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Scream of the Crop: How to Resize and Crop Photos in Adobe Photoshop CC (2014 release)

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Scott Kelby covers cropping (which was completely overhauled in Photoshop CS6) and resizing photos in this excerpt from The Adobe Photoshop CC Book for Digital Photographers (2014 release).
This chapter is from the book
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Photo by Scott Kelby Exposure: 1/1000 sec | Focal Length: 208mm | Aperture Value: f/5.6

I love the title of this chapter—it’s the name of an album from the band Soulfarm (tell me that Soulfarm wouldn’t make a great name for a horror movie!). Anyway, I also found a band named Cash Crop, which would make a great title, too, but when I looked at their album, every song was marked with the Explicit warning. I listened to a 90-second preview of the first track (which was featured in the original motion picture soundtrack for the movie Sorority Row), and I immediately knew what kind of the music they did. Naughty, naughty music. Anyway, while I was listening, and wincing from time to time as F-bombs exploded all around me, I realized that someone at the iTunes Store must have the full-time job of listening to each song and choosing the 90-second preview. I imagine, at this point, that person has to be 100% completely numb to hearing things like the F-bomb, the S-missile, and the B-grenade (which means they could totally do a stint as Joe Pesci’s nanny). But, I digress. The “Scream of the Crop” title (which would make a great title for a movie about evil corn) is almost ideal for this chapter, except for the fact that this chapter also includes resizing. So, I thought, what the heck, and searched for “resize” and found a song called “Undo Resize” by electronic ambient artist DJ Yanatz Ft. The Designers, and it literally is an 8:31 long background music track with two European-sounding women whispering the names of menu commands from Adobe products. Stuff like “Select All,” “Fill,” “Distort,” “Snap to Grid,” and so on. I am not making this up (I listened to the free 90-second preview). It was only 99¢, which was a bargain for 8+ minutes of menu commands set to music. Normally, this many minutes of menu commands set to music would be more like, I dunno, $1.29 or so.

Basic Cropping for Photos

Adobe completely overhauled cropping in Photoshop CS6, and it was a big improvement (it was long overdue, since aside from a few minor enhancements, cropping had been essentially unchanged since Photoshop 1.0). Here, we’ll cover the basic garden-variety cropping (and a new way of cropping), but since there are many different ways to crop a photo in Photoshop (and different reasons why you’d use one over another), we’ll cover them all. If you’re a Lightroom user, you’ll be right at home with this cropping, because it works more like Lightroom’s cropping.

Step One:

Press the letter C to get the Crop tool and you instantly see the first improvement over previous versions of the tool: you don’t have to drag the cropping border out over your photo—it’s automatically added around your image for you (yay!). Now, just grab one of the corner or side handles and start dragging inward to start cropping (as shown here) and it crops in toward the center of the image (the area to be cropped away will appear dimmed). If you want to keep the image proportions the same in your crop (I usually do), just press-and-hold the Shift key while you drag any of the cropping handles. Also, you can reposition your image within the border by clicking-and-dragging on it.

Step Two:

The Rule of Thirds overlay grid that you see in Step One doesn’t appear over your photo until you actually drag one of the cropping handles. If you see a different overlay, just click on the Overlay Options icon in the Options Bar (it’s to the right of the Straighten tool) and you’ll get a pop-up menu of the different overlays you can choose (if you’re not sure which one you want, you can cycle through them by pressing the letter O). There are also three overlay settings in the menu: Always Show Overlay (once you start cropping, it’s visible even when you’re not cropping), Never Show Overlay, and Auto Show Overlay (my favorite—it only appears when you’re actually cropping).

Step Three:

While you have the cropping border in place, if you need to rotate your photo, just move your cursor anywhere outside the border. When you do this, the cursor will change into a double-headed arrow. Just click, hold, and drag up (or down) and the image will rotate in the direction you choose (rather than the cropping border). This makes the process much easier (especially when you’re trying to straighten a horizon line or a building). A little pop-up appears, too, with the angle of rotation (it’s shown circled here in red).

Step Four:

If you decide you want to return to the old way of rotating your crop (where the border rotates, rather than your image), click on the Set Additional Crop Options icon (it looks like a gear) in the Options Bar and turn on the Use Classic Mode checkbox (also known as “old school” or “ancient cropping” by today’s hipster croppers), and then you’re back to the old method. However, I really recommend giving this newer way a try—it takes a little getting used to, but once you do, you’ll really find it useful. While we’re in this options menu, when you’re not in Classic mode, you have two options available here: (1) to turn off having your crop centered automatically (it’s on by default), and we’ll talk about the next one on the next page (it’s a little more involved).

