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Selecting the best crop - an alternative method of cropping

Peter Herbert shows us an alternative method of cropping, with some unique benefits.

|  General Photography
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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

Photoshop Cropping technique

..... 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

Photoshop Cropping technique

......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.........

Select, Inverse

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

And then.....

Image, Rotate, 180¼

Photoshop Cropping technique

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.

Photoshop Cropping technique

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'.

Photoshop Cropping technique

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.

Happy Cropping!

ePHOTOzine comment:
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.

Photoshop Cropping technique

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..

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Artois 16 405 1 United Kingdom
Very useful technique that I shall be trying out.

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