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Lesson: Photo Cropping

Author: Jennifer Sizemore


Cutting a photograph can be intimidating, but that fear can be overcome with some understanding of why it is done and how to effectively crop a photo. Photo cropping is the method of trimming or cutting photographs. It can range from trimming or rounding corners to completely altering the entire image. Cropping is used for several reasons, most commonly to enhance images by emphasizing the focal point and eliminating any distractions in the background.


Photos are often cropped to emphasize certain key elements in the photo. Many times the entire original photo is not the main focus of the story on the page. Cropping it can alter its focus. For example, a photo of a music box on a shelf may feature too much of the shelf and other distracting objects. By cropping out all but the music box and a small portion of the shelf, the focus is put back onto the music box.

Other common reasons to crop a photo are to fill the frame or to create balance in the photo. Filling the frame of a photograph simply means that the object or person fills the entire canvas of the photograph. A photograph that fills the frame keeps the focus on the object or person that is being photographed. If the original photographed image does not fill the frame, it can be cropped to fill it. Similarly, a photo can be cropped to create balance in a photo. If there is too much background on one side or another, that area can be cut out, creating the desired balance.

While it’s not always possible, the perfect time to crop a photo is as the photo is being shot, using the camera’s viewfinder to capture the image without distractions and with appropriate balance. Scrapbookers often naturally change the way they shoot photographs once they’ve started scrapbooking. They’ve acquired a feel for what they want in an image for a layout before the photo is even taken. Taking a mixture of vertical and horizontal photos, close up photos as well as “whole picture” shots gives you a variety of photos to work with when creating a layout.

Since often the photographs are many years old, there will be a need to physically crop many photographs for scrapbook pages. Use caution when cropping photographs. If an image is one-of-a-kind, scan or reprint the photo before cropping. It’s also a good idea to keep doubles and negatives of any photos in case you “over crop.”

There are many common mistakes that can easily be avoided when cropping photographs.

  • Avoid making cuts through the faces of people and animals.
  • When trimming pictures of people, avoid cutting at the knees, waist and elbows, as it will make that person look disjointed.
  • Heritage photos are often better left intact, as the edges and backgrounds enhance the vintage feel of the photo.
  • When choosing what to crop out, leave enough background so that the whole story is not lost. Remember, even with your current photos, some day the furniture and other elements in the background will be reminders of another time and place.

Only a few basic tools are necessary for cropping photos; and the tools used are a matter of personal preference. Some of the common tools used are paper trimmer, scissors, ruler, photo safe wax pencil, and sharp cutting knife. Other tools include die cutting machines, punches, shape cutters, templates and decorative scissors. These optional tools will assist in cropping photos into shapes such as circles, ovals, alphabets, tags, and rectangles. When choosing a cropping tool, try to avoid using edges and shapes that are too busy and compete for focus. Cropping should enhance your photographs, not distract from them.

Advanced cropping techniques are varied and plentiful. These techniques include, but are not limited to, mosaic, slicing, layering, kaleidoscope, and photo titles.

Mosaic is an interesting technique because it allows you to use many photographs or portions of photographs. This technique can also create uniformity by using the same size or shape, such as squares and rectangles. Basically, mosaic is the technique of cutting a photograph into small shapes and re-assembling the fragments on to the page, leaving a small space in between the shapes. Line them up straight, or at slight angles for variety. Try cropping many photos to the same size and shape for an eye-pleasing layout. You can also create an abstract mosaic by cutting random geometric angles from the photo and re-assembling the photo onto the layout or photo mat.

Photo Slicing
Photo slicing is a technique used to cut and re-assemble a photo in an artistic rendition of the original. Slices are taken from the photo; evenly or in varying widths; horizontally, vertically or diagonally; in straight lines or curved lines. This technique is often used to make two similar photos appear as one, blending them together, creating the look of a panoramic photo. One advantage to this technique is that the photo can be cropped to the most important part, without losing the rest of the photo. This technique can also be used to create interesting borders for a photograph.