Step Five:

That other option (2) is more powerful than it sounds, because it pretty much brings one of the most popular cropping features of Lightroom over here to Photoshop. In Lightroom, it’s called Lights Out cropping, and when you use this, it blacks out everything surrounding your crop area, so as you drag a cropping handle, you see exactly what the final image will look like without any distractions. If you click on the Set Additional Crop Options icon, you can toggle this on/off with the Show Cropped Area checkbox, but honestly it’s quicker just to press the letter H on your keyboard (it’s easy to remember—H for hide the distracting stuff; click on a cropping handle first or it’ll switch to the Hand tool). Want to take it up a notch? Once you’ve hidden the extra stuff, hit the Tab key on your keyboard and everything else (the Toolbox, panels, Options Bar, etc.) hides temporarily, too. The other options here only kick in if you do have that dimmed cropped away area visible (called the Crop Shield), and you can make it lighter or darker by changing the Opacity amount, or you can turn it off altogether by turning off the Enable Crop Shield checkbox.

Step Six:

If you want to save some time, there’s a list of preset standard cropping sizes in the pop-up menu at the left end of the Options Bar (seen here). Just choose the crop ratio you’d like (here, I chose a square 1:1 ratio), and your crop border automatically resizes to that size or ratio (as shown here).

Step Seven:

If you decide at some point you don’t want to crop the image at all, you can either press the Esc key on your keyboard, click on the “No!” symbol in the Options Bar (as shown here), or just click on a different tool in the Toolbox, which will bring up a dialog asking if you want to crop the image or not.

TIP: Flipping Your Crop Horizontal/Vertical

Want to flip the cropping border after you’ve clicked-and-dragged it out, so you can crop your wide photos with a tall crop that maintains the same aspect ratio (or vice versa)? Just press the letter X on your keyboard.

Step Eight:

So far, we’ve looked at the standard way of cropping—click on the tool and then drag the handles where you want them—but you can also use the freestyle way of cropping (like in previous versions of Photoshop) by taking the Crop tool itself and just clicking-and-dragging over the area you want to crop (as shown here). Don’t let it freak you out that there’s a cropping border already in place—just click-and-drag it out, and when you release the mouse button, it will display your new cropping border. Of course, now you can tweak the handles just like before. If you go back and look at the original image in Step One, you’ll see how much we’ve already cropped away (it’s quite a bit).

Step Nine:

You can also add canvas area around your image using the Crop tool. One quick thing to check first: if you want a white background for your canvas area (and my guess is, most times you will), then before you even click on the Crop tool, press the letter D on your keyboard to set your Background color to white. Then, once you click on the Crop tool, make sure Ratio is selected in the pop-up menu at the left end of the Options Bar and you click the Clear button to clear the Width and Height fields, otherwise the cropping border will be constrained to the aspect ratio of your image (in this case, we want the bottom section to be deeper than the sides and top). Now, grab a cropping handle and drag the border outward to add canvas area. Here, I clicked on the top-left cropping handle and dragged up and to the left (at a 45° angle), and it expanded the top and left side areas around my image.

Step 10:

Here, I dragged the right side out and then dragged the bottom-center handle down quite a bit to add a fine art poster mat look around my image.

TIP: Skip Holding the Shift Key

You already know that to keep your cropping proportional, you press-and-hold the Shift key, right? Here’s how to skip having to hold that key ever again, yet still keep it proportional: close any open images, grab the Crop tool, and then choose Original Ratio from the pop-up menu at the left end of the Options Bar. Now, it’s your default setting. How cool is that?

Step 11:

Before you actually commit to cropping your image, you have a decision to make. Luckily, it’s probably a decision you’ll make once, based on how you like to do things, so you won’t have to make it every time. You get to decide if the part of your image that gets cropped away from view is: (a) gone forever, or (b) just hidden from view and, if necessary, can be brought back. You choose this by turning on/off the Delete Cropped Pixels checkbox up in the Options Bar (shown circled here in red). With it turned on, when you crop, the stuff outside the border is cropped away (and you get a smaller file size). If you turn if off, it keeps those areas in the file, even though you can’t see them (well, not until you click on the Crop tool again and click-and-drag the cropping border back out). If you need the photo a specific size, but aren’t happy with the way your first crop looks, you can move the image around with the Move tool (V), or click on the cropping border while the Crop tool is active, then click on the image and move it.

Step 12:

Once you have the cropping border right where you want it, press the Return (PC: Enter) key to crop your image. The final cropped image is shown here, where we cropped off the signs on the top and the field on the bottom, the cameraman and player on the far left, and the crowd and players on the right.

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