Tip of the Day: Why I crop in Photoshop instead of Lightroom

In my last video, The wild coast of the Scottish Borders, I walked you through my development steps and mentioned I used Adobe Photoshop to crop my image. Some of you asked me why I had not cropped it from inside Adobe Lightroom. It is no secret I am a strong advocate of Lightroom for any photographer who not only needs a tool to develop his/her photographs but also an intelligent and easy mean to manage (organise) them. Over the years the features Adobe has added to the tool has made it even more powerful and to some extent, it even shadows Photoshop when it comes to photography. However, Photoshop also keeps improving, and some tasks are being simplified. In June 2016, Adobe released Photoshop CC 2015.5 which included a significant improvement to the Crop tool. Before diving into this improvement, let’s look at our alternative options using Lightroom and Photoshop.


Crop tool: Photoshop vs. Lightroom

There have always been some occasions where cropping in Photoshop was more effective than in Lightroom. In this example, the horizon is so off than fixing it in Adobe Lightroom would lead to trimmed edges:

When done in Adobe Photoshop, we still get trimmed edges, but we have the ability to retrieve them using the Spot Healing Brush. The Spot Healing Brush is essentially using the most magical feature of Photoshop: the Content Aware. It analyses the pixels around an area of an image you wish to modify and applies a seamless fill. A sort of a smart Clone Stamp tool.  Here is the three-step process to fix the unlevelled image above.

Enlarge the canvas size in Photoshop

Since the rotation of the image means the edges will be trimmed, the idea is to make the image wider so once it is rotated, the trimmed area is not part of the initial image content.

Enlarge the Canvas in Photoshop CC 2017

Enlarge the Canvas in Photoshop CC 2017

Enlarge the Canvas in Photoshop CC 2017 by 120% on each side

Enlarge the Canvas in Photoshop CC 2017 by 120% on each side

Fill the canvas with the image content in Photoshop

Once the canvas is wider, you need to fill the extra space with some of the image content using Content-Aware. You want to make the image as if it was wider, with a greater field of view. Hence you need to select the extra added space using the Magic Wand in Photoshop.

Make the selection

Use the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop CC 2017 to select all the white band surrounding the image

Use the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop CC 2017 to select all the white band surrounding the image

The white band around the image is selected after clicking in with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop CC 2017

The white band around the image is selected after clicking in with the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop CC 2017

Fill the selection

In this step you need to fill the added white space using Content-Aware from the Fill action.

Fill the selected area in Photoshop CC 2017

Fill the selected area in Photoshop CC 2017

Use Content-Aware to fill the selection in Photoshop CC 2017

Use Content-Aware to fill the selection in Photoshop CC 2017

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Fix the level in Photoshop

You are now ready to fix the horizon by using the Crop tool in Photoshop and rotate the image. Any trimmed edge will only affect the extra space you added in step 1.

Use the Crop tool to level the image in Photoshop CC 2017

Use the Crop tool to level the image in Photoshop CC 2017

The above images compare the results obtained using Adobe Lightroom and the three-step process in Adobe Photoshop. First, we can admit the Photoshop version would need some additional fixing where the arrow points to (using the Clone tool or the Healing brush). However, I find the result obtained in Photoshop more faithful (subject size in the frame) to the original than the one fixed in Lightroom.


Not just levelling

Sometimes, you may want to change the crop ratio of your image because you find it lacks some sky or some flowers as in the below example. You can follow the same three step process as mentioned above to enlarge one edge of your image and fill it with additional image content.

Initial image lacking some space above the subject

Initial image lacking some space above the subject

Image with added background using the Crop tool in Photoshop CC

Image with added background using the Crop tool in Photoshop CC

In either scenario, using the result obtained with Photoshop is great but what if you could fix the edges automatically?


Integration of Content-Aware & the Crop tool in Photoshop

Since Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.5 we have a new Content-Aware option in the Crop tool. This option either appears as a text or as an icon in the Crop tool panel in Photoshop CC 2017.

Photoshop Crop tool with Content-Aware

Photoshop Crop tool with Content-Aware

The new Crop tool in Photoshop CC 2017 with icon instead of text

The new Crop tool in Photoshop CC 2017 with icon instead of text

When the Content-Aware option is checked (or selected), not only Photoshop will fix your levelling problem but also fix any resulting trimmed edge.

Fix the horinzon with the Crop Tool and Content-Aware option in Photoshop CC 2017

Fix the horinzon with the Crop Tool and Content-Aware option in Photoshop CC 2017

Fixed horizon with the Crop Tool and Content-Aware option in Photoshop CC 2017

Fixed horizon with the Crop Tool and Content-Aware option in Photoshop CC 2017


Conclusion

My dad used to say that each tool has its purpose. While you can use your kitchen knife as a screwdriver, it is dangerous, rather cumbersome and may damage your favourite knife. While Adobe Lightroom provides you with an easy and smart (Auto straightener) mean to level your photograph, it has not yet included the Content-Aware feature that makes Photoshop so powerful. Maybe we will see this added in the future since we already have the Spot Removal tool which uses the same technology. This Cropping improvement illustrates why Adobe had a good idea to offer both Photoshop and Lightroom in the Creative Cloud Photography bundle. The combination of the two products greatly empowers your creative ability.

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