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The Art of the Crop and Photoshop Power Tips

In this tutorial I’m not going to tell you HOW to do something, but offer you brief insight into WHY you should do it (and give you 5 power tips to inspire.)

Adobe software allows you to crop you image. We know this, and it’s a big part of my workflow. But have you ever really thought hard about when and why to crop?

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This photo right here, there’s one instantly recognisable element – it’s Che. This is a shot I got on my phone on a recent trip to Cuba, and without Che Guevara on the wall it’d be nothing more than an old Plymouth facing a beat up wall. The thing that draws your attention is Che’s mural, and it’s this that I’ll refer to as the primary example in this class as the reason you should consider a crop.

This portrait of Che Guevara has become an icon of the revolutionary movement, adorning T-shirts, flags, buildings, and representing so much to so many people, often in starkly contrasting opinions. The photo that this was derived from was taken on March 5th 1960 by Alberto Korda and is entitled, “Geurrillero Heroico.” It’s this photo from which the posterised version of the portrait was derived by Jim Fitzpatrick. We all know just how popular and iconic this photo has become over the years, but what of it’s history?

Not a great deal of people know that this portrait is a crop from the original photograph as shown below. Whether this is news to you or not, it’s something which helps to make the point that the crop is king, and the art of the crop is certainly worth mastering. Here’s the crop and the original alongside one another.

Che Guevara crop by Alberto Korda

Che Guevara crop by Alberto Korda

Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda

Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda

So what’s my point? Well if this photo hadn’t been cropped then it potentially would have been nothing today. It’s the cropped version which has been popularised and which is recognisable worldwide, and without it the original may be consigned to history and never again seen. This translates to your workflow, I promise you. There are purists out there who will say, ‘why crop the image I gave so much consideration to when I composed it?’ There are many reasons, including correcting a mistake, removing a distraction, recomposing a popular scene to keep away from the norm, matching your photo to a compositional rule, the list goes on. Cropping should be considered an art form.

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To the hardcore purists out there I say this: When I affix a lens to my camera I’m cropping reality. With every focal length I create a different crop. With the camera in my hand I’m already cropping the bigger picture. So why shouldn’t I crop in post and focus, recompose, and perfect my image?

Here’s another historic example of the power of the crop. This famous portrait subject is Igor Stravinsky as seen through the lens of Arnold Newman in 1946.

Igor Stravinsky crop by Arnold Newman

Igor Stravinsky crop by Arnold Newman

But it’s not actually what he saw through the lens, it’s what he saw afterwards when giving direction to his retoucher…

Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman

Igor Stravinsky by Arnold Newman

Often when we’re shooting we can get so caught up in what’s happening in front of us that there is a crop within our resulting photo that we should pick out. This is definitely the case with sports photography where we can always get closer, but in our everyday shots it’s still an ever present factor. By it’s very definition, cropping is the removal of the outer aspects of an image to improve framing, accentuate the subject, or change the aspect ratio. It’s something to consider, and certainly not something to overlook or shy away from for the sake of pride. Lets have a look at some cropping Power Tips.

1. Crop Presets

To keep your crop consistent you can apply a crop preset and use it across a range of photos. You can use the Photoshop crop presets or create your own all within the dropdown menu when you press C to activate the crop tool.

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screen crop presets

2. Composition and straightening

This is a two in one tip. Move along the options in the crop menu and you’ll get to a spirit level, which you can use to draw a line along a known level surface in your picture and the crop will snap straight around that point. It’s a marvellous feature and so time saving, and you can find it in Lightroom and Camera RAW too. The next option along is a compositional aid which overlays one of a range of well known compositional rules to your crop to assist you in choosing the perfect cut.

screen composition crop

3. Rotate your crop

When you’ve selected your crop it’s so simple to rotate the frame. Just move outside of the cropped area in one of the corners and you get a pair of counter-rotating arrows. click and drag. As a guide a small indicator shows you the angle you’re at. Simple as that!

screen rotate crop

4. Perspective crop

If your perspective is a bit off you can fire up the perspective crop tool. Hit shift+c to tab through the crop tools until you get the perspective crop tool. When you have the crop selected you can drag the corners to shift your perspective and fix it up.

screen persepctive crop

5. Keep it square

If you want an instagram style crop you can force a square. When you have your crop tool in hand and ready to go, hold down the shift key and the edge ratio will remain constant. As you drag out your crop area you’ll have your square.

screen square crop

So what’s my point with all this crop talk? Well cropping is your friend! The art of the crop can radically change your image, and you should consider it every time you open a raw file and scratch your head wondering where to begin. Give a little thought to the power of the crop. Crop to a different format. Crop creatively. Crop artistically. And crop to get the best out of your photo. *drops mic*

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About Dave Williams (10 Articles)
Dave Williams uses the alias Hybrid Dave. He is a travel and lifestyle photographer and retoucher based in London, UK

1 Comment on The Art of the Crop and Photoshop Power Tips

  1. thanks for sharing a crop tutorial. i hope you you will share more tutorials.

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