Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll learn the basics of how to crop images in Photoshop CC. If you're using Photoshop CS6, you'll want to check out our Cropping Images in Photoshop CS6 tutorial.
Here, we'll learn all about the Crop Tool in Photoshop and how we use it to crop images, either to specific sizes or aspect ratios, or to any freeform shape we need. We'll also learn some handy keyboard shortcuts to use with the Crop Tool, and look at a few other options that make cropping images even easier. And, we'll learn how to crop images non-destructively by hiding, rather than deleting, the cropped area.
There's a lot to cover when it comes to cropping images (more than you might think), so I'll cover certain topics in more detail in their own separate tutorials. For now, let's jump in and learn the basics of how to crop images in Photoshop!
You can easily follow along with this tutorial using any image of your own. Here's the image I currently have open on my screen (canyon photo from Adobe Stock):
Selecting The Crop Tool
To crop images in Photoshop, we use the Crop Tool which we can select from the Toolbar along the left of the screen. You can also select the Crop Tool just by pressing the letter C (for "Crop") on your keyboard. Either way works:
Resetting The Crop Tool
As soon as we select the Crop Tool, the Options Bar along the top of the screen changes to show us options specifically for the Crop Tool. Before we go any further, let's make sure that we're both seeing the same thing by resetting the Crop Tool to its default values.
To reset the Crop Tool, right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the Crop Tool icon on the far left of the Options Bar:
Then choose Reset Tool from the menu that appears:
This resets the Crop Tool back to its default settings. You should now see the Aspect Ratio option (directly to the right of the Crop Tool icon) set to Ratio, and both boxes to the right of the word "Ratio" should be empty. We'll come back to these settings later on:
The Crop Border And Crop Handles
Now that we’re both on the same page, let’s learn how to crop images. With the Crop Tool selected, Photoshop automatically places a crop border (also known as the crop box or the crop boundary) around the image. The crop border appears as a series of dashed lines. Photoshop also places crop handles around the border. You'll find a handle on the top, bottom, left, and right of the border, as well as one in each of the four corners:
Drawing Your Own Crop Border
At this point, we have two options for cropping the image. We can use this default, initial crop border that Photoshop automatically places around the image for us, or we can draw our own crop border.
To draw your own, simply click on the image to set the starting point for the crop border. Then, with your mouse button still held down, drag away from that spot. As you drag, you'll see only the crop border itself (the dashed lines), without the handles. Here, I'm dragging from the upper left of the image to the lower right:
Tip! If you press and hold the spacebar on your keyboard as you're dragging out the crop border, you can move the crop border around inside the image with your mouse to reposition it. Release your spacebar when you're done to continue drawing the border.
To complete the crop border, release your mouse button, at which point Photoshop adds the handles around it. The darker area surrounding the crop border is the area that will be cropped away, while the area inside the border is what we'll be keeping:
Whether you're using the default crop border that Photoshop automatically places around the image or you've drawn your own, once we have a crop border, the rest of the steps for cropping the image are the same. To keep things simple for this tutorial, let's revert back to the default crop border.
To do that, click the Cancel button in the Options Bar, or press the Esc key on your keyboard:
The crop border and handles now once again surround the image
Resizing The Crop Border
We resize the crop border by clicking and dragging the handles surrounding it. To adjust the height of the border, click on either the top or bottom handle and drag it up or down. Here, I'm dragging the top handle downward:
If you press and hold your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key as you drag the top or bottom handle, the handle on the opposite side will move along with it, in the opposite direction. In other words, you'll resize the height of the crop border from its center:
To adjust the width of the crop border, click on either the left or right handle and drag it left or right. Here, I'm dragging the left handle in towards the center of the image:
Pressing and holding your Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key as you drag the left or right handle will adjust the width of the crop border from its center, as the handle on the opposite side moves along with it in the opposite direction:
To adjust both the width and the height of the crop border at the same time, click and drag any of the four corner handles. Here, I'm dragging the top left handle. Dragging a corner handle on its own (that is, without pressing and holding any keys on the keyboard) allows us to freely adjust the crop border to any shape we need:
If you press and hold your Shift key as you drag a corner handle, you'll lock the aspect ratio of the crop border so it keeps the same aspect ratio as the original image as you're resizing it:
Finally, pressing and holding Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) while dragging a corner handle will resize the crop border from its center. If you press and hold both the Shift key and the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key at the same time, you'll lock the aspect ratio in place and resize the crop border from its center, as I'm doing here:
A quick note about using modifier keys: If you're pressing and holding the Shift key and/or the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key while drawing or resizing the crop border, make sure that when you're done, you release your mouse button first, then the key(s). If you release the key(s) before releasing your mouse button, you'll lose the effect.
