Cropping Photographs

Digital photography editing: Back in the days when film photography was all there was, photography editing, or post-processing as it was known, was almost as important as taking the picture itself. A photographer would process his film and make a contact strip of all his negatives (small images of his shots on a piece of photographic paper, similar to what we now call ‘thumbnails’ on our computer) and decide which were useable and which needed some editing.

The idea that a photographer would take a shot and it would be ‘as is’ perfect was very seldom the case. There was almost always something that could be done to improve it, technically or creatively. Nowadays is no different, and almost all the techniques and more available at that time, can now be found in image editing software.

In this series of digital photography editing basics we will be using Gimp image editing software (you can find a review and link to download Gimp free photo editing software here), as it’s easily the most versatile of the bunch out there.

Digital Photography Editing – Cropping & Original Image Size
Some photographs seem like a good idea at the time, yet when we see the actual results we realize that they would have been much served had the framing been different (see the Take Better Pictures page for more about framing a shot), either closer, or having a particular element cut out of the shot altogether.

This is when we need to crop the photograph. But firstly, there are some limitations on how much you can crop a photograph and have it still looking decent and this is all dependent on the original image size.

For example, crop a photograph of the size of 1mb or less, and the closer in you get, the more you will notice a rather bad reduction in the picture quality, due to pixelation. This can’t be avoided with an image this small, no matter what software you are using.

Therefore, it’s my advice that you always make sure when you take a photograph that you camera is on the highest possible file size. Although large file sizes take up more space on your memory card, you have to ask yourself what is more important, to be able to crop that photo maybe even years later, or in view of the file size, to never really be able to change it much at all.

If you have to buy another memory card for digital photography storage, so you can take the amount of photographs you want, then it’s a much better option than having a great deal of photographs you can’t alter at a latter stage when you realize the file size is too small.

A decent image file size for cropping comes in at around at least 2 mb+, but the higher the better. Anything above 4 mb is perhaps overkill, unless you plan to have the image blown-up for poster/large print use (in which case it’s much needed).

Digital Photography Editing – How to Crop Photographs on Gimp
1. Assuming you’ve downloaded Gimp, open up your chosen photograph. Click on the crop tool in the ‘tool box’.

Now go over to your photograph and visualize creating the frame you desire by clicking on the image and dragging the selection across to form the framing you desire. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect, as you can change it in the next step should you wish.

2. Move your tool over the edges, you will see certain blocks are highlighted. If you wish to now alter the framing you previously chose, then left click your mouse, and with the mouse button still held down, drag the rectangle framing until you like the look of it. Don’t worry, it’s not set in stone yet, and actually won’t be until we close our photograph in Gimp altogether.

3. In this shot of a Buddhist monk ensuing all worldly concerns by reading a newspaper, I don’t particularly like the shrubs in the bottom left of the shot and I also want to focus more on the monk himself for composition value, so I’ll crop the shot by dragging the frame from the middle bottom bar up-wards. When you are satisfied simply press ‘Enter’ on your PC and it will be cropped to size.

4.If at any stage you are unhappy with the results simply go to edit>undo>undo crop by as many steps as you want to go backwards (I’ve never found an end to the amount of back-steps in Gimp) and you can start again if you so wish.

Go to file>’save as’, and then choose a different file name so you can keep the original, don’t overwrite it, as you never know if you may need it again at some point for future digital photography editing.

Choose the folder you wish to keep it in and save it in its highest possible file size too.

After you have chosen the folder, a box will appear (as pictured left). The top toggle bar chooses the file size which we are going to put at 100%, so as to keep the image quality, and checking the box with an arrow will enable us to see a live view of the actual quality of the image. After checking the ‘show preview in image window’ box, toggle the bar to see how a lower file size would look, although move it back to a 100% before you click save.