Get the Most Out of Cropping in Photoshop

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.
  • 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?

This entry was posted in Features, Photoshop Tips on by .

About Brian Auer

a photography enthusiast from North Idaho. He's also the guy behind the Epic Edits Weblog. As a hobbyist photographer since 2003, his passion has been to constantly improve his photography skill set, to share his own knowledge with others, and to become an integral part of the photographic community.

11 thoughts on “Get the Most Out of Cropping in Photoshop

  1. Alan

    I remember I saw a CROP shortcut(?) to crop a maximum area inside the canvas boundary but now I can’t find it anywhere…do you have any idea?

    eg: I got a photo and I need to rotate it a bit but I don’t want to lose too much when doing the cropping. I then use the crop tool and rotate the crop area so it aligns with a vertical object in my photo. Once this part is done, I can then use this shortcut key or drop the center anchor point while holding this shortcut key so the cropping area will be enlarged to fit the maximum canvas area.

    I just can’t remember what I should do to achieve that. It was on a Photoshop tip article, but has been a long while since I last time used it.

  2. Andrew Ferguson

    I don’t think you missed anything, but I miss something. I miss the way Lightroom does straightening vs Photoshop when cropping.

    In Lightroom, straightening something is plain and simple. Just click the ruler and draw a straight line along an edge in the photo that you want to be straight.

    Works perfectly :)

  3. Brian Auer Post author

    I know what you’re looking for, but I can’t seem to find the command for doing that. I’ll dig around and see what comes up — maybe I’ll throw it in a quick-tip if I find it in the next couple of days.

  4. Brian Auer Post author

    You can do the same in Photoshop — just use the measure tool to draw a straight line, then go into the Rotate Arbitrary function and the angle will be filled in for you. You don’t get the crop at the same time, so you’ll have to go back and crop after the rotate.

  5. libeco

    ‘Ctrl + c’ won’t get you far, that obviously is the windows shortcut for copying, you mean just ‘C’. I usually use the marquee method with a set aspect ratio.

  6. Pingback: Blown | Epic Edits Weblog

  7. Steven

    Is there any way to use an overlay like in Adobe Lightroom that helps compositing an image? In Lightroom you can use this overlay grid that’s divided into 9 parts so that you can easily apply the rule of thirds. I’ve created a grid like that for Photoshop but in Lightroom it automatically adapts while resizing and is really helpful. Any way to achieve this in Photoshop? Maybe with a plug-in?

  8. Brian Auer Post author

    No idea, I’ve never heard of that. But I’m not a Lightroom user either. There might be a way to do it with the typical Photoshop grid, but I don’t know off the top of my head.

  9. Lynda

    I am just learning Photoshop & I am having trouble with cropping using the quick selection tool… it automatically chooses portions and I can’t figure out how to nudge the edges around the item I want cropped instead of what it wants to crop. Hope this makes sense… I’ve tried everything and can’t seem to adjust the crop to include only what I want to include.

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