Cropping is one of those fundamental tasks that everyone should know and is fairly intuitive, but I still get questions about it. I want to give you the essential skills to make your crop workflow as efficient and effective as possible. One of the most frequent questions I see in this regard is how to quickly set a new aspect ratio to a large group of photos. My preferred method is to make use of the underutilized Quick Develop panel in the Library module like this:
STEP ONE: Select the folder or collection containing the photos you want to crop and press G to jump to Grid view.
STEP TWO: Select all the photos you want to crop. Press CMD+A (PC: Ctrl+A) to select all, or select the first in a series and Shift click the last to make a contiguous selection, or hold the CMD (PC: Ctrl) key to select non-contiguous images. Working in Grid view makes these selections a snap.
STEP THREE: Expand the Quick Develop panel and click the triangle button next to Saved Preset to expand that section fully.
STEP FOUR: Click the Crop Ratio drop-down menu and select an aspect ratio from the list or choose Enter Custom to create one of your own.
This will immediately apply that crop ratio to all the selected photos, and the previews will update to reflect the change.
STEP FIVE: (Optional) Press R to jump to the crop tool and tweak the crop rectangle for best composition. As you move to each photo you will see the new aspect ratio has been applied instead of having to re-apply it one photo at a time.
I find it best to crop at the beginning of the workflow because I like to start with the strongest composition, and the histogram updates to reflect the area inside the crop, so if there are some blown out highlights along the edge of the photo, just crop them right out and don’t waste time trying to fix them.
While you are in the crop tool you will find there are multiple crop overlays available to help you create stronger compositions. Go to Tools > Crop Guide Overlay to see the options, or just press O to cycle through each one. Hold the Shift key and press O to rotate the Triangle and Golden Spiral. You can show/hide the crop overlay by pressing the H key.
Always remember that the crop rectangle is fixed in the center of the screen, and while you can change the dimensions of the rectangle to suit the desired aspect ratio, you move the photo behind the rectangle to tweak the composition. Go to Window > Lights Out > Lights Off (or press the L key to cycle through the Lights Out modes) to black out everything except the cropped image to easily visualize the final image without leaving the crop tool.
To see the pixel dimensions of the final image throughout the process you can configure the Info Overlay to show the Cropped Dimensions (View > View Options), and press I to make it visible; it will update to reflect the newly cropped dimensions when you finish resizing the crop rectangle.
If you need to change the orientation of the crop rectangle (such as when you want to crop a vertical image out of a horizontal original) you can press the X key when the crop tool is active to flip the crop rectangle.
Rob writes the “Under the Loupe” column for Photoshop User Magazine, and is the author of many photography related books.