Understanding Photoshop is a biweekly column that takes an in-depth look at how digital photographs are built and manipulated. It is a college-level course in plain English for free at Photofocus. To learn more see this article.

Don’t skip column 14

With the Crop tool you can change a viewer’s perception of an image. You can choose to tighten the area of interest of an image, which allows you to de-emphasize (or even eliminate) parts of a photo and improve the image by better framing the subject.

Fig 04_07 Crop

You can invoke cropping in two ways. The first method involves making a selection with the Rectangular Marquee tool and then choosing Image > Crop. Although this works fine, it does not offer as much control as using the second method, the Crop tool. Let’s put method two into action:

TIP: Back in time

If you don’t like the new cropping mode, you can restore most of the previous functionality of cropping in Photoshop CS5.  With the Crop tool active, just click the gear icon in the Options bar and choose the Use Classic Mode option.

1. Open the image Crop.tif.

2. Choose the Crop tool from the Tools panel or press C.

Handles for the Crop tool automatically appear at the edges of the canvas. Let’s crop to a specific ratio.

3. Click the Aspect Ratio menu and choose 1 : 1 (Square).

Fig 04_08 Crop1

This automatically changes the shape of the crop to a 1:1 aspect ratio.

4. You can refine the crop selection after it is made.

Fig 04_09 Crop2

Mouse over a corner of the crop until the pointer changes to a double-headed arrow, and then click and drag on the crop selection border to pull the crop tighter or to expand it.

TIP: Use overlays

Photoshop offers six different composition overlays when cropping. You can press the O key after you start a crop to cycle through the different guides. These overlays offer different theories for the placement of key subjects within a photo.

5. Examine the crop to determine if you like the composition.

If desired, you can click and drag inside the crop boundary to reposition the image within the crop box.

6. In the Options bar, make sure the Delete Cropped Pixels option is deselected.  This will simply hide the cropped pixels instead of deleting them.

TIP: Leave a note

You can use Photoshop’s Note tool (I) to leave a comment that the image was cropped nondestructively to help you remember in the future.

7. When satisfied with the crop, press Return (Enter) or click the Commit button (check mark) in the Options bar. The shielded (darkened) areas will be cropped. To cancel, press the Esc key.

8. After applying the crop, you can still grab the crop handles at the edge the image and recompose the shot.  You can also drag the image within the frame for a better composition.

Fig 04_09 Crop4

TIP: Cropping freely

If you want to crop to a custom aspect ratio, just use the default Ratio option.