Get the Most Out of Cropping in Photoshop

He he... on Flickr
He he… by Daniel Cosman

Cropping is one of those tools that doesn’t have a lot of sex appeal. IT’S BORING!!! …or is it?

There might be more to this square little tool than you think. We’ve got keyboard options, shielding controls, perspective control, straightening and resampling combos, and more. You can reduce your processing time (and frustration) by knowing a few little tricks. You can also reduce several operations down to one.

Here are some of the most useful cropping functions in Photoshop. It may not be all of them, but these are the ones I’ve used at least a couple of times to save some work.

  • KEYBOARD SHORTCUT
    Just hit C to bring up the crop tool.
  • SHIELDING OPTIONS
    The crop shield is the area outside of the crop marquee. Once a crop selection is made, there are a few options on the top toolbar. The shield can be turned on or off with a checkbox, the color can be changed with a color selection box, and the opacity can be changed with a slider. I typically have it turned on, black in color, and 100% opacity — it helps me visualize what the photo will look like.
  • SELECTION SNAPPING
    When resizing or moving the crop selection, it automatically snaps to the edges of the canvas. Sometimes you want to crop right near the edge, but not directly to it. To avoid snapping to the edge, hold down the Ctrl key while dragging — no more snaps!
  • SQUARE CROP
    If you want a perfect square crop without having to edit the canvas size, just hold down the Shift key before you make your selection. You can also constrain the current aspect ratio by holding down the Shift key while resizing.
  • Green Fields on Flickr
    Green Fields by ny156uk
  • CENTER CROP
    The standard crop anchors at a corner, but what if you know where you want the center to be rather than the corner? To anchor your crop at center, hold down the Alt key before you make your selection. Like the center crop, you can also convert to center crop by holding down the Alt key while resizing.
  • SQUARE CENTER CROP
    To do this trick, just combine the last two tips and hold down the Shift+Alt keys before cropping. Do it during resize, and you’ll get constrained proportions anchored at center.
  • CROP AND RESAMPLE
    Prior to making a crop selection, there are a few options on the top toolbar for resampling: width, height, and resolution. At least two of these fields must have values for this to work. The width and height alone lock in the aspect ratio of the crop selection. The resolution and width (OR height) will allow you to crop freely, and resample the image based on your selection. If all three fields have values, you get the locked aspect ration plus resampling.
  • CROP AND STRAIGHTEN
    When you straighten a photo, you end up having to crop anyways, so why not do it all at once? After you make a crop selection, hover the mouse outside of the selection box and you’ll see that the mouse icon is a couple of curvy arrows. If you click and drag, the selection box will rotate about it’s center. When you crop, the image will crop and rotate all at once. And if you hold down the Shift key while rotating, the angle will snap to increments of 15 degrees.
  • PERSPECTIVE CROP
    Perspective cropping is another method of killing two birds with one stone. When you apply a “perspective” lens correction (good for squaring up the edges of tall buildings), you have to crop the excess background material left behind. After making a crop selection, a checkbox appears in the top toolbar for “Perspective” cropping. When selected, you can drag the corners of the crop box and create non-rectangular crop sections. When you crop, the selection is stretched back out rectangular. You can also combine this with the rotation trick and kill all three birds.
  • CROP VIA SELECTION
    Cropping can be done with more than just the crop tool. Any selection is a viable crop selection, including the marquee and lasso selections. Just make the selection and go to “Image > Crop” on the main menu bar. The selection will be cropped at the rectangle that bounds the selection.

The best way to learn some of these functions is to TRY THEM OUT YOURSELF! Maybe you won’t use all of them all the time, but there are a few things worth hanging on to.

Did I miss anything important that relates to cropping in Photoshop?