Notice that the mouse cursor changes to a double-headed arrow as it’s hovered over any ”Crop Handle” – now you can click, hold and drag any ”Crop Handle” to create the “Crop Box” – see diagram.
• You’ll also notice that a “grid” appears, and it generally only appears after you’ve moved a “Crop Handle” (more on the “grid” throughout this post). As an aside, you can click on the “Cancel” button in the Options Bar at any time to cancel & start over.
• By the way, when a particular crop size is chosen in the Options Bar, such as an 8×10, the “Crop Box” will stay the same Aspect Ratio (discussed in a bit) – no matter which “Crop Handle” you drag and move,
• 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 above.
• To create a crop in a “free-form” manner (regardless of the values in the Options Bar), click and hold inside the current “Crop Box” before you physically move a “Crop handle” (no “grid”). 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”.
Moving the Image in the Crop Box:
To move the image inside the “Crop Box”:
• If there is no “grid” showing: click anywhere inside the “Crop Box”, then release the mouse button – the “grid” will appear – see diagram.
• With the “grid” active: click, hold & drag. 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 small but precise adjustments.
What’s in the Options Bar?
The Options Bar at the top of the Workspace is where you’ll set all of the various parameters & preferences for the Crop Tool. Note that the buttons “Reset”, “Cancel“, & “Commit” on the right side of the Options Bar won’t appear until you initiate a crop, such as moving a “Crop Handle”, etc.
• “Presets” Drop-down Menu: this gives you a series of preset crop sizes. In the spirit of K.IS.S. (Keep It Super Simple), 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. (Keep It Super Simple), I rarely use these presets – preferring to manually enter the values for “Width”, “Height”, & “Resolution” – or, for ultimate creativity in cropping, I may not want to be limited by a fixed aspect ratio – unless a particular final print size calls for it.
So, this is my preferred method, assuming that I’m creating a custom crop to maximize the creative aspects of the image, I’ll leave the “Width” & “Height” boxes empty (not at “zero”, by the way – but by deleting any values with the “Delete” key on my keyboard). I’ll generally leave the “Resolution” at 300 ppi, because that’s the best resolution for a Master File & printing – which, of course, is my primary area of interest.
• Swap Width & Height: 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.
• Straighten: If the horizon in your digital image not straight, it can be really distracting. Here’s an easy way to straighten it in Photoshop:
1) Activate the Crop Tool. Clear the ““Width”, “Height”, & “Resolution” values. Press the “Straighten” icon in the Options Bar.
2) Now, while holding down your left mouse button, draw a line along the horizon (or vertical) in your image.
3) When you let up off your mouse button, your image is straightened and cropped so that the Crop Box fills the image. If you need to reshape your Crop Box, do it now – otherwise, just leave it alone.
4) Commit to the Crop by pressing the “Commit” button (the “check mark”) in the Options Bar.
Viola! Your horizon is now straight! By the way, this technique works equally well if you need to straighten vertically, such as architectural photography.
• “View / Overlay” Drop-down Menu: Here’s an easy way to judge the crop properly with a “grid” overlay. By default, the “grid” 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 “Use Classic Mode” – it’s outdated and slow. But I do check “Enable Crop Shield” – 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”. I typically use “Match Canvas” at “75% Opacity”, but feel free to play with the “Color” and “Opacity” options.
• 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.
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Thx again, and cheers,
John Watts 🙂