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!
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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!