This technique involves selecting a specific portion of an image for use and removing the remaining, unwanted parts. It is usually done to emphasize particular elements in the composition. This technique can be done with a regular selection tool, but most programs also provide a dedicated cropping tool.

RoseBasic Cropping

Consider the image shown on the right, as it was shot. Whilst the basic idea of the composition, with the colour and shadow, is interesting, the image is spoilt by all the unnecessary elements such as the shelves.

Crop MarksThis can be easily fixed with an application of the crop tool. In the GIMP this can be found in the toolbox, on the Tools>Transform Tools menu, or by pressing Shift+C on the keyboard. In PhotoShop, the crop tool is in the toolbox.

The example on the left shows the crop tool being used to select a rectangular area of the image that contains all of the important elements of the composition, without the clutter.

Rose CroppedThe tool has handles so that it can be resized until you are happy with the composition before you commit to the crop. Deciding on the arrangement of the final image is a matter of personal taste, but you should consider exactly what elements are important.

The picture on the right shows the final cropped version of the rose. I have added a narrow black border to help the image stand out from the page, as otherwise the colour of the wall blended into the page, losing definition.

In this example I have cropped out a lot of unwanted detail to make the focus of the picture much more clearly the rose and its shadow. Over half of the original image has been removed!

Crop Guides

The Photoshop crop tool can display a range of guide overlays to help with image composition. When the crop tool is selected, the contextual tool bar contains a number of controls: this is shown in the graphic below.

Crop Overlay Menu

Each of the options gives you a different overlay to help you compose the image as you crop. The Rule of Thirds is probably the most commonly used overlay. The Grid overlay is very useful if you are using the crop tool to do a freehand rotation. The other overlays can be useful to try if you are struggling to get a good composition and need some inspiration.

Non-Destructive Crop

If you are unsure about the crop and you want to keep the option to revise your edit later, you should uncheck the Delete Cropped Pixels (see the graphic above) option. Then, when you crop, all of the image outside the crop is hidden, and the image is resized appropriately, but the pixels are actually retained in the document and you can undo or redo the crop later.

Of course, this results in a larger image size than you would have if you actually cropped. Also, this information is only retained if you are saving your image as a PSD document.

Rotating an Image

You can also use the crop tool to rotate an image, and it even offers an automatic straighten tool! If you are using the freehand rotate, the Grid overlay is probably the best option as this gives you a grid that you can use to help line up your rotated image.

To use this tool, once you have selected the crop tool, move the mouse just outside the image area, near one of the corners. When the cursor changes into the rotate moderotate cursorthen you have the mouse in the correct place. Hold down the left mouse button and drag to rotate your image. You will notice that the crop tool automatically crops out areas that would fall outside the edges of the original image as you rotate. As mentioned above, the Grid overlay is useful when you are doing this.

Note that the behaviour of this tool is different in early versions of Photoshop such as CS2. The description here assumes at least CS5.

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