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The Dos and Don’ts Of Cropping

by Ainsley Buckley (follow)
Blog (395)      Articles (166)     

Sometimes when we are caught up in the moment of taking a photo, we are so busy considering things such as lighting and posing, that the composition can be an afterthought. Thankfully there is the crop tool in Photoshop (and it can also be found in lots of other photo manipulation programs and smartphone editing apps). As photographers, the crop tool is a handy fall back option to be able to change a photo where the composition is not as good as it could be, or to remove something from the frame.

I like to think there are two types of cropping, the rule of thirds crop and creative crop.

Rule of Thirds cropping

The whole idea of the rule of thirds is that, the viewer’s eye is led into the image and across the entire frame, rather than being fixed on just one point. You can achieve better composition with the rule of thirds crop because with nearly every photo editing program, the cropping tool comes with in-built rule of thirds gridlines that shows you where the subject appears in the frame in relation to one of the thirds.

This helps to remove dead or distracting space, concentrating instead on a smaller part of an image, which can have a more profound impact on the viewer. In the leaf photo below, a close crop allows more details of the leaf and the raindrops to be shown.

Creative Cropping

Creative cropping can be a lot of fun. You’ve can give a good image a totally new look by moving in closer. In the photos below, you can see how creative cropping has been used. The building is interesting enough, but by taking out the surrounding space and filling the frame with just the building, it is much more abstract and intriguing.

Images taken by Ainsley Buckley

Creative cropping often means the traditional rules of composition (such as the rule of thirds, rule of odds, negative space, creating frames within a frame and leading lines) are broken, but that’s okay, if you are able to produce something visually compelling by breaking these rules. Below are some more examples of how cropping has been done in an unusual but aesthetically pleasing way:

Image taken by Jeni Woodman

Image taken by Eric Schmuttenmaer

Pixel Aspect Ratio

There is a downside to cropping using editing software (rather than getting composition right while shooting) and that is that it can affect the pixel aspect ratio of the photo, if not done correctly.

The pixel aspect ratio is a number that reflects the relationship between the height and width of an image based on the number of pixels that need to be output and magnified for the image to be displayed on screen. Most SLR cameras have a pixel aspect ratio of 35ms, while more compact cameras such as point and shoot cameras and smartphones use a slightly lower pixel aspect ration of 4:3.

By cropping out part of the image you are removing pixels, which depending on how dramatic the crop is, can make for a more grainy and lower quality photo when the images are enlarged, both on a screen and when they are printed. This is because more pixels are required to display the image than what is available to do so.

For full creative control over your crop you shouldn’t use the Crop Tool in Photoshop but should instead use the Transform Selection tool. This way any cropping you do is simply resizing your image to fit the original pixel aspect ratio, not changing it into a completely different size.

To do this you need to:
- Select the entire photo using the Selection Tool from the Select menu
- Select the Transform Selection tool
- Crop your image how you’d like, by dragging the borders to where you want them to be and then clicking Enter on a Windows computer or Return on a Mac computer
- Select the Crop option from the Image menu
- Then select Deselect from the Select menu

This will crop your photo just how you want it without creating pixelation, as long as you don’t compress the file too much when you save it.

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