Cropping Pictures

Cropping pictures refers to the different techniques used to trim the excess off a photo. Many of the pictures you will use in your scrapbook will not be professionally taken and therefore, will not be as visually appealing as they could be. Cropping photos can remove distracting backgrounds, refocus a picture, or frame a subject. There are a variety of tools and techniques used to crop photos. We'll cover a few cropping basics as well as discuss the different cropping tools that are available. Cropping photos that fit into fantastic layout designs is not difficult, but takes a bit of planning before you take out the scissors.

Choose a Shape That Compliments Your Page

In general, there are 4 common shapes used for cropping pictures: circle, oval, square, and rectangle. Other shapes (hearts, stars, octagons) can be used as well, but are less common as the viewer's focus often becomes the shape of the photo, rather than the photo itself. When you plan your scrapbook layout design, try to determine which shape or shapes you will use for your photos.

Many photos will have subjects that are conducive to certain shapes over others. For example, this picture of the Eiffel Tower cropped very naturally into a long rectangular shape.

cropping pictures rectangle

cropping pictures circle

On the other hand, this picture of mom and baby cuddling on the rocking chair crops into a great circle.

Choosing shapes that will compliment the layout design does not necessarily mean using circle cropped photos on your circle patterned paper with circle stickers. Try experimenting with contrast when cropping pictures. Use square photos on that circle paper or ovals with the rectangle embellishments.

cropping pictures contrast cropping pictures contrast

Feel free to experiment with using more than one shape (both circles and squares) when cropping pictures, but not more than two. Also try playing with different shapes to get the right look. Try using a pair of scissors to free form the photo or outline a subject directly. In this example, the newspaper picture of the jumper was cut out free form for added effect. Notice how it makes the picture appear as though it belongs on this 8 x 8 layout.

cropping pictures free form

As you experiment with cropping pictures, avoid the temptation to overdo it. A page with 4 different shapes will not flow or have an appealing look - no matter how cool the shapes are or how fun they were to make! Never forget the most basic scrapbooking rule:


Keep It Simple Sweetie!

Choose Your Picture Focal Point

Before begin cropping pictures, it's important to consider what you want the focus of each to be. Many photos are taken with distracting background images or from such a great distance, that the viewer's eye wanders aimlessly around the photo. Each of your scrapbook layout designs tells a story and your viewer will be visually taken through that story based upon the photos you choose. Cropping pictures to help tell the story by focusing the viewers attention.

cropping pictures distractions

For example, in this photo, the large amount of background space takes away from the subject and focus of the picture.

cropping pictures distractions

Once the distractions of the background are removed, this photo is ready to be placed on a scrapbook layout that tells its story.

When choosing focal points, consider cropping pictures according to the Rule of Thirds. These visual arts techniques are used by professional photographers to create focus and appeal with their photos. Sometimes, a picture is more appealing when the focal point is not cropped to be directly in the center of the photo, but off-center.

cropping pictures rule of thirds cropping pictures rule of thirds

For example, this picture has been cropped to place the focal point (the young woman's face) at one of the Rule of Thirds intersects. This simple technique for cropping pictures can drastically improve the picture.

Here, the Rule of Thirds has been applied to horizontal photo elements.

cropping pictures rule of thirds

The picture was cropped so that the base of the bridge and the top handrail run along the divisions created by the Rule of Thirds. Again, this simple technique creates a more visually appealing photo (and has the benefit of getting rid of the sun spot!).

cropping pictures rule of thirds

The Importance of Balance

As you are cropping pictures be sure to take into account the scale of all the photos on the page. For example, if you are cropping a larger 5 x 7 picture, make sure the other pictures are of a larger size as well. Or, create a cluster of smaller photographs to create a larger design. All the photographs on a page should be cropped in proportion to one another and help create a feeling of balance.


Always trim less than you'll expect to take off on your first pass. Remember, you can always cut off more if you need to, but if you crop a picture too small you can't put any back on! That being said, I always recommend making copies of any pictures you plan to crop that are especially irreplaceable such as heirloom, heritage or professional photos.

Depending on the amount of the photo you are trimming off, consider hanging on to your scraps until you finish the layout design.

cropping pictures using scraps

Remember this Track and Field layout? Look closely at the sections of track that help make up the background. These are scraps that were trimmed off other photos used in the album. They work to tie in the theme on this page.

cropping pictures using scraps

In this layout design, the scraps were used both to create the year, 2004, with a hint of sunflower and as a sunflower embellishment on the page.

The Right Tools

There are nearly as many photo cropping tools on the market as there are brands of paper. We recommend talking to friends or a local scrapbook store employee and ask for recommendations. Depending on how detailed you want your photo cropping to be, you may use scissors, a cutting system, and/or a paper trimmer. Those links will help you find the best deals on photo cropping tools.

The most important thing is making sure those tools stay sharp! Think about what happens when you get stuck using the dull paper cutter at the office or at school...the edges of your paper are frayed and torn rather than cut cleanly. The same will be true if you crop photos with dull tools.

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