Repositioning The Image Inside The Crop Border
Along with adjusting the size and shape of the crop border itself, we can also reposition the image inside the crop border, which can help with the overall composition. All you need to do is click anywhere inside the crop border, keep your mouse button held down, and drag the image around with your mouse.
Here, I've moved the image so that the couple are positioned in the upper right of the crop (where the horizontal and vertical grid lines intersect) rather than in the center, which adds more visual interest. That grid, by the way, is known as the Rule of Thirds grid, and we'll come back to it a bit later.
You'll notice as you drag that the crop border itself stays in place in the center of your screen while the image moves around inside it:
Cropping To A Specific Aspect Ratio
To crop your image to a specific aspect ratio, like 4 x 6 or 8 x 10, click the Aspect Ratio option (the box that's currently set to "Ratio") in the Options Bar:
Then, check the list that appears to see if there is already a preset aspect ratio that meets your needs. If I needed to crop to an 8 x 10 ratio, for example, I could simply choose the 4 : 5 (8 : 10) ratio from the list:
As soon as I select it, Photoshop automatically enters a value of 4 into the Width field and 5 into the Height field, giving me my 8 x 10 aspect ratio (it can seem a bit confusing at first, but "4 x 5" and "8 x 10" are the same thing, just as "2 x 3" and "4 x 6" are the same):
If we look at the image, we see that Photoshop has reshaped my crop border to match the new 8 x 10 ratio:
Changing The Orientation
If you need to swap the width and height values to change the orientation of the crop, click the two arrows between the Width and Height fields in the Options Bar. You can also swap the values by pressing the letter X on your keyboard:
With the values swapped, Photoshop again updates the crop border, switching it from portrait orientation (where the height is larger than the width) to landscape orientation (the width is larger than the height):
Now that I have the aspect ratio I need, I can resize the crop border by dragging the handles. Since we've entered a specific aspect ratio into the Options Bar, Photoshop locks the aspect ratio automatically as we resize the crop border, so there's no need to press and hold the Shift key as we drag:
Choosing A Custom Aspect Ratio
If none of Photoshop's preset aspect ratios will work, you can use your own custom ratio by simply entering the values you need into the Width and Height fields.
If I needed to crop to, say, an 11 x 14 ratio, and I wanted it to appear in landscape orientation (where the width is larger than the height), I would enter 14 into the Width field and 11 into the Height field (you can quickly jump from the Width to the Height field by pressing the Tab key on your keyboard):
Photoshop once again reshapes the crop border to match the new aspect ratio. And this time, it also resizes the crop border to fit as much of the original image into it as possible:
Again, I could resize the crop border at this point by dragging the handles. But this time, I'll leave the size of the crop border alone and simply reposition the image inside of it by clicking inside the crop border and dragging to the right:
Clearing The Aspect Ratio
To clear the aspect ratio and go back to being able to reshape the crop border freely with the handles, click the Clear button to the right of the Width and Height fields:
Cropping To A Specific Size
What's important to understand with aspect ratios is that we're not cropping the image to any specific size. That is, we're not specifying an actual measurement type, like inches or pixels. All we're choosing is the basic shape of the crop. This is usually what we want to do at this point. We crop the image to a certain shape (the aspect ratio) using the Crop Tool, and then we choose a specific size for the image later on using Photoshop's Image Size dialog box.
