A Guide to Digital Photo Cropping


Some photographers believe in doing all their cropping in the camera, meaning that they try to compose the picture properly as they take it so there is no need for post-production cropping in a program like Photoshop. That might work if you are a professional photographer with the time and energy to plan out all of your shots, but for the majority of us, it’s just not practical. Not to mention all of those pictures from the past that we scan and photos taken by other people. The truth is that many of us are cropping a lot of the photos we use on digital scrapbook layouts. I would say that almost all of the pictures on my layouts are cropped in some way.

how copy

If you have never cropped a digital photo, I have a few helpful links to share:

If cropping significantly changes the photo (removing background items or people), consider keeping the original and the the cropped version in your photo archive files.

Remember, cropping can change photo file sizes and resolutions which can have an impact on future printing of the pictures. If possible, keep the cropped image as a standard size, full-resolution image.


I rarely crop my photos when I load them into my computer. I do crop my photos ALL the time when I’m digi scrapping though because it’s so easy! What’s my secret? I let templates and photo masks do all the work for me.

Here’s a photo I’d like to use on a layout, but I want to get rid of all the extra background distractions and keep the focus on my son.


When I place the photo in this template (by Darcy Baldwin) I can simply size the photo within the masked space and it will crop it for me when I apply the picture to that layer (using CTRL+G in PSE)



I never have to crop the actual photo, I’m just using the template photo shape to help me place the picture in the size and shape that I want. You can also use this trick on layouts without templates. Just pick a shape to fill your photo with.


There are many reasons to crop a photo and the great thing about doing it digitally is that wonderful “undo” feature if you go too far!

Improve Your Composition

A photo can go from good to great with a little bit of cropping. Use a gridline with the rule of thirds when cropping to help you improve the composition of your picture.

When it comes to composition, this isn’t a great picture. There’s a lot of empty space at the bottom and top of the photo and the subjects are lost somewhere in the middle.


When I use the rule of thirds grid in the photo editing window


I can see that there is nothing of interest on any of the intersection points.

before thirds

By cropping the photo using these grid lines, I can make a dramatic difference in the overall look of the picture.

Remove Distractions

The most common reason that I crop my photos is to remove something distracting. When I took this picture in St. George, Utah, I didn’t notice the tied tree on the right hand side. For me, it detracts from the scenic view of the condominium where we stayed.


With a minor crop, the picture is cleaner and nothing of importance is lost from the scene.


Get Creative

Cropping can be done for creative reasons as well. There’s nothing wrong with having some fun with your photos!

Turn this


into this


Standard photo


Quirky and creative photo!



Even with digital cropping, you should be careful not to cut out too much from a photo.

Don’t Cut Context

This cropped photo of all of our suitcases could be used on a layout about our cruise to Alaska a few years ago.


But it’s so much more interesting with the background in place. Now you can see my tired kids sitting at the airport. They were all traveled out and listening to headphones and playing games. They were both wearing t-shirts from one of the ports we visited (Victoria B.C. in Canada) The hustle and bustle of the airport building is in back of them. The story is much more complete with the context of the entire photo.


Don’t Amputate

If you are trying to fit a photo into a certain shape or space on a layout, you might be tempted to cut off some arms and legs. (Sounds brutal, doesn’t it?) While there are no set “rules” for how to crop body parts, it’s generally thought that cutting them off at the joints is not eye-pleasing. If the crop feels uncomfortable, don’t do it!

Which one do you prefer? Cut off at the knees?


Or the full body?


Don’t Overdo It

Someday, you might want to see the mess in the background, the cars parked on the street, or the goofy face someone is pulling behind you. I actually wish I could see MORE of the background in this photo of me as a baby asleep on my Grandpa’s shoulder. I would love to have a peek at what my Grandparent’s house was like at that time.


Every photograph tells a story and you can improve (or take away) from that story with how you crop a photo. Use common sense, and don’t be afraid to try new things, but be sure to save your original file intact as well. Cropping is a great way to make your photos look their best, which also means you’ll have better looking digital layouts. Crop on!

katie big

P.S. The clippy frames in the title image are by Allison Pennington. The banner titles are from Digitally Smitten by Gina Cabrera Digital Design Essentials. The font is Lobster.