Brought to you by the photographers at SmugMug

Understanding the Crop Tool

SmugMug's shopping cart has a crop tool built right in. It's available to use on each and every item that you add to your order. Here's the scoop on some common misconceptions about cropping, and tips to help you get the very best print products you can from your precious photos. 

Crop versus Resize

The size and shape of your original (uncropped) digital images is determined by the size and shape of the sensor of your camera. Generally, digital photo files are rectangles. So are the typical sizes  (4x6, 5x7, 8x10) of prints.

BUT as we all know, rectangles come with many different lengths and widths. The ratio between the length and width is called the aspect ratio. Prints have aspect ratios. Digital photos have aspect ratios. It's when the aspect ratio of the digital file is different than the aspect ratio of the print being purchased that cropping, not resizing, comes into play.

Why doesn't resizing work?

You know which photo you'd like to print, and you've got the perfect 8x10 frame for it, so why can't you just order that photo as an 8x10 print and be done with it? Just make that image fit onto that size print paper? Well, this is kind of like trying to get into those jeans you wore in high school - the image is going to get squished. 

Our example in the middle on the right shows how resizing distorts the image to make it fit into the space given. This is an example of an original image from a dSLR with a 3:2 sensor aspect ratio. When you resize the image to the 4:5 aspect ratio of an 8x10 print, you end up distorting it. 

By cropping the same image instead, you retain the proper shape of the image but you must remove some of it to make it fit. (Think diet to make those hot jeans fit.)

Cropping changes the composition of the original. Depending on how the original image was composed, and on what the subject is, this may or may not pose a problem.

Untitled photo

Don't Lose Your Head!

The most common crop trouble that our heroes see are with portraits and group photos that print with parts of the subject missing. This is very common with, but not limited to, 8x10 prints. An 8x10 has an aspect ratio of 4:5. No digital camera sensor has that same aspect ratio. Yikes! That means that whenever you order an 8x10 print you will need to pay attention to the crop tool in the shopping cart.

We strongly recommend that you pay attention to the crop menu with every print that you order.

The crop box defaults to the center of the photo that you've added to your cart. This can cause problems if the subject is not centered in the photo. BUT, there's an easy fix! The crop box can be moved, and you can control the final composition of your print. Start by clicking on the Adjust Button.

Untitled photo
Untitled photo

That opens the crop adjustment overlay, and you now have control of the final crop for your print. As you see in our example, the crop box starts out centered on the photo, and in this example the top of poor Kelso's head is cut off.

Grab the crop box with your cursor to move it up or down. Make sure that your print includes the top of your subject's head! 

Want to crop in tighter around the subject? Grab a corner and drag the crop box in. 

Want to change a portrait oriented image to a landscape oriented print? Click the "Rotate Crop" Button below your image.

• Only offer (price) prints sizes that match your photo aspect ratio.
• Offer 8x12 rather than 8x10.
• It's important that when you're taking portraits, you compose in camera with enough space around your subjects to support all of the print size aspect rations.
Proof Delay is your best friend!
This powerful tool gives you 

1. the opportunity to fine tune your customer's crop.
2. the opportunity to replace the image that the customer ordered. This can be very important when dealing with cropping. Perhaps you've already cropped nice and close to the subject so your customer can see the fine details but your crop isn't working for their print size choice. Here's your opportunity to replace with a roomier composition or the exact aspect ratio of the print ordered.

The Skinny on Panoramic Prints

Untitled photo

All photos courtesy

Panorama's, whether created through cropping a single image or merging multiple images together, present unique problems when it comes to making prints from them because they will have aspect ratios of 1:2, 1:3 or even 1:4.

Untitled photo

There are two possible ways to print panoramic photos. 

You can pick a print size that has the width of final print that you want, and then choose the NO CROP option in the shopping cart. When you receive your print you will need to trim it. 

You may find a print size with the same aspect ratio as the image, in which case you will receive a print that's ready to frame without any trimming. In the cart, look at the "Other Sizes" options to find print sizes such as the 10x20 in our example.