The reason has to do with image quality. In order to crop the image to a specific size, rather than just a basic shape, Photoshop usually needs to physically resize the image, and it does so by changing the number of pixels in the image. This is known as image resampling (as opposed to resizing), and it can lead to a loss of image quality if you're not careful. It's an important topic, but since our focus here is on the basics of cropping images, I'll cover this topic in more detail in a separate tutorial.
Having said that, and while I don't necessarily recommend it unless you really understand what you're doing, it is possible to crop images to specific sizes using the Crop Tool. Just like when choosing an aspect ratio, we can check to see if there is already a preset size that matches our needs by clicking the Aspect Ratio option in the Options Bar:
You'll find the size presets listed below the aspect ratio presets. The size presets are the ones with the actual measurement type and resolution listed with them. I'll choose a standard paper size by selecting the 8.5 x 11 in 300 ppi preset:
This sets the Width value in the Options Bar to 8.5 inches (in) and the Height to 11 inches. Notice that we're using a specific measurement type (inches) this time. And, notice that along with the Width and Height options, we now have a third option as well, Resolution, set to 300 pixels/inch (px/in).
We're now telling Photoshop to not only set the aspect ratio of the crop border to 8.5 x 11, but to physically resize the cropped version of the image (by changing the number of pixels in the image) so that it will print 8.5 inches wide and 11 inches tall at a resolution of 300 pixels per inch (a standard resolution for professional print quality):
With the size preset chosen, Photoshop reshapes the crop border to match the 8.5 x 11 aspect ratio. Photoshop won't actually resize the image until we accept the crop:
We can change the orientation of the crop size by clicking the two arrows between the Width and Height options, or by pressing the letter X on the keyboard:
And, we can enter our own custom crop size as well. If I want the cropped version to print at a standard photo frame size of 10 inches wide and 8 inches tall, I just need to enter 10 in for the Width and 8 in for the Height. I'll leave the Resolution value set to 300 px/in but we can change it if we need to:
With the custom size entered, we can then resize the crop border by clicking and dragging the handles. Again, Photoshop will lock the aspect ratio in place as we resize the border so there's no need to press and hold the Shift key:
Clearing The Size Values
To clear the current Width, Height and Resolution values, click the Clear button in the Options Bar. This will allow you to once again reshape the crop border freely with the handles:
The Rule Of Thirds Overlay
Before we accept the crop, let's look a few additional options in the Options Bar that can help us out.
Notice the 3 x 3 grid that keeps appearing inside the crop border? That's known as the Rule of Thirds grid. The idea behind the Rule of Thirds is that the photo will look more interesting if we crop it so that our main subject appears not in the center of the image but at, or near, one of the points where the vertical and horizontal grid lines intersect:
For example, here's a crop with the couple in the center of the frame:
And here's a similar crop but with the couple positioned in the lower right of the frame using the Rule of Thirds:
Hiding The Overlay
The Rule of Thirds is more of a guideline than a rule, and it won't work with every image, but it's definitely worth a try to see if it improves your composition.
However, seeing the grid overlay constantly in front of your image can be distracting and even annoying. Fortunately, we can change the behavior of the overlay by clicking the Overlay Options icon in the Options Bar:
There's three choices here for how the overlay behaves. By default, Always Show Overlay is selected, which is why the grid is always visible. If you choose Never Show Overlay, you'll hide the grid completely. Personally, I prefer to use Auto Show Overlay which displays the grid only while you're actually dragging one of the crop handles. As soon as you release the handle, the overlay disappears, giving you a clutter-free view of your image:
Changing The Overlay
While the Rule of Thirds is by far the most popular overlay, it's not the only one available to us. There are others we can choose from as well, like Grid:
This places a more detailed grid over the image which can be very useful for rotating and straightening the image, as we'll see in a separate tutorial:
Another popular overlay is the Golden Ratio:
The Golden Ratio is similar to the Rule of Thirds but can often produce better results, especially with landscape images. It uses a 3 x 3 grid, just like the Rule of Thirds, but the areas of interest are closer to the center of the image, giving the composition a more natural look.
