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How to Crop a Digital Photo Using Adobe Photoshop

written by: Mike Piero•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011

This article is a tutorial on how to crop and trim in Adobe Photoshop. This is the first article in a series that aim to increase photographers' knowledge of this powerful editing program.

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    Why do we Crop?

    Oftentimes, cropping is one of the first editing jobs that we do after importing a photo. Perhaps there was some jerk who snuck into the very edge of our picture, or maybe we were just a little loose with our composition. Adobe Photoshop’s crop tool is very smart and responsive – really a pleasure to use.

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    Cropping to Remove Items for Pictures

    After we open our picture file, we have to decide whether or not we want to crop anything out. In the picture below, I’ve decided that there’s no reason to have two boats in this picture. I want to keep the boat of the left and get rid of the one on the right.

    For some basic photo cropping tips, read How to Crop a Picture to Improve Your Composition.

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    Sunset

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    First, I will choose the crop tool from the Toolbox or just hit the letter “c" for the shortcut. Next, drag the crop tool to select the area of the picture that you want to keep. When you let go, you will see that everything outside of that crop border will be darkened. The dark areas will be cropped out of the picture.

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    Cropping Boat Out

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    You can adjust the crop by dragging at the corners to make the crop larger or smaller. Also, by placing the cursor just outside of the crop border, a curvy arrow will appear that lets you rotate the crop left and right. This is especially helpful for straightening – such as with horizons or the vertical stems of flowers.

    If for some reason you want to start your crop over, just hit the “esc" button and the crop border will disappear, and you can proceed to make a new one.

    When you have the crop border set the exact way that you want it, just hit enter (or return on the Mac) and Photoshop will process the crop. These keyboard shortcuts really come in handy when you're working with large numbers of pictures, so it's worthwhile to learn them.

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    Cropped Sunset

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    Cropping for a Specific Size

    In many cases, you will need to crop photos to a certain size for accurate printing that matches the standard sizes that people order (4x6, 5x7, 8x10, etc.). There is an easy way to crop to a specific size.

    After selecting the crop tool, go to the options bar at the top of the screen, and enter the dimensions in the height and width fields (see picture below). For example, for a 5 x 7 print, put 5 in the width field and 7 in the height field. Then, take the crop tool and drag over the section of the photo that you want in that 5 x 7 photo. Notice that this time as you move the crop tool, you are restrained from moving it outside of those dimensions. In this way, Photoshop is helping you create a photo with perfect dimensions that will print without any issues.

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    Trimming vs. Cropping

    If you’re not concerned so much with the dimensions of the photo, but simply want to clean up the empty space around an object, using the Trim function can be quicker and more effective than the crop tool.

    Let’s pretend that we took a picture of a coffee mug sitting on a table. Now, we’ve opened it in Photoshop and decided that all we really need to see is the mug, not all of the table surrounding it. This picture would be a perfect candidate for trimming.

    First, go to Image and then down to Trim. You may choose to trim away empty space on just a few sides or on all sides. Then, click OK and Photoshop automatically trims the excess waste off the sides of your pictures. This can be a good alternative to the crop tool at times.

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    Overview

    Although cropping is known to be one of the simplest photo editing tasks, there is quite a bit of skill in making smart cropping choices. Remember, the more you crop out, the smaller the photo resolution will be. That means that you will not be able to print out the photo as large. In most cases (unless you're printing posters), what you crop out is not missed and results in a better composition of your photograph.

Learning Photoshop - Lessons for Photographers

These articles are part of a series of tutorials in Adobe Photoshop, geared specifically for the digital photographer. These articles will include how-to lessons, tricks of the trade, and useful shortcuts. Learn to utilize the world's most advanced, powerful photo editing software.
  1. How to Crop a Digital Photo Using Adobe Photoshop
  2. How to Convert Your Photos to Black and White in Photoshop CS3
  3. How to Remove Red Eye Using Adobe Photoshop CS3
  4. How to Remove Blemishes using Photoshop CS3 & CS4
  5. How to Make a Web Photo Gallery Using Photoshop CS3 & CS4
  6. How to Convert RAW to JPEG Using Photoshop CS3 & CS4