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Photoshop Elements – Cropping vs. Resizing

by Erin Peloquin on January 4, 2011 · 49 comments

Using Photoshop Elements is less than intuitive sometimes.  Especially when it comes to things that should be simple, like the size of photos.  Should you crop or resize?  Change the resolution?  PPI?  What?

Now, there are many ways to accomplish the same thing in Elements – here is what I do to keep those two straight.

Cropping is for when you need to recompose a picture (crop out something to get rid of it or change the focal point) or for when you need to make a picture fit a certain size paper.

Resizing is for when you need to make the picture “weigh” less. For putting it on the internet or emailing it.  Both statements are broad generalizations, of course, but they will get you started down the path of understanding.

Here are some examples. I would start by showing you the size of an unresized/uncropped image from my camera, but it would be much bigger than this blog and would take eons to upload.

Here is an image, resized to fit this blog. (I’ll tell you how I resized in a bit.)

Not much of a picture, right?  Composition is terrible.  My zoom lens wasn’t long enough to get me closer to the deer without scaring them.  And why did I think I needed the rear fender of my neighbor’s car in the picture?  Now is a good time for cropping – the kind of cropping that recomposes a picture.

You’ll have to click on the screen shot below to enlarge it and see what I did.

I pulled out my handy crop tool.  That’s the one you see in the orange circle about half-way down the left side of the screen – looks like a funny square.  I clicked and dragged out the lighter area you see around the deer – that’s the part I want to keep.  I pressed the green check mark at the bottom right to commit the crop.

Now there are a couple of things to notice about the crop tool settings, found along the top of my Photoshop Elements work space.  Do you see the orange circle at the top left?  It says “Aspect Ratio: Use Photo Ratio.” This means that the ratio of width to height of my cropped image will be the same as it was when it came off the camera.  Most of us have cameras that produce images that have 4×6 ratios.  That means they print 4×6 photos, or photos that are twice as big (8×12) or three times as big (12×18), etc.

If I don’t need a ratio of a different size (say 5×5, 8×10 or 5×7), I use my Photo Ratio setting when cropping.

So here is the cropped image – cropped for recomposition only.  The annoying car fender is gone, and it conforms more closely to the rule of thirds.

I mentioned another type of cropping – cropping to make an image fit a specific size of paper or frame.  Say I wanted a 5×5 print.  I would change the aspect ratio box to 5×5, like this:

And the resulting image would look like this:

Or like this, if I wanted all three deer:

Either way, the aspect ratio is the same.

What if I wanted a 5×7?  I’d go back to the original image, select the 5×7 ratio, and crop something like this:

Ok, does that explain cropping in Photoshop Elements?  You use it to recompose your image for artistic purposes, or to change the width and height of an image to fit a specific size paper or frame.

Now for Resizing.

I resize before I email or post images on the internet.  To resize, go to the Image Menu, select Resize, and then Image Size.  Or type control+alt+i.  My uncropped, unresized image looks like this:

What it tells me is that my image is currently 5184 pixels wide and 3456 pixels tall, and 240 pixels per inch.  Divide 5184 by 240, and you get 21.6, which is the width this image would be if I sent it to print and didn’t specify a paper size to use.  Same for the height – divide 3456 by 240 and you get 14.4 inches tall.

Here’s the thing about resolution.  It’s a tough concept to understand.  Here’s something else.  You really only need to know two numbers.  If you want to print your image, don’t reduce the size of the resolution unless you have to.  It you want to post your image on the internet or email it, change your resolution to 72 pixels per inch (ppi).   This is because the monitors that we use to look at the internet and our email, and even our TVs, can’t show resolutions finer than 72ppi.

The higher the resolution, the bigger the file size (or weight) in bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, whatever.  So, to minimize file uploading time or email sending time without reducing the quality of your image, change the resolution to 72.  That’s what I did here.  Look at what happened to width and height in both pixels and inches:

The size in inches didn’t change because we didn’t crop the size of the picture.  However, we are covering the same amount of inches (21.6 across) with fewer pixels per inch.  That means that if we were to print this 21 inch file, it would be only 1555 pixels across and it would look pixelated because the pixels would have to stretch out until they were actually big enough for our eyes to see them.

But, this is the size our computer monitors and TVs are optimized for, so it wouldn’t look pixelated at all on the computer.  It would still be too wide though.  I know that my blog is about 600 pixels wide, so I need to make sure that any images I post are less than 600 pixels.  I would go one step further:

I would change the width in pixels to 550 pixels at 72 ppi.  And now, this image is perfect for posting on the internet.

Don’t think you can stop reading though, because there’s one more thing I want to tell you. See that check box in the screen shot above that says Constrain Proportions?  Make sure it’s checked before you resize your images.  First off, if you do, you can plug in a new width and Elements will automatically calculate the height for you.  And if you don’t, and forget to change the height along with the width, you’ll get something like this:

That doesn’t look right, does it?

I have a feeling this post is going to generate some questions on aspect ratios.  Like, if my camera makes 4×6 images, and I want to print it on a bigger size paper, like 5×7, why exactly do I have to crop out part of my image?  Let’s cover that one in a few days!

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