Here, we see that the original crop of the image I'm using makes good use of the Golden Ratio, as the horizon line of the cliff and the outstretched arms of the couple line up nicely with the horizontal grid lines, while the vertical edge of the cliff lines up with the vertical grid line:
You can quickly cycle through the overlays by pressing the letter O on your keyboard. Two of the overlays (Triangle and Golden Spiral) can be rotated, which you can also do from your keyboard by pressing Shift+O.
Hiding The Cropped Area
Let's look at a couple of additional options for the Crop Tool before we finish off with possibly the most important option of all.
As we've learned, the darkened part of the image surrounding the crop border is the area we'll be cropping away. If you'd rather hide that cropped area entirely so you're seeing just the area inside the crop border (the area you'll be keeping), click on the Additional Options icon to the right of the Overlay options:
Then, uncheck Show Cropped Area. You can also toggle the cropped area on and off by pressing the letter H on your keyboard:
With the cropped area hidden, only the area within the crop border remains visible. This can make it easier to judge the result:
Disabling The Crop Shield
I'll press the letter H on my keyboard to turn the cropped area back on so we can look at a related option, also found under the Advanced Options in the Options Bar.
The darkening effect that Photoshop places over the cropped area is known as the Crop Shield. We can turn the crop shield off to get a better view of the entire image by unchecking the Enable Crop Shield option.
You can also change the color of the crop shield with the Color option, and lighten or darken it by adjusting the Opacity value. But unchecking Enable Crop Shield will turn it off entirely. There's no keyboard shortcut this time so you'll need to do it from the Options Bar:
With the Crop Shield turned off, the entire image, including the cropped area outside the border, is clearly visible:
Cropping The Image Non-Destructively
The final option we need to look at, and quite possibly the most important option of all, is Delete Cropped Pixels:
I'm going to cover this topic in more detail in the very next tutorial, but in short, Photoshop's default behavior is to permanently delete all of the pixels we crop away. That may sound like a good thing, but it really isn't. At least, not if you want the freedom to edit your crop later.
Deleting the cropped pixels is known as a destructive edit because it makes a permanent change to your image, something you want to avoid whenever possible. Thankfully, Photoshop gives us the option to crop our images non-destructively by simply hiding, rather than deleting, the cropped area.
To crop the image non-destructively, before you apply your crop, uncheck Delete Cropped Pixels in the Options Bar. It's turned on by default so you'll need to uncheck it to turn it off. We'll see why this is so useful after we apply the crop, which we'll be doing next:
Applying The Crop
When you're ready to crop your image, click the checkmark in the Options Bar. Or, press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) on your keyboard. Or (yep, there's a third way), simply double-click inside the crop border:
Photoshop goes ahead and crops the image:
Editing The Crop
If we had left the Delete Cropped Pixels option turned on before applying the crop, then this would be the end of the story. The cropped area would be deleted, our crop would be final, thanks for joining us, see you next time.
But of course, we didn't leave Delete Cropped Pixels turned on. We turned it off. And because we turned it off, Photoshop did not delete the cropped area. Yes, it looks like it was deleted, but all Photoshop really did was hide the cropped area from view.
This means that even though we've applied the crop, we can still go back and edit it. To do that, simply click on the image with the Crop Tool. The cropped area will instantly re-appear, allowing you to easily adjust the crop as needed:
And there we have it! That's the basics of how to crop images in Photoshop CC! We covered a lot in this tutorial but there's more to learn. In the next tutorial, we'll look more closely at the Delete Cropped Pixels option and the benefits of cropping images non-destructively in Photoshop. And don't forget, all of our tutorials are now available for download as high quality, print-ready PDFs!