5 Photo Cropping Tips That Will Save Your Life

OK, that’s a little melodramatic. But here are 5 things that I either learned in photography or graphic design classes that help me out when I am either framing a picture in the viewfinder/LCD or looking for a more interesting crop later in my editing programs. (For the record, I use a combination of iPhoto and Photoshop).

1. Remember the design principal of Thirds.
Things look better in 3’s. It’s just the way it is. So, instead of sticking your focal point in the middle of the frame, try moving dividing the plane in thirds and putting the subject in one of the outer thirds? Or at least look at your photo almost like a grid and think about interesting places to place your subject, other than smack center. (Don’t get me wrong, center is good sometimes too. Just not ALL the time).

2. Crop along natural body lines.
Which are: bust, waist and knees. NOT THE ANKLES. If you have a big group and can’t get them all in, either step back and get their feet in, or zoom in closer and crop at the knees. It is a huge pet peeve of mine to see de-pedified groups of people in photos.

3. Look around the edges.

When you are cropping, move your cropping tool around a bit. Then take a look around the edges. Is there something funky that if you moved just a smidge further, you could get rid of it? Some sign in the background that is distracting? Some edge of a table that doesn’t need to be there? Or even the opposite way? Something appearing on the edges that *should* be there, and you should pull out to include? Also, check to make sure the spacing around your subject and the edge of the frame is appropriate for what you are going for.

Here is an unedited photo of Declan and his friends jumping into a leaf pile. Not the greatest photo either way – but what I really don’t like is all the crap in the yard detracting from their fun.

Here is the cropped version. I got rid of the garden on the left, the sidewalk chalk in front and the gardening can in the bottom right. I also got the aspen in the back to line up nicely on the edge, and the boy on the left and Declan are both similar distance from the edge of the frame.

4. Get close. If it suits to mood, of course.
This is somewhat of a personal preference, but I like closeups. I crop the tops of heads off a lot because when I do, it gets me closer to the eyes – which, as they say, are the windows to the soul, and are usually the focus (of a portrait, anyway). The beauty of these large megapixel cameras is shooting something one way and seeing something differently later, and being able to crop in for it. Let it all hang out, baby, let body parts hang out of the frame!

5. Experiment and have fun!
Continuing the theme of #4, save different versions of crops and see how the mood changes. My friend Kelly is a graphic designer as well and took a portrait I did of her daughter and used it on the cover of a brochure for the Kempe Center. When she cropped in tight on Tess, the photo seems much more mournful, and the right mood for an organization that works to prevent child abuse. But the original feels completely different. And now we have both versions to love. (I am not putting that version up because I don’t want to mess up my new relationship with Kempe, sah-ry. But it perfectly illustrated what I was trying to say – I SWEAR!). Here is another example of kids at a field trip from Declan’s school, though. And, of yeah, don’t forget you can drop vertically *and* horizontally *and* on funky angles! This is digital, go crazy!

P.S. 30 Days of Thanks
I am thankful for every single thing I forgot to give thanks for this month.

This article has 47 comments

  1. Alida

    This is great. I’m not a photographer at all, but I do like taking pictures of my kids. I’ve been having fun with a digital camera and have just starting taking some baby steps, discovereing all the cool stuff you can do.

    Someday, I’m going to take a totally awesome picture.

  2. nylonthread

    Thanks for the tips, Aimee! I’m all about the cropping in my graphic design work, but tend to let it slide for our family photos.

    AJS is all about the closeups, too. I am usually too fearful of missing something cute that is happening just out of frame to take a tight shot. But, you’re so right about the megapixels!!

  3. Sue at nobaddays

    #3 … oops, you saw the first picture in my most recent post and gasped, “Why the hell didn’t she crop that sliver of poster-and-the-wall off the right hand side of that picture?!”

    I was too dang lazy, that’s what! 😉

  4. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    ha ha Sue,yes – that sliver should have been sliced off!!! 😉

  5. zipper

    great tips, thanks!

