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Photography: Crop Your Photos Like a Pro

Cropping a photo was one of the first things I learned how to do in my layout class in college. We did it by hand, with a ruler, grease pencil and your eyes all squinty-like to get an idea of how it’s gonna look when it comes back from the service bureau or printer.

That was all before Photoshop (and Photoshop Elements).

Now you have tools that can not only show you the end result instantaneously, but guide you along the way.

And when you screw it up, just hit “undo.”

Why all the tomfoolery about cropping?

‘Cause it can take a photo from suck to super in a few seconds flat.

You can add emotion to a photo with a good crop. Tension. Excitement. Movement.

One time Pete and I were riding in the car with my mom and we passed by a big field where some people were playing football. In those few seconds the QB threw a hail mary to a guy running so deep only his hands were above ground. He was wide open. It was going…going…and we were gone.

We passed in front of a building blocking the field forever. And at that instant, we both said “we’ll never know if that guy caught that ball.”

So cropping is kinda like that.

It can make your shot extend beyond the format and make the viewer wonder what’s happening outside the frame, in that moment.

I still have that mental picture, cropped only by the speed of our car.

Anyway, I thought of this cropping post as I was trying to snap some shots of my kids at a birthday party. They were all running around going nuts so I just had to fire off some bursts hoping to get a few good shots of my kids. And I was shooting a bit wide to ensure they’d be in frame.

Right now you might be wishing I cropped some of my words, so I’ll get on with it.

dad blog photography tutorial about cropping with photoshop elements

Here’s my beginning photo. She was moving around pretty quickly so I was taking wide shots to make sure I’d get her in frame.

crop photo in photoshop elements tutorial

I started by opening my little hula-hooper in Photoshop Elements Editor.


Select the crop tool which is in the modify tool palette. Once the tool is selected, you’ll get some options for the crop tool shown on the bottom of the screen. Here you can choose a size, resolution and even a couple of guides to help you crop like a pro. I chose a technique called the Rule of Thirds. See that little button in the crop options that looks like a grid?

That little button summons a magical being with expertise in the mystical and ancient rule of thirds.

Or it throws some little guides up on the screen when you crop.

So what’s the rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds basically divides your composition into a grid of nine sections. By placing your focal point at one of the intersections within the grid, you magically get a better composition. Throw out years of rigorous rich-kid art school training and let Photoshop Elements do it for you.

So what should be your focal point? If it’s a face closeup, it should be the eyes. If it’s a head-to-toe shot, focus on the head. If it’s a Kardashian, then just throw the photo in the trash and find a cat photo.

cropping photos using the rule of thirds tutorial

Take your cursor and select an area within the photo. This starts a chain reaction of pure photoshop functionality. First I had selected a 4″x6″ area since I set the crop tool options to…well…4″x6″. And the area outside of the cropped selection is darkened to help you focus on your composition—much better that getting all squinty-eyed to visualize it. Yeah, so see that little grid in the crop selection. There’s your rule of thirds. (Can’t see it? As always, click any photo on Dadand to enlarge.)

The rule of thirds creates a guide to crop photos for better composition.

Since you can move the crop selection around, I placed the upper right intersecting guides right near my daughters head as I want that to be my focal point. Next, click the little green arrow at the bottom of the selection to commit to the crop.


And here’s the crop. Looks much better. With the hula hoop going out of frame it lends itself to creating some motion, movement in the shot. I think I’ll use the content-aware healing brush and take out those shoes and leaves in the time it takes you to get to the next caption.


That’s better. A few quick stokes of the healing brush took care of the errant shoes and leaves.

cropping photos is easy with adobe photoshop elements

Here’s the result. An average quick-snap-is-all-I-have-time-for-at-the-busy-birthday-party -type photo is now a little more exciting. And it took like 10 seconds.

Okay, I know it wasn’t a great photo to begin with, but I’m trying to take stuff that that is “real” instead of trying to show off some photography skills. I believe there’s value in using tools like Photoshop Elements on real photos by real people.

Alligator photo in Orlando cropped with Photoshop

Here’s a little friend I saw at the birthday party. While Orlando is full of theme parks, it’s also full of gators. This one is real, not animatronic.

This time I'm going to try cropping using the Golden Ratio guides. You remember the Golden Ratio? If not, then it really is an ancient magical formula for proportion. I placed the focal point right on the gator's head and made the crop.

This time I’m going to try cropping using the Golden Ratio guides. You remember the Golden Ratio? If not, then it really is an ancient magical formula for proportion. I placed the focal point right on the gator’s head and made the crop.

Alligator photo in Orlando Photoshop cropping tool tutorial

How big is that gator? What’s he about to eat? Does a honeybadger care? I don’t know but the photo looks way better.

Cropping with shapes in photoshop elements

Okay, reset. Let’s try cropping with a shape. This is actually called the “Cookie Cutter Tool.” With the crop tool selected, move down to the crop options and you’ll see a little flower-like shape that, well, looks like a cookie cutter. Once you click on that you can choose from a number of predefined shapes.


I tried using a heart shape to crop with. You can adjust the size of the shape and even rotate it. Click the green check mark when you’re happy.

I heart alligators.

I heart alligators.


Alligator stop sign. Okay you get the idea. Shapes.

So what do you think?

Pick up a copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 and crop something and share it on the Adobe Photoshop Elements Facebook Page. Or tell us what you cropped with the cookie cutter paw prints.

Disclosure: Dadand received review software and compensation to test and post about Adobe Photoshop Elements—a company whose products we love and use everyday. We believe in every product and service we review at Dadand, and promise to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even when we’re trying to break the stuff we receive.


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