Think Inside the Box – Cropping for Maximum Impact

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Editor’s note: Due to technical issues we’ve lost the images on this article. Our sincerest apologies.

Cropping. It’s pretty much the first thing you learn to do to edit a photo.

You don’t need Photoshop to crop (hey that rhymes!) – for goodness sake, even your phone can crop photos these days!

Cropping is the most powerful tool for editing but also the most dangerous because even a teeny weeny little cutting can entirely change the composition of your photo, it must be done with great care. But it’s not like you’re cutting up your only copy with scissors so you can also be brave!

Thirds – “The rule of the thirds” is the rule of thumb when composing a shot. If you miss composing it the way you want when taking the photo, no problem, just crop it!  This is a great article by Darren Rowse about the rule of thirds.

Breaking the rule – In Darren’s post, he writes – “I will say however that rules are meant to be broken and ignoring this one doesn’t necessarily mean that your images are unbalanced or uninteresting. A wise person once told me that if you intend to break a rule, you should always learn it first to make sure you’re breaking of it is all the more effective.”

What an excellent saying! Once in a while, I feel a bit rebellious and I break the rule but I always do it blatantly.

I don’t bend the rule and crop in halves. I just place my subject smack bang in the middle to create a feeling of boldness and make a shot more in-your-face so that it cannot be ignored.

Leave it to fate – C’mon people it’s not permanent – take some chances! I know, I know, I’m a geek but I get a huge thrill out of cropping with my eyes closed.

Sometimes when you don’t think about what you’re doing, it can give some really amazing results you never thought of on your own.

In Google’s Picasa program, there’s even a setting to let it suggest a few cool crops for your photo. The crop on this photo I took last week was a total fluke but it ended up being one of my favorites!

Rotate as you crop – Most programs have an option to rotate as you crop. Rotating an image gives it a sense of motion. A running child suddenly looks like a superhero!

Cropping is sheer magic. It allows you a second chance to recompose your shot or to take an already perfect photo and make a second shot out of the first which has an entirely different composition, feel or perspective.

I would recommend never ever cropping on your camera screen. Some cameras offer this option. And sometimes, it’s best to just leave well enough alone. As an editing addict, I often have to restrain myself from destroying an already wonderful image.

Be brave and happy cropping!

How do you approach cropping? Feel free to share some of your favorite cropped shots in the share your shots section of our forum or by leaving a link to them on your favorite photo sharing site in comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin' photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english".

  • Arke

    hey 🙂 great article !!

    correct me if i’m wrong but i think you meant “chance” in the third paragraph from the bottom….”it allows you a second chance to recompose your shot” ^_^ not that it matters really the meaning is pretty obv 😛

    one question, you know how you can either crop in certain ratios (to ultimately get a rectangle shape) or the picture won’t look right ? how can you crop to a square and still make the picture look natural ? or is that an unbreakable rule -_- ?

  • Arke

    now that i think about it, the rectangle ratio is in no way a rule….i just noticed the pictures above are all squares !!! i think it is because the rule of thirds dictates a triangle cropping therefore i rarely use it 🙁

  • Oh oops you’re right about ‘chance’ thanks for that! I really love squares and there are consumer photo printers like photobox.com who now print squares so even the average joe can shake it up a bit. And the rule of thirds can absolutely apply to squares as in my top image with the candle and the grid. Anything can be cut into thirds.

  • Raymond

    If everyone crops inside the box I’ll have to stard thinking outside of another box.

  • Raymond

    If everyone crops inside the box I’ll have to start thinking outside of another box.

  • I do find cropping to be essential. Combined with the Mpix and resolution of modern cameras, it gives you an astounding degree of freedom. I often find treasures in old pictures I didn’t like to much at first.

    Here’s a colorful Japanese shrine roof, for example, really nice after some cropping:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/3859154982/

    This rusty old ladder for example wouldn’t feel like one in a normal-sized picture:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/3817848746/

    And feel free to have a look at my photostream on flickr 🙂
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/

  • Right crop is a surgeons tools – You must be very delicate, precise and not overdo it.
    It’s very hard to break the rules of composition in a way that will still look ‘right’.
    Sometimes, cropping/zooming is great for story telling – http://www.ilanbresler.com/2009/06/love-story.html which is another example that maybe missing from the post.
    But again – It’s always should be very precise. “Bad” crop can ruin a perfectly good photo.

  • Fun article! Love it! Funny – I’m such a Photoshop snob that I never even consider that a program like Picasa could have some fun or useful features! LOL!

    Thanks for the enlightenment!

    Susan

  • Jimmy

    Rules are meant to be broken anyway, but this article serves as a very good guide to the commonly used tool (for me that is). I am using Google’s freeware photo editior, Picasa 3, to manage the crop, rotate and other simple adjustment.

  • I leave lots of room in my pictures for Cropping. That is one thing that I don’t always try to “get it right in the camera”.