A variation of photo slicing is to crop a frame into the photo. To do this, use a graduated shape template or a nested cutting template, tracing the lines onto the photo with a wax pencil or cutting with a swivel knife. This will leave you with a narrow strip of the photo in the shape of your template that can be removed, creating a photo frame around the center portion of your photograph. Cut the strip and mount the smaller portion into the center of the frame portion, leaving an equal border of your background paper showing through.

Layering is the use of more than one photo by overlapping to crop out portions of other photos, without cutting them. Many times, photos are layered and overlapped to view a whole panoramic scene. While this technique works well on almost any photos, close-up pictures of people may be more challenging and will result in a more artistic and pieced-together look. It works especially well with scenery and landscape shots. Use this technique for photos that have some extra background in addition to your main subject. In planning photos for this type of technique, try shooting to the left of your subject, then your subject and then another shot to the right of your subject. Putting your layers together does not need to be exact, as some shifting in your photo adds to the look of the technique. This technique may also be done on the computer by stitching two images together into one file, and printing.

Layering can also be used with duplicated photos to draw attention to key elements of a photo. With this technique, an element is silhouetted or cut from the duplicate photo and placed over the same element in the original photo, using foam spaces between the two layers to give it a three dimensional look. Using a black and white photo for the background and a color version as the cutout section is another way to draw extra attention to the important part of the photo. This technique works well with photos with extra background, or with photos where an element can easily be singled out.

Photo collage is a third variation of photo layering, overlapping areas that would normally be cropped out. This technique works for photos that you do not want to cut or on a page with many photos. Photos may be overlapped in straight lines or at angles, with or without photo mats. This overlapping can create a very random, carefree feel when using angles, and it creates an organized, uncluttered feel when overlapped using straight lines.

A kaleidoscope is an artistic rendition of a single photo. This work of art is created using several copies and mirror images of the same photo. They can be printed by a professional developer, or you can print your photos on a photo printer, using a photo editing program to create the mirror image photos. Special cutting templates or angle tools are used to make cuts in precise places on each photo so that the photos fit together perfectly. When pieced together, alternating original photos with mirror image photos, they create a continuous design. Photos that work best in kaleidoscope pages are action shots to indicate movement, close-up photos to emphasize features, or landscape photos to create interesting background designs.

Photo Titles
Using photos for title letters is a wonderful way to include extra photos that aren’t necessarily worth highlighting, but still have value. By using them to create a title, you can include them on your page in an interesting way. Photos that work well for this technique are background images such as water, grass, leaves, collections, brick, bark etc. A variety of tools may be used to cut the title letters. Templates, computer fonts, punches, and die cut machines can all be used to help create photo titles.

Cropping photos on your scrapbook page can enhance your photos, and add to the artistic design of the page. Don’t be afraid to cut into your photo and experiment with different photo cropping techniques.

Copyright © 2004. Scrap Tutor™ is a division of Scrapjazz, LLC. For personal use only.


  • Always keep your doubles and/or negatives of your photographs.
  • To visualize your cropped photos, hold a sheet of paper over the photo at the crop line.
  • When using a complicated or advanced technique, practice on a duplicate photo or a sheet of cardstock.
  • Keep any areas that are trimmed off for use as accents or in titles.
  • Cropping a photo can sometimes leave it small and lost on a scrapbook page. Have the photo enlarged before photo cropping, or ask the photo lab to shift the photo or to zoom in closer before making the print. If your photo lab does not offer these type services, use a Kodak Picture Maker or a computer. Computer software is a great tool for editing photos before they are printed, allowing you to alter the shape, color and edges or to crop out unwanted areas.


  • Mosaic can be taken to a more advanced level by cutting only portions of a photo or mixing several different photos in one mosaic.
  • Photo slicing can become more advanced by using abstract angles, or shaped curves, or a mix of different cuts.
  • Use the layering technique with a black and white photo as the bottom layer and a color photo as the top layer.
  • Mix photographs from different eras, or from different places, into interesting collage works.
  • Get comical with photo cropping and mix and match pictures of different people, performing actions not usually associated with that person.