How to Crop Your Photos to Maximize Visual Impact


When we take pictures, we make a lot of decisions right before we press that shutter button. Not only do we think of what parts of the subject or scene we want to include in the frame, but just as importantly, we also have to decide what parts to leave out. However, there are times when we look at the photos we have taken and discover they could either have been composed better or there might be distracting elements that should not have been part of the shot. Using the crop tool often works to solve the problem. Another option is to reshoot but that might not be necessary if we are successful in cropping the shot to our liking. 

Using the Crop Tool

The crop tool is found in most, if not all photo editing software. To crop in Adobe Photoshop, choose the crop tool then click on the edge of the area you want to keep. Drag the cursor while holding down the left mouse button until the entire selected area has been highlighted in a square or rectangle. Anything that is not included in the selection will be cut or cropped. If you want a perfect square crop, press on the Shift keyboard button as you make your selection. If you want to maintain the pixel aspect ratio, select the entire image first, then hold down the Shift keyboard button as you move the little square found at any of the four corners of the frame to make the selection smaller. You can always move the crop selection to certain parts of the image.

You can also rotate the crop selection by pointing your cursor a little bit away from one of the four crop corners. Instead of a straight arrow, you will see a curved arrow. Once it appears, press the mouse button and you can now rotate the crop selection to the desired angle.

Take note to crop using a duplicate of the original image. When you save the image, most editing programs will replace the original with the cropped version.  

Crop Sizes

  • For printing – if you are planning to print your shots, make sure you did not crop too much of your shot at you’ll be left with a one inch image. When you crop an image, you are also resizing it because you are getting rid of pixels that make up the size of the image. By clicking on the arrow beside the Crop tool, you will see a dropdown list of the conventional picture sizes such as 4 by 5 inches or 8 by 10 inches.
  • For online publishing – the crop size really depends on what you are going to use it for. If you are selling your photos, keep your image resolution at its highest since it's the buyers who will crop your image, if needed. If you are going to present your photos in a portfolio, make sure the image is large enough so that the little details can be seen and appreciated.

Crop to Remove Background Clutter

A lot of distracting elements can be eliminated with the simple action of cropping them out of the shot. In this photo, the hand and fork were distracting so they were cropped out. I wanted the textures of the dessert to be apparent, from the moist chocolate cake to the gooey caramel oozing down the sides to the smooth cherry nestled on top. With a tight crop and a simple white background, these various textures were brought forward.


Crop to Improve Composition

Cropping is also a very effective way to improve on the balance and composition of the image. For example, if your subject is smack dab in the center of the frame and you prefer it to be off to one side, use the Rule of Thirds when you crop. By cropping one side of the image, you are moving the placement of the subject in the frame, thus no longer making it centered. 

The original shot below left shows the wire bisecting the middle of the frame. By rotating the crop selection, the photo on the right shows the bird now located at the left side of the shot and the wire is now cutting the frame in a diagonal angle which provides more tension and impact.



Try various ways to crop your image. You can achieve different interpretations with thoughtful cropping.


This entry was posted on Friday, September 17th, 2010 at 3:02 pm and is filed under Articles, Composition, Photography Basics, Photography Techniques, Photography Tips. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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