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How to crop pictures

| May 21, 2010 | 0 Comments
Cropping is a simple, yet effective technique of cutting into image, that has been around from the very early days of photography. Back then it was paper and scissors, while today, there is Photoshop and Lightroom, but the principles remain the same.

While some purists would disagree with the use of cropping tools and only focus on printing the photo as it was shot, our view is whatever improves the quality and the looks of your photo, is OK. Of course it is important to make an effort to make your photo look as good as possible in camera, and any post-processing techniques should be used sparingly, however in the process of learning what works and what not, the ultimate decision to crop or not to crop is left up to the photographer.

Why Crop ?

The reasons for cropping vary, but the most frequent one is to remove unwanted objects from the photo. Since some of today’s DSLR viewfinders do not cover 100% of field of view, but some 92% or 95%, it is likely that the object that you just managed to keep out of the viewfinder’s field of view, has crept back into your photo. The only thing you can do in situation like this (other than re-shooting the photo) is to crop it out in post-production.

Sparrow by DPStudent on Flickr

Sparrow by Grunf911 on Flickr

Second reason for cropping is zooming in. In example, if you are trying to shoot a close-up bird portrait, it is quite possible, you will need to crop a bit to enlarge the bird (thus emulating the effect of longer zoom lens). Unless you have some very powerful glass at your disposal, you would need to come quite close to the bird to capture a decent portrait. Birds, being quite timid creatures, will certainly not appreciate that and will take of at any sign of close-by movement. Assuming you have plenty of megapixels at your disposal, packed together with a decent, sharp lens, it is possible to crop in, and magnify the bird, sacrificing only a little of the photo’s resolution. This is a cheap and simple technique for getting better bird (or any timid animal) close-ups.

Lilly in Black and White


Changing the aspect ratio of the photo is also one of the frequent reasons for cropping photos. Photographer’s trying to emulate a different medium (e.g. of an old film photography), crop at different aspect ratios from common 4:3 to traditional film 5:7 or 5:4, square 6:6 (to emulate 6x6cm sensor of the medium format camera), up to 16:9 or 21:9 for the latest panoramic style format.

Finally, but not the least important, some photographers simply decide to crop for impact. By cropping out certain elements of the photo, the photographer has a “second chance” to recompose the existing image, thus strengthening the composition. A thing to have in mind while cropping, is that like during the initial framing of the photo, the same compositional rules apply for cropping as well.

Top 5 tips on how to crop an image

  1. Follow the rule of thirds. Adobe Lightroom’s crop tool has a convenient grid already displayed making this task very simple.
  2. In case of symmetrical photo (such as reflections in the water), where the symmetry is the main goal, crop to emphasize and reinforce that.
  3. When correcting a skewed horizon, make sure, you crop (trim) the excess data. In Photoshop Elements, Straighten Tool provides the option to trim the background automatically, which is very handy.
  4. Experiment with different aspect ratios. You will notice that some photos look better in square format with others
  5. Do not overuse crop. Not all photos will benefit from cropping. Sometimes it is better to simply focus and try to get the photo right in-camera.

Do you use cropping for different reasons ? Is there something else you would like to add regarding cropping ? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments. Happy shooting

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Category: Beginners Photography, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at

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