For the longest time, I used the Rectangular Marquee Tool in Adobe Photoshop for all my cropping. I used it, it was great, things got done. It wasn’t until I learned about the power of the Crop Tool that I switched over to that. There are distinct benefits to using the Crop Tool and I talk about many of them in this post:
Through the years, instead of abandoning the Rectangular Marquee Tool entirely for this use, I decided to use it in conjunction with the Crop Tool. And in today’s post, I’ll show you why. As great as the Crop Tool is, it does have its disadvantages. There are some workarounds to those disadvantages, however, and I’ll talk about them below. By the end of this post, I hope you’ll get a grasp on how you can creatively use both of these tools to make your life easier while editing.
For this post, I’ll be using a demo photo of a starry night. In this photo is a silhouette of a person and a vehicle. The reason I chose this image is because of the identifiable object in it. Since I’ll be cropping, I needed something to crop.
The Problems With the Marquee & the Crop Tools
In my intro, I indicated that there were a few issues with both the Rectangular Marquee Tool and the Crop Tool. In this section, I’ll let you know what those problems are.
Back when I used to crop with the Rectangular Marquee Tool, I quickly found that my method wasn’t all that great. For example, let’s say I wanted to crop inside of the demo photo.
In this case, to separate out what’s inside the marquee, I could either copy and paste the selection into a new file or I could simply use the Image > Crop menu item.
Either way, I’d be left with two undesirable scenarios.
First, after copying and pasting into a new file, I’d lose all the surrounding pixels from the old file. Basically, I’d lose the remainder of the image, so if I ever wanted to edit or change my crop later on, I couldn’t. When these pixels are gone, they’re gone. And actually, the same is true when using the Crop menu item. Those pixels get deleted as well.
Second, when cropping while using either of these two methods, it’s cumbersome. I can’t even tell you how many times I cropped and then said, “Hmmm, nope, I gotta go back and change that.” While cropping with the Rectangular Marquee Tool, going back to change things takes more steps than necessary. While it’s doable, which I can attest to, it becomes a pain in the side.
Now, you probably already know the Crop Tool in Photoshop is awesome. It’s potentially non-destructive (if using the proper setting) and is really easy to use. It’s also got some neat features that I’ve already covered in previous posts. There is one area that you need to be very careful of though and that’s making sure that you don’t delete any pixels while cropping. So, if I set up a crop area in my image like this:
I need to be extremely sensitive to this one setting up here:
If the Delete Cropped Pixels setting is checked, my cropped image will have the same characteristics as the one where I used the marquee tool. Any surrounding pixels will be deleted and that’s what I call destructive editing. That’s no good. Left unchecked, all of the pixels in the entire image will be saved leaving me the opportunity to go back and change my crop later on.
Applying a Filter
You may be asking yourself, “If using the Crop Tool is so much more flexible and less destructive than the marquee tool, why not just use that all the time?” Well, here’s your answer. Let’s say I wanted to apply some soft of filter to the cropped part of the image. While not all filters do this, some do. They open up a dialog box that shows the entire image, even after it’s been cropped. Basically, because this method of cropping is non-destructive, everything shows while using these types of filters.
For this example, I’ll use the Lens Correction filter. I’ll just open the filter to show you what I’m talking about. Remember, I’ve already cropped the image to that small square.
Here’s the filter dialog box:
Yeah, that’s a problem. It may not seem like it in this case, but just imagine you were using a filter while targeting, very specifically, the cropped part of the image. If the entire thing opened up in the filter dialog box, how would you know where you cropped? You might think you know, but can you be absolutely sure? You wouldn’t be able to see the edges anymore. Everything is blended together.
This type of issue occurs when you use the following filters; Filter Gallery, Adaptive Wide Angle, Camera Raw Filter, Lens Correction and Liquify. All I’m saying is that photo editing is a very technical process. If you make a crop and then want to further edit the image, you certainly don’t need the entire photo returning. That’s as confusing as all get out.
The Solution to the Problem
So far, we’ve uncovered a few issues. In the first case, pixels were deleted, which is no good. In the second case, pixels remained, which was no good either. Let’s see if we can unearth a trick that will help us deal with both of these issues. I’d like to preserve all of the image but have the ability to use some of the Photoshop filters on just the cropped area.
This solution is so simple it’s going to make your head spin. To start off, I’ll crop the image using the Crop Tool.
Next, I’m going to use the following keyboard shortcuts (Command on Mac): Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. All this does is select the entire cropped area using the Rectangular Marquee Tool, copy the area and then paste it into a new layer.
If you look at the above screenshot, you’ll see two layers. The top one is the copied and pasted layer, which consists of only those visible pixels. All other pixels have been deleted. The bottom layer is the entire image, but was cropped with the Crop Tool. So, that bottom layer has the entire image preserved inside of it, even though it’s not visible.
Now, if I head up to the Filter menu and click on Lens Correction, let’s see what happens.
Ahh, that’s better. Since I selected the top layer and chose the filter, only the cropped pixels are appearing. I can now go ahead and edit the filter the way I see fit, knowing that I have the entire image to fall back on if I need to do so. And the best part is, everything is contained in the same .PSD file, so I can open it and work on it any time I want. Now that’s workflow if I ever saw it.
This post may sound a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with these two cropping methods. I suggest you play with them a bit to get used to them and if you have and questions or concerns, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!