How to Crop Like a Boss in Photoshop

How to Crop Like a Boss in Photoshop

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I have a habit of shooting for the crop (see my previous article ‘No Telephoto lens No Problem – Shoot for the crop‘) which often means that my final vision is a 4:2 proportion, or even a 4:1 panorama style image, instead of the most common 3:2 that is the default for most digital cameras.

With Photoshop’s latest crop tool this has never been easier, so let me show you how to crop like a boss!

How to crop like a boss in Photoshop

Step 1 – Load the Crop Tool in Photoshop

With your image open in Photoshop, press the ‘C’ button on your keyboard. This loads the crop tool; you’ll know this by the appearance of the marquee (square) which has been drawn around your image. You can now begin to draw the crop shape you want simply by dragging the corners of the crop marquee, but I’m going to show you a cleaner way to do this.

How to Crop in Photoshop CC

Step 2 – Choose an Aspect Ratio

If you want to keep your existing aspect ratio but simply want a smaller crop you can hold down the shift key while dragging one of the corners of the marquee. But, what if you want to get creative and want a different aspect ratio?

We do this by clicking in the very first drop down menu in the crop tool properties (usually displayed at the top under your main Photoshop menu).

Photoshops Crop Tool

For now I’ll specify an aspect ratio of 2:1 and I do this by entering the number 2 in the ‘width’ box and the number 1 in the ‘height’ box.

2:1 Ration in Photoshop crop tool

I’ve also specified the ‘Rule of Thirds’ grid (image below) because it closely matches the grid that I use on my camera when shooting. There are several to choose from, pick a grid that works for you.

Rule of Thirds grid in Photoshops crop tool

What About Custom Sizes?

You may decide that you’d rather not conform to an industry norm so you’re free to crop to a custom size and ratio. Either leave the aspect ratio boxes empty or press Clear if you’ve already played around. You can then drag the marquee tool to whatever size or shape you like. If however, you intend to send your image to a print lab, you’ll discover that they charge more for custom sizes so it’s often a good idea to choose the closest aspect ratio to your artistic vision. I just saved you $$$$, you’re welcome.

Step 3 – Place the Crop

The really cool thing about Photoshop crop tool is that now you’ve specified your aspect ratio you can then move the image around within those crop constraints. All I do is click on the image and drag to position. In this case all I’m doing is dragging the image slightly higher so that the bridge is perfectly centred in the middle box of the grid.

Drag Photoshops crop tool to place your crop

Step 4 – Now Experiment

Before you decide to apply the crop, it’s worth playing around a little to see if you can spot a better composition. For fun, I’m going to reverse the aspect ratio by entering 1 in the width box and 2 in the height box. This gave me a crop like this:

Vertical Crop in Photoshop

Step 5 – Apply the Crop

When you’re happy with the crop you’ve found, it’s time to apply it. You need to decide on whether or not you’d like to commit to this crop or if you’d like to keep the ‘cropped’ pixels. There’s a checkbox entitled ‘Delete Cropped Pixel’ which is ticked by default. Simply apply the crop by hitting ‘enter’ on your keyboard.

Delete cropped pixels

If you uncheck this box it doesn’t really crop your image, it just displays the cropped version while you view it in Photoshop. This is called ‘non-destructive’ editing.

With this option, you can save the image after you’ve cropped and although you’ll be looking at the cropped version in Photoshop, the original is still intact. If you want to recall the original (uncropped) image, just open the image file, load the crop tool and then enter the original aspect ratio to revert back to its original crop state (3:2 in most cases).

Confused? Yeah, it sounds kind of silly if you’re not used to Photoshop logic. I personally prefer to have the ‘Delete Cropped Pixel’ checked and then I simply save the cropped image as a separate TIFF file, leaving the original image unsaved and untouched. That’s just good old fashioned file keeping.

To Cancel the Crop

If you get nervous and want out of the crop tool, just hit your ESC key repeatedly until the crop tool vanishes. You can also press the M key to go back to the ‘Rectangular Marquee Tool’ which cancels the crop tool quicker.

How to Use Aspect Ratios

There’s a brilliant article by Elliot Hook called Aspect Ratios in Landscape Photography where he explains all of the standard aspect ratios that most print labs can handle. Try some of the ones that he mentions to see if they work for your image crops.

Try it with Your Images

I’d love to see some great examples of images that you have cropped using this technique. I often say that you can learn a lot about composition simply from carefully cropping existing images to create new compositions. It’s fun and easy to get busy with the crop tool and now you’ve learned how to crop like a boss!

