We usually follow certain steps to maximize our composition when using the Crop tool. We select the area to keep with the Crop tool, and then refine the selected area before finalizing the crop. During this crop process, a composition tool called the “rule of thirds” can transform a snapshot into a more creative image.
The rule of thirds is a simple technique where you mentally divide the crop area with two evenly spaced vertical lines and two evenly spaced horizontal lines. This ends up as a grid of nine sections. Think of the rule of thirds as like a tic-tac-toe board that has 9 small squares. For best composition the main focal point of the image should be at one of the line intersections. Usually – but not always, a more plain composition is created when the focal point is in the center of the image.
You don’t always need to follow the rule of thirds but you it’s helpful to consider it when cropping your images (and during your photography). The rule of thirds grid is even offered as an option on some digital camera viewfinders to aid in composition and in keeping the camera level with a horizon. Usually, it can be easily turned on or off.
With all of the above said, it’s to your advantage to know that by breaking the rules makes for creative photography too!
In Photoshop’s early days, a grid had to be constructed to help guide the crop. Here’s a great technique originally reported by Scott Kelby using the rule of thirds to guide photographers in making a crop in Photoshop.
Start with an open image. Make a new empty layer in the layers palette. Next, in the Toolbox choose the Custom Shape tool. Then in the Options Bar, in the row of three icons click on the third icon from the left so your shape will be made in pixels and not a shape layer or path. Now to the right locate the area named Shape and click on the downward arrow to open the Shape Picker. Click on the Grid shape.
Now make your foreground background colors black and white by pressing the D key. If you want the image to be an exact size choose Window>Info. Now when you draw with the shape grid you can follow along in the Info palette to view the size you’re drawing. In the first photo, I’ve drawn an area the size of 8X10. Next, use the Move tool if you need to adjust the placement of your grid. Your aim is to make the point of interest appear at one of the four places where the lines intersect in the grid.
Now use the Rectangular Marquee tool and click, hold then drag a selection that’s the exact same size as the grid. Follow this by choosing Image > Crop.
Now in the Layers palette drag the layer that contains your grid into the Trash to delete it. Finally, deselect the selection and you can now see the image you’ve cropped thanks to the aid of the rule of thirds grid.
© Tony Hertz