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Cropping Pictures in iPhoto

In traditional commercial printing and photography, a light table — a translucent piece of plastic or glass fitted on top of a box with internal light — is used for trimming photographic film negatives or positives and preparing them for printing in magazines, newspapers, books, and so on. Because light illuminates the film from below, the image can be seen and trimmed.

The professionals who know how to trim photos on a light table wield precision knives with wild abandon, and most importantly, they know how to cut in straight lines. They use words such as cropping to describe cutting away the outer edges of a photo, bringing the center of the photo to the forefront, and retouching to describe brushing away artifacts in the image.

The fact that iPhoto uses the same terms as professional photographers and provides all the functionality of a light table in the digital world is no accident. You can crop a photo to remove extraneous parts of the picture to better frame the subject, showing only what you want the photo to show; rotate a vertical photo horizontally; and combine cropping and rotating to show only part of an image at the proper angle. And you don't even need to be able to draw or cut a straight line.

Cropping enables you to keep only a rectangular portion of the photo and remove the outer edges. You can use cropping to do the following:

  • Get rid of something you don't want. You can eliminate the outer portions of a photo to remove wasted space, crop out an ex-boyfriend that shouldn't be in the picture, or remove the fuzzy outline of a car window in a photo shot from a car.
  • Focus on the subject. By cropping a photo, you can adjust where your subject appears in the frame of the picture, drawing more attention to your subject and improving the overall composition. Professional photographers, for example, may crop tightly around a person's face, removing most of the background.
  • Fit the photo to a specific proportion. You may want to adjust the proportions of your photo to fit sizes for book layout or prints, which iPhoto makes easy with a Constrain feature that draws exactly the right proportions for you. Cropping is often better than stretching or resizing a photo, because the pixels within the cropped area do not change. By constraining the cropping selection, you get better results with prints and books because the picture is framed properly for the size of the print or book layout.

Make a copy before cropping the photo.

To crop a photo to get rid of the outer edges and improve the composition (without using the Constrain feature), follow these steps:

1. Click the thumbnail image of the photo in the Viewer pane.

2. Click the Edit mode button for Edit mode.

After switching to Edit mode, the selected photo fills the entire Viewer pane.

3. Click a starting point and drag diagonally across the photo in the Viewer pane to create a cropping rectangle.

Click at one corner of the photo in the area you want to crop and drag across the image. The cursor's pointer turns into a crosshair. As you drag, the portions of the photo outside the selected area dim to show that the area will be cut from the photo.

4. Adjust the edges of the cropping rectangle.

If your cropping rectangle isn't perfect the first time, move your mouse pointer close to the edge or corner of the cropping rectangle and drag to reshape the rectangle.

Besides adjusting a side of the crop selection area, you can click inside the crop selection so that the cursor changes to the browse "pointing finger" cursor and then move the entire selection rectangle.

Cropping changes the actual photo. Be sure you define the edges perfectly before clicking the Crop button in the next step.

5. Click the Crop button in the Tools pane at the bottom left of the iPhoto window.

The Crop button reduces the photo dimensions to the selected area.

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