  6. lauren

    I love the comparison photos. That was helpful, thanks!

  7. The Fat Housewife

    I just asked someone near me who I follow on Flickr if I could hang with them and learn some cool photog stuff. She said no. Wonder if she thinks I am a net nut. Bummed though.

  8. Meghann

    great tips! My favorite to tell anyone has always been “don’t be afraid to get close”. Tops of heads aren’t all that important anyways, lol!

  9. Gretchen

    All good things to know. I follow the ‘rule of three’ when quilting in both color and pattern size. At least three colors (or versions of color) and a small, a medium, and a large pattern.

  10. ~Sheryl

    Great tips! I have to get over my fear of cutting body parts off tho’. I have cropped tight a few times and loved the result.

    Love your pics!

  11. Oh, The Joys

    Great tips! Thank you!

  12. REENblack

    Thanks for the tip! I think I”m going to have to bookmark just this post!!! Things like this have to be beaten into my skull!!! 🙂 Although sometimes I’m just in too much of a hurry and just want to get some pictures posted!

  13. Anonymous

    very cool, thanks!

  14. Tree

    Thank you thank you thank you! What super tips. I am saving them. Now I want to play with some pics!

  15. Ali

    i love closeups! love love.

  16. Sarah Jackson

    I too, do really tight closeups so I get to the eyes. Love it. I try to frame as well as possible in the first place, but usually I’ll shoot a ton of pictures and then use cropping tools to get just the look I want.

  17. Andie

    this is a great explanation with examples. I always try to shoot people from different angles.

    Hey, did you get my email I sent you last week?

    Just checking.

  18. Summer

    I’m pretty lazy too, but I do love a good crop. These are great tips!

  19. Angella

    Great tips – cropping is your friend!


    I am thankful that NaBloPoMo is over. Now that I don’t have to post every day, I might have time to READ posts.


  20. Nancy

    Good tips! Thanks for the mini-photo class.

  21. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Yay! Very excited you are enjoying this!

    Andie, I do *not* see your email! May have been caught in spam. Try again, and comment here when you do so I am sure to look for it!!!

  22. Anonymous

    cool thanks!

  23. soccer mom in denial

    I love this post. Just love it!

    Thanks for the tips.

  24. Jan

    Love these pics…… fabulous job !


  25. Anonymous

    Wow, what a great post! These tips are so helpful – thanks a lot!

  26. carrie

    Those are excellent points! My favorite picture of my oldest son is of the “do it in three’s” genre. He’s holding a football, about to throw it and his face is in one third of the photo – the rest is the lake background behind him and a little of the ball in his hand!

  27. himanshu

    Thanx a lot.
    though i am not a professional photographer……..i would say your tips will surely prove helpful.


  28. Andie

    Hey! I just sent you an email. I hope you get it. 🙂

  29. Betty

    These tips are awesome!

    Thank you!

    I bought a nice SLR a few months back and have no idea how to use it, but I seem to have a natural eye and am an iPhoto Mavin, so these tips on cropping are fantastic.

    It is a mere 30 degrees out in NYC but I am suddenly motivated to bundle up and go shoot!

  30. painted maypole

    i’ve just begun playing around with the cropping of my pictures, so these tips are great, thanks.

  31. kat

    Thanks for this. I learned some of these tracks naturally (just through studying other photographers), but this was great! Funny and timely considering we were just talking about framing the picture yesterday at a birthday party.

  32. Manisha

    Just wanted to say that I am glad I found your blog through NaBloPoMo.

    Had a Q for you: would you be willing to share where you get your photos printed? I want to print mine on high quality stock paper etc to put up in my own home and as gifts for Christmas.

  33. Aimee Greeblemonkey

    Thanks much all!

    And welcome Manisha, and I usually get mine printed at Shutterfly actually. Anywhere that has archival quality paper is good, though.

  34. sue

    Thanks for all the great tips! I love taking pictures, but never seem to get close enough or have the patience to sit and mess with them… now I see I probably need to take the time to make them much better!

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