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Cropping Techniques in Photoshop CS4

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Scott Kelby shows you some handy cropping tricks, including the rule of thirds, cropping to a specific size, keeping the same aspect ratio when cropping, and creating custom cropping tools.
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The “rule of thirds” is a trick that photographers sometimes use to create more interesting compositions. Basically, you visually divide the image you see in your camera’s viewfinder into thirds, and then you position your horizon so it goes along either the top imaginary horizontal line or the bottom one. Then, you position the subject (or focal point) at the center intersections of those lines. But if you didn’t use the rule in the viewfinder, no sweat! You can use Photoshop to crop your image using the rule of thirds to create more appealing compositions.

Step One:

Open the photo you want to apply the rule-of-thirds cropping technique to (the shot here is poorly composed, with the subject right in the center— it just screams “snapshot!”). So, start by creating a new blank layer by clicking on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it’s circled in red here).

Step Two:

Now, go to the Toolbox and get the Custom Shape tool (as shown here), or press Shift-U until you have it.

Step Three:

The Custom Shape tool’s options will appear up in the Options Bar. First, click on the third icon from the left (so your shape will draw pixels, instead of a Shape layer or a path). Next, click on the downward-facing triangle to the immediate right of the current shape, and the Shape Picker will pop down (as shown here). In the default set of shapes there is a Grid shape, and that shape is already divided into equal thirds, so click on that shape to choose it.

Step Four:

You’re going to need to see the exact size you want to crop down to, so go under the Window menu and choose Info. This brings up the Info panel (shown here), which displays the Width and Height for any shape you draw. So now take the Custom Shape tool and drag out a grid, and as you drag, keep an eye on the Info panel’s Width and Height fields (our goal is to print an 8x10" print, so we’re going to want our final grid size to be 8" tall by 10" wide). Now, start dragging (don’t worry about posi-tioning the grid right yet—just keep your eye on that Info panel, and your wrist steady, so you can drag out exactly an 8x10" grid. Also, don’t worry about damaging your photo—that’s why we created that new blank layer in Step One, so your grid will appear on this new layer).

Step Five:

Press the letter V to switch to the Move tool, and click-and-drag your rule-of-thirds grid into the position you’d like it (ideally, your subject, or point of interest, would appear at one of the four places within the grid where the lines intersect. I’ve marked all four here as a visual reminder).

Step Six:

Once the grid is positioned right where you want it, get the Rectangular Marquee tool (M) and click-and-drag out a selection that is the exact same size as the grid (as shown here).

Step Seven:

Now go under the Image menu and choose Crop (as shown here).

Step Eight:

When you choose Crop from that menu, it crops the photo based on your current selection, so basically it crops the photo down to the edges of your grid. Now, press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect, and then go to the Layers panel and drag Layer 1 (your grid layer) into the Trash (at the bottom of the Layers panel) to delete it. You can now see your final cropped photo—cropping using the rule of thirds.

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