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Cropping digital images

How to delete all the parts of a picture that aren't needed.


Good cropping removes extraneous material from a picture, improving its composition.
Good cropping removes extraneous material from a picture, improving its composition.

Cropping a digital image achieves the same goal as cropping an image from film—the removal of unnecessary content from the picture—except that it's a lot quicker and simpler.

Cropping a digital image has an added mini-benefit in that it also reduces the image's file size so that it takes up less room on your computer.

There are many ways to crop an image on computer. Some folks like to use the Rectangular marquee tool and then click on "Image," "Crop", but the simplest, quickest and most versatile cropping technique is to use the Crop tool.

You might wonder why the Crop tool is more versatile than the Rectangular marquee tool. It is because the Crop tool allows you to rotate and crop, and also to correct perspective when cropping, features not offered by the Rectangular marquee tool. The Rectangular marquee tool has its own characteristics that make it suitable for other tasks, which we will touch on later. For now, let's show you how to crop a picture using the Crop tool.


CROPPING USING THE PHOTOSHOP CROP TOOL

This is one tool that is easy and fast to use. Just be sure that you don't crop out too much of your image. You don't want to risk losing essential photo information.

Here's how to perform a crop:

  • Select the Crop tool from the toolbar. (See picture on the right.)
  • Click and drag over the image to create a dotted-line cropping box
  • If you wish to constrain the proportions of the box to a square shape, hold down the Shift key as you drag.
  • Let go of the mouse when the area you more or less wish to crop is roughly captured inside the box.
  • You'll notice that the area outside of the box is darker than the area to be cropped, but still bright enough so that you can see the entire image, helping you to fine-tune the cropping process.
  • To enlarge or decrease the size of the crop box, click and drag the square "handles" that appear on the lines and corners. Note that once you have created a cropping box that is rectangular [not square], holding down the Shift key allows you to drag a corner to increase or decrease the box's size while maintaining the same rectangular proportions. Try the side and corner handles to see how each affects the shape of the box.
  • If you want to move the whole box, click anywhere inside it except on the center marker, then drag it.

The Crop Tool, shown here in an Adobe Photoshop toolbar, permits quick, accurate cropping, and even allows you to rotate and crop in one step.
The Crop Tool, shown here in an Adobe Photoshop toolbar, permits quick, accurate cropping, and even allows you to rotate and crop in one step.

  • Once you have the area you wish to crop contained within the box, you can crop the image using any one of several commands -
    • press "Enter";
    • right click anywhere within the image and select "Crop";
    • click the checkmark icon that appears on the Options bar above the image (see picture at left);
    • double-click inside the crop box;
  • That should do it. If you are unhappy with the crop, simply click on "Edit," "Undo" to restore the original uncropped picture.

HOW TO CANCEL BEFORE CROPPING

But, what happens if you are ready to crop and then change your mind? How do you cancel? It's simple, really. There are actually three ways in which to do it.

(1) Press the "Escape" button, or (2) click on the "Not permitted" icon - the circle with a diagonal line across it - that appears on the Options bar (See Photoshop screen capture at left), or (3) right click within the image, then click on "Cancel".


HOW TO ROTATE AND CROP USING THE CROP TOOL

This Crop tool is made for simple and effective rotating.

You actually rotate the crop lines while the image remains stationary. This is an incredibly fast way to line up horizons or vertical subjects since all you have to do is to tilt and align the horizontal or vertical crop line with the horizon or the vertical subject.

If this sounds complex, don't worry. It's very easy. Intuitive, in fact. You'll get it right away, once you know what to do.

This image is badly-tilted seven degrees counterclockwise.  Let's use the Crop tool to rotate and crop it.
This image is badly-tilted seven degrees counterclockwise. Let's use the Crop tool to rotate and crop it.

Align the bottom (or the top) line of the crop box with the horizon so the image will be level, then use the handles to drag the line to the best crop position.
Align the bottom (or the top) line of the crop box with the horizon so the image will be level, then use the handles to drag the line to the best crop position.

Use the Crop tool to create a crop box anywhere in the image. Don't be particular at this stage; you just want to have a crop box in the picture.

If you place the cursor just outside of any corner "handle" of the crop box, you will see a small curved line with an arrowhead at each end. If you don't see a curved line, then move the cursor around the outside of the corner handle until you do.

Once it appears, click anywhere in the image and drag to rotate the crop box so that one of its horizontal lines (top or bottom line) becomes roughly aligned with the horizon. When you think it's pretty close and you are lined up with the horizon, then click on the square handle in the center of the crop box line to bring that line to the horizon.

Now, use the corner handles to rotate and fine-tune the alignment so the box's horizontal frame is precisely even with the horizon. Once it's dead even, click on a square handle and drag the line so the area you want cropped is enclosed in the crop box. Then, apply the crop, and you will have a precisely-aligned horizon.


Here's a quick-tip to use when aligning the crop box with the horizon.

First, drag the crop box's side lines so they line up with the sides of the image. Now, move either the top or bottom line of the crop box so that the square "handle" in the middle of the line is dead center on the horizon. This square handle can be used as a visual pivot point while you rotate the box so that the line is precisely even with the horizon.

It may not sound too clear when you read these instructions, but follow this tip as you actually do it, and you will find that horizon alignment becomes a snap.

If you need to have a precisely-level or dead-on perpendicular line in an image, Adobe PhotoShop offers a special rotating tool for highly-accurate leveling, called the Measure tool.

The rotated and cropped image has a dead-level horizon, achieved quickly and easily using the Crop tool..
The rotated and cropped image has a dead-level horizon, achieved quickly and easily using the Crop tool..
Further information...

Correcting perspective with the crop tool

Measure tool - use it to make an image level
Related topics...

Cropping

Cropping landscapes to create panoramas

Cropping considerations to be aware of