  • I’m A Passionate Professional wedding photographer In Townasville North Queensland Australia
    Darren you have the best photography digital school I have seen, I love your Tips.
    Very Inspirational Keep up the good work. Cheers Allan.

  • Allan Smailes North Queensland Australia

    Darren your tips are Awesome.

    Keep up the Good work.

  • Kenette Krasuski

    I am a scrapbooker and just beginning with the digital scrapbooking. I am searching for a program that will easily allow me to cleanly crop a subject out of a photo so I can use that subject with a new background when making a “fun” scrapbook page. I have a photo of my granddaughter on a swing… I want to crop her completely out of the photo so I can place her on my digital scrapbook page in a cute floral swing. I currently am trying to do that in Serif PhotoPlus X4. The “eraser” doesn’t outline cleanly, and I end up erasing bits of an arm or leg, and cropping around long hair is an almost impossibility. I hate to buy a new photoshop program without knowing it will really easily do what I need it to do. Help!

Some Older Comments

  • Kenette Krasuski April 14, 2011 02:43 pm

    I am a scrapbooker and just beginning with the digital scrapbooking. I am searching for a program that will easily allow me to cleanly crop a subject out of a photo so I can use that subject with a new background when making a "fun" scrapbook page. I have a photo of my granddaughter on a swing... I want to crop her completely out of the photo so I can place her on my digital scrapbook page in a cute floral swing. I currently am trying to do that in Serif PhotoPlus X4. The "eraser" doesn't outline cleanly, and I end up erasing bits of an arm or leg, and cropping around long hair is an almost impossibility. I hate to buy a new photoshop program without knowing it will really easily do what I need it to do. Help!

  • Allan Smailes March 4, 2010 04:35 pm

    Allan Smailes North Queensland Australia

    Darren your tips are Awesome.

    Keep up the Good work.

  • Allan Smailes March 4, 2010 04:33 pm

    I'm A Passionate Professional wedding photographer In Townasville North Queensland Australia
    Darren you have the best photography digital school I have seen, I love your Tips.
    Very Inspirational Keep up the good work. Cheers Allan.

  • Alan Nielsen September 25, 2009 04:08 am

    I leave lots of room in my pictures for Cropping. That is one thing that I don't always try to "get it right in the camera".

  • Jimmy September 23, 2009 02:02 pm

    Rules are meant to be broken anyway, but this article serves as a very good guide to the commonly used tool (for me that is). I am using Google's freeware photo editior, Picasa 3, to manage the crop, rotate and other simple adjustment.

  • Susan September 18, 2009 03:06 am

    Fun article! Love it! Funny - I'm such a Photoshop snob that I never even consider that a program like Picasa could have some fun or useful features! LOL!

    Thanks for the enlightenment!

    Susan

  • Ilan September 17, 2009 03:16 pm

    Right crop is a surgeons tools - You must be very delicate, precise and not overdo it.
    It's very hard to break the rules of composition in a way that will still look 'right'.
    Sometimes, cropping/zooming is great for story telling - http://www.ilanbresler.com/2009/06/love-story.html which is another example that maybe missing from the post.
    But again - It's always should be very precise. "Bad" crop can ruin a perfectly good photo.

  • Christoph September 17, 2009 11:20 am

    I do find cropping to be essential. Combined with the Mpix and resolution of modern cameras, it gives you an astounding degree of freedom. I often find treasures in old pictures I didn't like to much at first.

    Here's a colorful Japanese shrine roof, for example, really nice after some cropping:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/3859154982/

    This rusty old ladder for example wouldn't feel like one in a normal-sized picture:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/3817848746/

    And feel free to have a look at my photostream on flickr :)
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/focx/

  • Raymond September 17, 2009 10:18 am

    If everyone crops inside the box I'll have to start thinking outside of another box.

  • Raymond September 17, 2009 10:17 am

    If everyone crops inside the box I'll have to stard thinking outside of another box.

  • Elizabeth Halford September 17, 2009 08:18 am

    Oh oops you're right about 'chance' thanks for that! I really love squares and there are consumer photo printers like photobox.com who now print squares so even the average joe can shake it up a bit. And the rule of thirds can absolutely apply to squares as in my top image with the candle and the grid. Anything can be cut into thirds.

  • Arke September 17, 2009 07:56 am

    now that i think about it, the rectangle ratio is in no way a rule....i just noticed the pictures above are all squares !!! i think it is because the rule of thirds dictates a triangle cropping therefore i rarely use it :(

  • Arke September 17, 2009 07:54 am

    hey :) great article !!

    correct me if i'm wrong but i think you meant "chance" in the third paragraph from the bottom...."it allows you a second chance to recompose your shot" ^_^ not that it matters really the meaning is pretty obv :P

    one question, you know how you can either crop in certain ratios (to ultimately get a rectangle shape) or the picture won't look right ? how can you crop to a square and still make the picture look natural ? or is that an unbreakable rule -_- ?

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