Helen Bradley explains why you should crop your photos and how to do it.
Just because a photo comes out of your camera as a rectangle, it doesn't have to stay that way. Many photos benefit from being cropped to show the most important feature and remove the unwanted area around it. In fact, cropping is the fix that is most likely to improve your photos.
Your photo-editing software will offer different methods of cropping your photos once you've downloaded them onto your computer. When a photograph is downloaded from your camera, its size is determined by the make and brand of camera. For example, a photo might be 1,600 by 1,200 pixels in size and every photo from the camera will be the same size.
When you print this photograph at the typical image sizes of 4 by 6in or 5 by 7in, you'll find that your photo is not the exact dimensions of the paper. Accordingly, your software or your printer will crop the photo so it prints at the required size. However, they may not make the best choice when cropping your photo and you'll often get better results if you do the work yourself before you print.
How to crop to size
In programs such as Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can crop the image to size by selecting the Crop tool in the tool palette and then, from the Aspect Ratio drop-down list, select the size to print at, for example 4 by 6in or 5 by 7in. Then drag the crop marquee across the photo note that the dimensions are fixed to the ratio you chose; for example, 4:6 or 5:7. Note, too, that even if you choose the largest possible image size, some of the photo is lost, so if you don't make this choice, it will be made for you
When cropping this way, you can select anything from a small portion of the image to almost all the image. To finish the cropping process, click the checkmark button or press Enter to discard the excess image.
You can also crop a portrait shape from a landscape orientation image and vice versa. To do this, rotate the aspect ratio by clicking the Swaps Height and Width icon on the toolbar to crop a portrait size 6 by 4in or 7 by 5in shape instead of the landscape 4 by 6in or 5 by 7in shape.
Cropping for best results
When you crop a person in a photo, remember that it is perfectly acceptable to crop away pieces of their head people don't really require the top of their head or all of their ears to still be highly recognisable and attractive!
When you're experimenting with the crop tool, take a very harsh approach and see how small a crop you can make from an image and still have a pleasing result. If you don't like what you've done, choose Edit —> Undo to return the image to its previous size.
The rule of thirds
When you crop an image, be aware of the Rule of Thirds. Simplistically, this is akin to drawing an imaginary tic tac toe (noughts and crosses) board across the photograph. Crop to make sure that something of interest appears at the intersection of the lines or along the horizontal or vertical lines, because photos look best when the objects of interest are not centred in the image.
So, for example, with a landscape photo, place the horizon along one of the horizontal lines this ensures the horizon is pushed up or down in the photo. When cropping a photo of a person, position an eye, for example, at the intersection of the lines for a more active and vibrant portrait.
Cropping fun shapes
In Photoshop Elements, you can also crop a photograph using the Cookie Cutter Tool. Click the Cookie
Cutter Tool in the tool palette or click Q to select it. From the Shape drop-down list, select a shape to use. Click on the image title bar to select it (and close the shape list) and then click and drag the shape onto the image.
When you do this, the image will be cut to the shape's dimensions. You can resize the shape by dragging on its handles or drag it into a different position on the image before pressing Enter to complete your selection. If you view the Layers palette (choose Window —>Layers), you will see that you now have only one layer on the image, which is the cropped shape.
Moving the shape now simply moves the filled shape and does not alter the portion of the image encapsulated within the shape.
Saving without overwriting
Whenever you crop an image using the Cookie Cutter tool or the Crop tool, make sure you save the image giving it a new filename so that you protect the original version and don't overwrite it. To do this, choose File —> Save As and type a new name for the file.
There are lots of shapes in Photoshop Elements shapes' collection that may not be currently visible. To locate them, click the down-pointing arrow to the right of the currently selected shape and click the small triangle icon to open the fly-out menu. Select from various shape collections such as face, flowers, food, etc. or click All Elements Shapes to select all the shapes in the collection.
The shapes that show the largest amount of black will give the best results, as they'll discard the smallest portion of the image leaving you with a still recognisable image.
You might be surprised when you start cropping images very tightly and using shapes as to just how different your image looks and how much of an improvement it makes.