How to crop a photo


Clients of Mat Smith Photography – if you prefer us to crop your images then we can always do this, but don’t forget when we crop the photo to required specs, this always reduces the flexibility you have for future use of the photo. That’s why we usually only crop for personal clients and not for business or commercial. Read on for the how-to.

Anyone can crop a photo, you don’t need to be an expert. But it’s one of those things that may benefit from an expert doing it, for the following two reasons:

  1. There are basic visual rules when cropping photos of people: avoid cutting off limbs, don’t crop too close to a head, maintain aspect ratio, etc. There’s no doubt you’ll follow these rules. But a really good crop can lend an image a sense of power. Professional photographers are – hopefully – able to do this as second nature. And it’s a subtle thing. If you have a good eye, then go right ahead.
  2. When you load an image, edit it, then re-save, you are potentially degrading the quality of that image. I’m guessing most readers of this post don’t know how to completely mitigate against this, but again if you do, then go ahead.

Of course, as with all things in life, the more experienced you become, the more you can bend or break the rules.

Q: How do I crop a photo?

Firstly, do you mean crop, which means to remove unwanted outer areas of the image? Or do you mean resize, which means to reduce the file size of a photo?

  • Cropping is useful for “zooming in” on something or removing part of the photo you don’t want to see.
  • Resizing is useful for uploading to certain websites that place a restriction on the file size of the photo. Note: clients of Mat Smith Photography are provided with different resolution versions, so this should not be necessary.

Quickest way to crop (Windows)

Here we’ll use Paint; this is the quickest option as it doesn’t need you to install new software.

Don’t forget: re-saving a JPG file will degrade its quality. You should always attempt to re-crop from an uncompressed file, such as TIFF.

  • Check you know where the file you want to crop is stored on your computer. Please make sure you have unzipped the image file, if applicable.
  • Open Microsoft Paint (click the Start button and type paint, then click on the icon you see)
  • Open your image (click File, top left of window, then Open, now find the file and open it)
  • Drag the Zoom bar (bottom right of window) to zoom out until you can see the whole photo on your screen
  • Find the Home tab (top of the window, next to File) then press the button above the word Select. (Note, if you see something other than a rectangle on this button, use the pull-down menu by clicking on the word Select to change it back)

  • Now drag a rectangle around the area you wish to crop
  • (Ideally you’d get the exact same ratio of rectangle as you had before. If you’re good with numbers, keep an eye on the dimensions in the bottom bar whilst you drag the mouse to create the crop rectangle, and ensure you achieve the same ratio. Generally I need a calculator to do that, unless it’s a square crop. For everyone else, you’ll need to use something more advanced to achieve this properly. But if you don’t care about the final aspect ratio, don’t worry about this.)
  • Now press the Crop button on the same menu, then File > Save As > now give the new file a different name to the original.

There’s your newly cropped file. Now if you want to completely avoid loss of quality, you can save as a BMP file. However most websites won’t allow you to upload this kind of file. It’s still useful though, e.g. if you want to do further edits later, without even more loss of quality.

More advanced way to crop (Windows)

If you don’t own professional image editing software, but wish to maintain the aspect ratio of your crop without needing a degree in maths (okay, maybe a good GCSE…), then you’ll need to download and install some software.

I highly recommend the free software IrfanView, which I’ve used for many years for really quick / basic edits. This is “no frills” but excellent quality. Download it directly from here. Install the software, load up your image file, then you can immediately crop as follows.

  • In IrfanView, no need to select a tool. Just drag the mouse to draw a rectangle. Whilst dragging the mouse, hold down the Alt key on your keyboard. This will constrain the aspect ratio to match the original. You can try a few times until you are happy.
  • Once ready to crop, press Ctrl-Y, and the image will immediately crop.
  • Now you can save the image from the File menu. If it’s a portrait photo, I recommend the following:
    • Check file type is JPG
    • Ensure you don’t overwrite the original – give it a new name
    • Before you hit save, you should see a window with a Save Quality slider bar. Slide this bar to about 90.
    • Hit save

As this is the “Advanced” version of my instructions, a quick word about save quality. The higher the number, the larger the file, but the lower the loss in image quality. I’d always recommend 100% unless you are saving thousands of files and are getting low in disk space, OR unless you need to ensure the file size isn’t too big (e.g. you are uploading to a website).

The ultimate way to crop

Speak to your photographer or purchase Lightroom / Photoshop!

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