Basic Editing

6 reasons to crop a photo

Written by Gail Bjork

Cropping is easy than you think. When planned carefully, cropping can greatly improve the composition and visual impact of a digital photo.

Crop toolCropping is an easy yet important step to consider when editing photos. Every image editing program has a crop tool that lets you trim, or eliminate, the edges of an image.

Of course not every photo you take needs cropping. However, the visual impact and composition of many photos can be greatly improved when thoughtfully cropped. Not totally convinced? See the illustrations below.

How to crop a digital image

Crop tool

Crop tool

To crop an image, open it in your photo editing program and click on the crop tool. Place the crop tool on one corner of the image and then click-and-drag to select the area you want to keep. The cropped area will appear darker (or lighter, depending on which program you use).

When you are satisfied with the new composition, click the image or press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac OS) to complete the process.

Remember two things before cropping

Always work on a copy of an original, rather than the original image itself. Some programs automatically open a copy or save your work as a copy. If you work on an original, make a mistake and then save the image, the changes are permanent and can not be undone. However if you preserved the original, you can start the process again using a duplicate copy.

Pixels are removed whenever an image is cropped. If you crop and the resulting image looks pixelated or jagged, undo the action and crop less of the area.

You can crop larger areas when photos are shot at a high resolution rather than a low one. Keep this in mind before taking photos and make sure your camera is set to its highest resolution and image quality.

Reasons to crop a photo

Improve overall composition:

Original

Original

Cropped

Cropped

Focus on the main subject:

Cropped image

Original image

Cropped image

Cropped image

Remove distracting elements:

Original photo

Cropped photo

Cropped image

“Zoom in” on a subject:

Original image

Cropped photo

Change the orientation:

Original: horizontal

Original: horizontal

Change the aspect ratio:

Aspect ratio 3:2

Original aspect ratio 3:2 suitable for a 4×6″ print

New aspect ratio 4:3

New aspect ratio 4:3 suitable for 5×4″ print

Let’s hear from you. Share your thoughts about cropping in the commet section below.

Besides cropping and resizing, all photos were edited using other techniques such as unsharp mask and adjustment layers.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

5 Comments

  • Actually I am currently taking a photography course and cropping can be very effective and useful to the visual impact and composition of a photo. I am sure lenses help and the quality of the camera etc. I think all aspects are important when seeking the best visual impact of a photo. I found this article to be helpful in my research for my class.

    Tom, good comment, you should make a blog and show proof to back up your theory. I would be interested to see how this can be done as you say. I am new to the field of photograpy  and want to learn everything I can to better my work. Everyone has their own tricks and techniques that is why it is great to hear from different people in this field. 

  • Cropping is the poor man’s telephoto lens. If you focus carefully and avoid camera movement, you can get excellent cropped results from even a 6 mpx camera. Good lenses help as do higher mpx cameras.

    Since I tend to keep wider lenses on my camera, cropping will often save “grab shots” or those when the shot will no longer exist if I took time to change to a longer lens.

  • I’ve read a number of articles about how to crop a photo, but this is the first I’ve seen that offers reasons why. Very helpful, especially the illustrations. Thanks!