Arizona Landscape Photography - Using Cropping Modes for Better Landscapes
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Using Cropping Modes for Better Landscapes

In this post I’ll be using some samples of my Arizona landscape photography to illustrate an easy and extremely useful way to achieve more compelling photos. Within any well done photograph are a few key elements… subject, lighting, and composition. This tip will help with the composition of your photographs, and while I’m demonstrating on landscape photography it can be used for any type of image.

So first go ahead and open up an image in Photoshop. Any photo will do. Once opened click on your crop tool located on the main tool bar. In the image below I’ve circled where the tool is and it’s accompanying options.

Photoshop: location of crop tool and it's options

Photoshop: location of crop tool and it’s options

So now that you’ve opened your image and clicked on the crop tool you’ll see a set of options appear on the top tool bar. One of them is “View”. Clicking on it’s dropdown box you’ll see a selection of different crop overlays such as Rule of Thirds, Grid, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio, and Golden Spiral. Just below that you will see your show overlay options… click “always show overlay”. With this option selected go ahead and choose any of the crop overlays in that drop down box.

Clicking onto your image you will see the chosen overlay pop up over your image. You can then grab and drag the boundaries of the image to change the crop and by doing so your crop overlay will adjust automatically. At this point it’s time to play. Simply move your crop marks around until you start lining up elements within your photograph to the overlay design. Note: it’s best to have your crop ratio (the leftmost box on the top tool bar) set to “unconstrained”.

So here are some examples of my Arizona landscape photography with a few different crop overlays.

Crop overlay set to "Triangle"

Crop overlay set to “Triangle”

In the above image using the “Triangle” overlay notice how I cropped until my main crop overlay line aligned with the moon and the two cactuses on the lower right. Visually this will help the viewer’s eye travel between those objects keeping them engaged in the photograph compositionally.

Crop overlay set to "diagonal"

Crop overlay set to “diagonal”

In this next photograph I’ve chosen to use the “diagonal” crop overlay. This overlay is ideal for this image as it allowed me to seat the subject’s weight in the dead center of the composition. The large trees on the left and the end of the range on the right are now lined up exactly in the center. A composition of this type pulls the view deeper into the finished photograph and keeps them there exploring the image.

Crop overlay set to "Golden Spiral"

Crop overlay set to “Golden Spiral”

In my final example “Golden Spiral” was my chosen crop overlay. Note how I’ve composed the image so that the beginning of the spiral is centered around the top of the Saguaro arm. Golden Spiral is a good overall crop overlay to apply to your photographs. I utilize it in a lot of my work. Instead of having a definitive purpose like the other two examples I’ve shown; Golden Spiral is more general purpose and really just lends a subconsciously pleasing balance to any given image.

Hopefully this little bit of knowledge is new to some of you or at least helped to better understand why these overlays exist. As a bonus tip… once you’ve selected your overlay and it shows on top of your image you can use the shortcuts “O” to cycle through the different overlays and “Shift-O” to rotate it. As a final tidbit… some DSLR cameras have the ability to display several of these crop overlays over top of your LCD screen while using the Live View function. Take a look through your menu settings to see if your camera has the option.


TravisShoots® is a Phoenix Commercial Photographer specializing in on location advertising photography production. Primarily shooting lifestyle, environmental portraits, and landscapes his work has helped brands tell their story for 10 years.
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