Cropping Photos Using the Rule of Thirds

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sara-horton-xsmA basic principle of good photographic composition is known as the rule of thirds. By dividing your photo into vertical and horizontal thirds and positioning the focal point within the crossed lines, you can improve the visual appeal of your image.

If you haven't followed the rule of thirds while taking your photo, you can improve your pictures after the fact in your digital darkroom - Photoshop or Photoshop Elements! even has a handy tool that helps you visualize the thirds. Using this makes easy work of cropping and improving the composition of your photos.

If you are like me, you have taken hundreds (or thousands!) of photos. When we are in a hurry to get a shot, it's easy to forget all of the rules and guidelines of good composition.

We may have placed our subject in the center of the shot or placed the horizon in the center of the photo. This may make our photo look uninteresting and dull. Cropping to change the composition can make that ho-hum photo into a great shot.

This adorable photo is visually exciting because the important parts of the photo - the child and the skyline - are placed along the imaginary lines and intersections that illustrate the rule of thirds.

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Tutorial:

For Adobe Photoshop Version click here.

Step 1: Create a Grid

To begin, open a photo that could benefit from cropping. To be safe, duplicate it by selecting File > Duplicate. This makes a copy of your original so that you don't accidentally overwrite your photo.

Get the Custom Shape Tool. This tool "hides" under the Rectangle Tool. You can access the Custom Shape Tool by clicking and holding the Rectangle Tool until the hidden tools are revealed. Scroll down the flyout menu to choose the Custom Shape Tool.

In the Options Bar, select Create a New Shape Layer. Click the down-facing arrow beside the Shape image to reveal the Photoshop Elements shape picker. Click the double right-facing arrows on the shape menu and choose both Large Thumbnail and All Elements Shapes. Scroll down the Shape Picker to locate the Grid Custom Shape. Finally, choose a color that will contrast with the colors in your photo.

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Click and drag out the grid over your photo. Your grid may be horizontal or vertical. This technique works either way.

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As you drag out the grid, you may notice that the important parts of your photo do not fall on the lines and intersections. For example, the photo above can be improved by cropping so that both of the subjects are placed along the lines and intersections.

Step 2: Reposition the Grid

This step will help you determine how you'll crop the photo. Get the Move Tool and select the Shape Layer.

Drag the side handles to resize and reposition the grid so that your subjects are positioned along lines or intersections. Pay special attention to your subjects eyes and faces, since that's where you'll want the eye to fall on the photo. When you have the grid positioned, click the green checkmark to confirm the shape change.

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Step 3: Crop the Photo

With the grid in place, get the Crop Tool. In the Options Bar, select an Aspect Ratio of No Restriction and a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. Drag the crop rectangle around the grid on the photo. Confirm the crop by clicking the green confirmation checkmark.

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Delete the grid by dragging the Shape Layer up to the Trash Bin in the Layers Palette.

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Your cropped photo is a more interesting, compelling image that allows the viewer to focus on the main subject more easily.

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Step 1: Create a Grid

To begin, open a photo that could benefit from cropping. To be safe, duplicate it by selecting Image > Duplicate. This makes a copy of your original so that you don't accidentally overwrite your photo.

Get the Custom Shape Tool. This tool "hides" under the Rectangle Tool. You can access the Custom Shape Tool by clicking and holding the Rectangle Tool until the hidden tools are revealed. Scroll down the flyout menu to choose the Custom Shape Tool.

In the Options Bar, select the Shape Layers icon. Click the down-facing arrow beside the Shape image to reveal the Photoshop shape picker. Click the right-facing arrow on the shape menu and choose both Large Thumbnail and All. Scroll down the Shape Picker to locate the Grid Custom Shape. Finally, choose a color that will contrast with the colors in your photo.

2009-05-18-tip02ps

Click and drag out the grid over your photo. Your grid may be horizontal or vertical. This technique works either way.

2009-05-18-tip03el1

As you drag out the grid, you may notice that the important parts of your photo do not fall on the lines and intersections. For example, the photo above can be improved by cropping so that both of the subjects are placed along the lines and intersections.

Step 2: Reposition the Grid

This step will help you determine how you'll crop the photo. Get the Move Tool and select the Shape Layer. Make sure Show Transform Controls is checked in the Options Bar.

Drag the side handles to resize and reposition the grid so that your subjects positioned along lines or intersections. Pay special attention to your subjects eyes and faces, since that's where you'll want the eye to fall on the photo. When you have the grid positioned, click the checkmark to confirm the shape change.

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Step 3: Crop the Photo

With the grid in place, get the Crop Tool. In the Options Bar, clear the width and height boxes but choose a resolution of 300 pixels per inch. Drag the crop rectangle around the grid on the photo. Confirm the crop by clicking the confirmation checkmark.

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Delete the grid by dragging the Shape Layer down to the Trash Bin in the Layers Palette.

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Your cropped photo is a more interesting, compelling image that allows the viewer to focus on the main subject more easily.

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