Words & Pictures by Peter Herbert
When working on conventional photography it is common practice to use two cardboard
'L' shapes laid across a print in order to select the visually best crop. In
the digital 'darkroom' this method is less convenient as the cardboard needs
to be held in an almost vertical position rather than being laid on a worksurface.
This involves using two hands to hold the plates and then operating the mouse
with a third if you have one!
I have used the 'cropping tool' provided with Photoshop and found it to be
somewhat inadequate. It only darkens the surround which I find visually unsatisfactory
as it does not totally isolate the crop. It is somewhat difficult to position
as you need to consider all four sides of the image simultaneously and it tilts
by turning the tool not the image which I also find gives visualization problems.
The answer is to create the 'L' shapes as layers on the picture. This is quite
easily and quickly done as follows......
Step 1 - Load your picture into Photoshop.
I have used Photoshop Elements but the facilities are almost identical in other
versions. Just in case you wish to move or rotate your image I suggest that
you make a copy of your picture as the 'Background' cannot be unlocked. Use.......
Layers, Duplicate Layer, OK
..... and discard your 'Background' layer by dragging it to the 'Trash' in
your Layers Palette. I also try to avoid making any changes to the image before
cropping as I find it helps to maintain the quality of the image by reducing
the overall manipulation. If you find it is necessary to adjust the 'Levels'
or make other corrections in order to see the image properly I suggest that
you use 'Adjustment Layers' so that the changes can be discarded after cropping
and re-applied, usually with different settings, later.
Step 2 - Create your 'L' Plates.
Create a new layer using...........Layers, New, Layer, OK
......and in the 'Layers Palette' click the eye on the 'Background Copy' to
make the background invisible. Use the 'Marquee Tool' to select a rectangle
in the bottom left of the image area as indicated in the diagram. In order to
make this rectangle into an 'L' shape you need to.........
It is now necessary to use the 'Paint Bucket' to fill the selected 'L' shape
with colour. I have chosen black as the foreground colour but you may prefer
white or any other colour. As an example I normally use white when manipulating
a monochrome image. Clicking the foreground colour panel will enable you to
'Set Foreground Color' to whatever you choose.
Now the top 'L' plate is created you need to create the bottom one. This could
be done by repeating the way the top one was created but selecting the rectangle
at the top right however I find it easier to create a new layer using........
Layers, Duplicate Layer, OK
Image, Rotate, 180¼
In all the above manipulations it is important to ensure that you are working
on the correct layer. It is easy to check this and to make changes if necessary
by examining the 'Layers Palette'
Step 3 - The Final Step
There is only one more thing to do which is to give your 'L' plates room to
move. To do this you need to increase the 'Canvas Size' by about an inch all
round. You do this by......
Image, Resize, Canvas Size
And add 1" to each dimension (if you use centimeters try about 2.5cm).
Now click the eye on the 'Background Copy' in the 'Layers Palette' to make the
whole picture visible.
And there you are! By using the 'Move Tool' it is now possible to move both
of the 'L' plates exactly as you would cardboard ones. The differences are that
they stay put and that you can stretch or shrink them at will. In addition it
is possible to rotate the 'Background Copy' so that it fits the crop in the
most pleasing manner, If you have a problem picking up each 'L' plate using
the 'Move Tool' you can make the relevant layer active in the 'Layers Palette'.
You can now use the 'Marquee Tool' to select inside the 'L' plates and isolate
your image. I find it is better to make the 'L' plate layers invisible before
cropping. This ensures that any minor inaccuracy in making your selection with
the 'Marquee Tool' does not result in black edges to your crop. Provided you
are satisfied with your crop delete the 'L' plate layers either by dragging
them to the 'Trash' in your 'Layers Palette' or by using....
Layer, Delete Layer, Yes
The crop I have shown in the diagram is a very small part of the image, probably
far smaller that would normally be used. In the case of a crop this small I
would re-scan the image at a higher resolution in order to retain the quality.
If you are going to proceed to making a mounted print it can be useful at a
later stage to create and use 'L' plates to examine the effect of various colours
of mountboard by 'painting' them in appropriate colours.
Firstly, many thanks to Peter for kindly submitting this technique. Readers
should note though, that it is possible to completely black out the surround
of the Photoshop crop, as shown below using Photoshop Elements, but you
can't take advantage of being able to rotate the image behind the mask.
Another disadvantage of the Photoshop crop is that it requires you to
cancel or approve it, therefore not allowing any simultaneous editing.
Peter's technique provides an alternative
and useful method of working which you may prefer. It can also be usefully
applied in other Digital-imaging software..