Here’s how to crop photos in Photoshop

Starting out in Adobe Photoshop can be a little overwhelming. Photoshop is a few steps above the standard photo editing software most people are familiar with. It has a lot of tools and they can take some time to get used to. But to get to those tools, you first need to know the basics. One of the fundamental tools you should learn early on is Photoshop’s crop tool.

Photoshop’s crop tool operates differently than the standard cropping tool you’d use on a phone or a standard computer photo editor. You have many more tools and settings — such as a cropping ratio, presets, overlays and crop shield. These are all handy tools, but admittedly they can be vague for someone new to Photoshop or even someone who’s used the program for a little while. Let’s go over the basics so you can get started with Photoshop’s crop tool. 

How to access the crop tool in Photoshop

After you boot up Photoshop and have your image file open, you’ll see a long, thin toolbar on the left side of the program. The crop tool is the fifth icon down. It will look like a picture frame that has its corners overlapping. You can also access the cropping tool using a keyboard shortcut command. To access the tool, press ‘C’ on your keyboard. Another way to access the cropping tool is by going to the program’s top menu, selecting ‘Image’ and then selecting ‘Crop’ in the drop-down menu. It should be around the middle of the drop-down menu.

How to resize Photoshop’s crop area

When you first select the crop tool, you’ll see the corners and the sides of the image have brackets you can hold and adjust. When you hold and drag these borders, it will shrink the crop frame. After cropping, the part of the image inside the crop frame will remain in the frame. Everything outside of the crop frame is hidden. The hidden parts of the image are still viewable if you increase the crop frame or move the image around the canvas area. If you select “Delete Cropped Pixels” in the options bar, everything outside the crop frame is deleted from the document once you crop the image.

How to crop in Photoshop

Photoshop’s basic cropping tools and settings

So, now that you know where you can access the crop tool, let’s go over all the settings available to you after selecting it.

Cropping ratio

Photoshop’s first settings option – and one of the most important ones – is the ratio of your crop. The ratio of your crop is the dimension size you want your image to be. Say you want your image to have a ratio of 5:7, but it’s currently 16:9. To get the ratio you want, you’d go to the crop ratio section in the options bar and select the 5:7 ratio option.

There are various ratio options in the pulldown menu you can choose. The standard ratios you have access to are 1:1 (makes the image a square), 4:5 (8:10), 5:7, 2:3 (4:6) and 16:9. Those are the presets provided by Photoshop.

You can also make your custom ratios if you so choose. To make your custom ratio, select the ‘Ratio’ option in the drop-down menu and then fill in the length and height metrics in the boxes to the menus right.

Now, there’s an option in the ratio drop-down menu that operates differently than the rest. The “W x H Resolution” crops the image based on the size. So, if you wanted to crop the image to be the exact size, like 4 in x 5 in, you’d use this setting. This setting is different from the other ratio settings because it crops based on a fixed pixel size and the ratio. The other ratio cropping options use a fixed crop ratio.

If there’s a custom crop ratio you’ll be using a lot, you can create a ratio present by selecting the ‘New Crop Preset…’ option in the drop-down menu.


Grids help frame your shot using various composition disciplines. By default, Photoshop displays the Rule of Thirds overlay when cropping. This overlay helps frame your photos and ensure the composition is pleasing to the eye. You can access other overlays by selecting the overlay pulldown menu in the options bar. You can also press O to cycle through the overlays. Photoshop features a few overlays: Rule of Thirds (default), Grid, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio and Golden Spiral. 

Straighten tool

The straighten tool works in the same way as the line or pen tool works. Wherever you draw a line, the image will straighten itself according to wherever you draw the line. To draw the line, select the straighten tool in the options bar or hold CTRL (Win) / COMMAND (Mac). Once you have the tool selected, click, hold and draw the mouse across the area you want to be parallel to either the vertical or horizontal border. If you draw a vertical line, it will align with the vertical border and vice versa for a horizontal line.

Crop shield

The crop shield is the area within the image’s frame that’s about to be cropped out. When you shrink the crop frame, the crop shield will cover the areas of the image you want to crop. By default, Photoshop has the crop shield the same color as the canvas color. However, in the options bar, you can change the color of the crop shield and the opacity. This is helpful if you want to see what parts you’re cutting out. It also helps you adjust your crop to ensure you don’t cut anything out you want to include.

Cropping shield Photoshop

Classic mode vs. default mode

In the earlier days of Photoshop, when you dragged the crop frame, the image would stay in place and the crop frame would move with your mouse. Now, by default when you drag your mouse, the image moves and the crop frame is locked in place. Depending on what you prefer, you can either use Classic mode or Default mode. You can change the mode in the options bar under the settings icon. You can also press P to switch between the modes. Be sure to drag before you press P to change the mode. Otherwise, you’ll pull out the Pen tool.

Important shortcuts

  • Select crop tool: Press C
  • Cancel crop: Press Esc
  • Undo the crop: CTRL+Z (Win) / CMD+Z (Mac)
  • Crop: Press Enter (Win) or Return (Mac)
  • Lock the aspect ratio: Hold Shift
  • Resize from the center: Hold ALT (Win) / Option (Mac)
  • Lock aspect ratio and resize from the center: Hold Shift+Alt (Win) /Shift+OPT (Mac)
  • Swap orientation between landscape and portrait: Press X
  • Hide cropped area or show it: Press H
  • Switch to classic mode: Press P after dragging (press P again to access the default mode)
  • Temporarily select the straighten tool: Hold CTRL (Win) / COMMAND (Mac)
  • Cycle through overlays: Press O

Practice makes perfect

Photoshop is a helpful tool for every photographer. It has everything a pro needs to make great-looking photos, and it’s user-friendly enough for beginners to pick up reasonably quick. Take some time and play around with the tool and you’ll get the hang of it in no time.

Sean Berry
Sean Berry
Sean Berry is Videomaker's managing editor.

Related Content