How to crop your photos like a pro (a beginner's guide)

First published:
September 9, 2020
February 6, 2024

How to crop your photos like a pro (a beginner's guide)

First published:
September 9, 2020
February 6, 2024

Cover image from Alan

There will always be occasions when you'll need to crop your images. These tips will help you get the best out of your original shot

As a general rule, you should always try and avoid too much cropping unless you absolutely need to - leave this to the buyer as much as you can.

Buyers like to crop images to fit their intended use and the more flexibility you can provide them with, the more likely your images will be licensed

To minimise cropping as much as you can, we recommend concentrating on the composition of your image ‘in camera’, and practice getting it the right first time. This way, you'll avoid lengthy and unnecessary post-production later.

However, saying all this, even once you've mastered getting the compositions you want, there will always be occasions where cropping will be useful and necessary.

To help you get into the habit of best-practices when cropping your images, here are our 5 top tips for you.

1 Stick to the established aspect ratios

DSLR cameras, like their film ancestors, have a default aspect ratio of 3:2, and this is also the most common aspect ratio you'll find with images in any store and marketplace setting. This includes images in Picfair Stores and in the Marketplace.

If you're unsure about what the best aspect ratio is for your image, or if you want to stick to a uniform crop for a series of images, we recommend you keep them at 3:2 if that's possible. Picture buyers want to be able to do their own cropping when designing their products - so give them as much room to play with as you can. And let them craft their own story with your images.

Sticking to standard aspect ratios will also mean that parts of your image will not be lost when purchased as a printed product. Papers for photographic prints are produced at sizes that fit the most common image aspect ratios. So cropping your image with an unusual aspect ratio runs the risk of parts of your image getting cut off during the print process.

Other crops that are popular choices are 1:1 (square) and 16:9 (panoramic). However, as we've mentioned - if you keep your image at 3:2, the buyer will be also able to crop your images at either of those aspect ratios themselves. Without losing too much of the image.


One of the exceptions to 3:2 ratios are images taken with phone cameras. These often produce images at a default ratio of 4:3. However, the same rules still apply.

A range of portrait and landscape images on Picfair all cropped at the 3:2 (or 2:3) aspect ratio. See these images and more stunning examples on Picfair here
Railway lines at Wimbledon, London
Images with a 3:2 crop are ideal for a store and marketplace setting. A buyer can easily crop this image to a range of aspect ratios of their choice, without losing too much of the original image
Railway lines at Wimbledon, London with different crop aspect ratios
The same image, cropped at 1:1, 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. Image from Philip Mowbray

2 Use cropping to tell your story

Cropping can be very useful to help get your story across. And you can do this by cropping out unnecessary details from your shot that may distract from the intended message of the image.

What we mean by this, is anything which isn’t essential to telling the story of the photo should be cropped out. So for example, if you have a stray foot or a stray arm sticking to the left of the frame, or any other details that may distract it's not needed. Crop it out.

A range of images on Picfair that have been thoughtfully cropped to focus-in on the message of the image
A range of images on Picfair that have been thoughtfully cropped to focus-in on the message of the image. Notice the lack of any distracting elements in any of these shots? See more examples along with these images on Picfair here

3 Use the 'rule of thirds' as a guide

Always bear this golden rule in mind when cropping your images, it will lead to producing a more aesthetically pleasing, balanced photo.

It is a fundamental principle that you can easily follow by using the cropping tool in various editing software packages such as Lightroom.

Montage of images showing photographs cropped using the rule of thirdsh
Just a few stunning examples of images in Picfair that have been cropped using the 'Rule of Thirds'. These images and more on Picfair here

4 Take care when cropping images with figures

Where there are figures in the frame, animal or human, try to keep them complete.

Cropping figures can lead to awkward positioning and could potentially even ruin your photo. So, avoid it at all costs — no one likes to see half an arm chopped off a person!

And when it comes to cropping close portraits, try to keep these at 'eye level' and keep the face the focal point of the image. Do this with care - don't give anyone too much of a hair cut or lose half an eye in the process!

A series of portraits with an emphasis on how they have been cropped
Some beautiful examples on Picfair of figure and portrait cropping. See more of our favourites from this selection on Picfair here

5 Leave copy space in your crops

Whilst it may be tempting to crop out large areas of blank space, such as excess sky, you may want to consider keeping these in your crop.

Often picture buyers need to add some sort of text (copy) on top of images they've licensed, such as for a book cover or magazine spread. Having an area where copy can be easily and clearly added over your image - known as copyspace - is ideal for that.

Montage of images showing how they have been cropped to include copyspace
Some gorgeous examples of images cropped with copy space in mind. It isn't just skies that warrant space for text... be inventive! See more here

Next steps

So, now you've got to the end of this guide - you have everything you need to crop your images like a pro!

Remember to also do plenty of experimenting to get the desired look that you want. You'll be sure to discover new looks and angles for your shots too.

A reminder of the basics:

Remember to follow the fundamentals of the exposure triangle (below) to get the best settings for your shots:

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