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Gavin Hardcastle is a fine art photographer, writer and instructor from BC, Canada. Become a better photographer today with his free photography guides and photography tutorials. You can learn from Gavin directly at his global photography workshops in some of the worlds most spectacular locations. Upgrade your post processing skills with his online video tutorials for Photoshop and Lightroom.

  • Stew

    You should try Picasa. It has had these facilities for years and from your description of how the tool works in PS, Picasa appears to be much easier to use, and more intuitive.

  • Gary

    On the subject of custom cropping. Do you have a list of sizes, aspect ratios and resolutions to optimise Facebook and WordPress cover and theme images? Thanks.

  • Eli Center

    I hate when I sound like a purist, but is there nothing to be said for going to the effort of composing a shot correctly in the frame? Cropping, to me, feels like cheating.

    But then, I did click on the link – so … mission accomplished?

  • Michael Owens

    1. Google for the pixel sizes of these images.

    For instance:-
    (850×351 for a Facebook Cover Photo)

    2. Create a new document in Photoshop using those above dimensions.
    3. Also open your image you want to use in this new document.
    4. Copy opened image by selecting all (CTRL-A/CMD-A) then (CTRL-C/CMD-C).
    5. Return to new document.
    6. Paste image into here (CTRL-V/CMD-V)
    7. Then from here resize down to suit using the control handles after pressing (CTRL T/CMD-T) which is FREE RESIZE and holding (SHIFT) to keep the images aspect ratio INTACT.

    Job done.

  • James Di Filippo

    So no images should be a different aspect than 3:2 or 4:3? That’s extremely limiting from an artistic perspective and impossible if you want to print your images in industry standard sizes. Modern cameras have massive resolutions there’s no reason to not take a shot with the intention of going for a creative crop, its when you find yourself cropping every photo to correct composition that you might think about putting more thought into in camera framing.

  • James Di Filippo

    Picasa is fine for a free program and its cropping tools are alright, but it does not come close to the power of Photoshop. I would however encourage the use of lightroom for cropping purposes (and other things: its an amazing program) because the non-destructive nature of the program allows you to crop again and again without having to undo anything.

  • Eli Center

    Is that what I wrote, @jamesdifilippo:disqus?

    My problem is with the notion the author mentions of ‘shoot to the crop’ – and I think you agree.

  • Gary

    Thank you very much Michael.

  • James Di Filippo

    No, I don’t agree. Its all about intention. As long as you are shooting with intention then you have a vision and you are shooting to fulfill that vision. I shoot that way all the time. I shoot portaits with some extra space because I know I want to accommodate crops such as 5×7 and 8×10. Often when I am out shooting landscapes I will look for and shoot a few compositions with the intention of cropping them to 16×9 because I like nice full screen desktop backgrounds. Alternatively I might look at a wonderfully symetrical example of architecture and envision it as a square print. In that case I will compose the shot with the intention of cropping it to square.

    What isn’t particularily good practice is to crop for composition without that kind of forethought, as in you see a pretty scene, point your camera at it and snap a shot, and then compose your final image later by cropping.

  • swalt2493

    There is another aspect to this. Look at the photo above. If you are shooting with a prime lens, or are at the maximum zoom on the lens you have, and you are physically unable to get to the optimum place to make the picture you have in your mind’s eye, then shooting for the crop is your only choice.

  • Michael Owens

    You’re welcome matey! 🙂

  • Andrew Marino

    This article has some useful information for FB. Hope it helps. http://havecamerawilltravel.com/photographer/images-photos-facebook-sizes-dimensions-types

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  • A2_tha_MFK

    Don’t give this guy any information! He is a Maroon supporter!

    Jokes.

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  • mike winters

    This is something I have recently been thinking more about, as the aspect ratio from the camera is different from normal print sizes. I need to keep that in mind when shooting so as to leave room for the adjustments later.

  • TERRY KÖERNER

    Eli If you can shoot every shot perfect, you must be a great photo expert

  • axel.omg

    its not about that, terry… there is a difference between going for perfect and saying “ah, I can fix it later”. I am not saying that you can’t or shouldn’t just that you will improve more if you are not aiming for perfection on the spot.

    also… framing is not something that is easier in front of the computer either, if you can do it at home, you can do it at the site too (unless you shoot fast moving subjects).

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