Crop first or Post Process first? (with samples)

I’ve taken photos for a very long time and back in the film day tried to crop in the camera. Mainly to minimize the grain issues. Now I believe incorrectly that I have carried that habit into my digital world.

Enter today’s world…Whether I crop in the camera or crop before PP the result is the same where that first choice is what I go with. I like PP of the cropped image as it limits the memory, helps the speed etc (another old habit that a few bucks eliminates).

So first thing this morning I am reading a critique about a blue Jay post I made and wondered if it would have looked better if not cropped so tight. I deliberated on doing a re-post with a new crop but then it dawned on me that all of the PP I did would have to be redone! Thus creating additional work and probably processing slightly differently and unintentionally creating a different look to the image beyond just the crop difference.

My thought now is that I should not crop at all before PP. After all, memory and hard drive space is relatively inexpensive compared to all of the images that I may have cropped to tight and for whatever reason now decide or someone else decides they want a different look!

the cropped version vs the full image is below for reference. both re-sampled to 1500 pixel max side.

So the discussion will hopefully be that for others to enlighten myself and other members on their preference and the logic behind it, please.

Do you PP a non cropped image?
Do you PP a partially cropped image?
Or do you PP the final cropped image?

I do both, crop at the beginning if it is clear that the image needs it. I also process the image with the idea of maybe cropping later on. I find it is quite image dependent.

I would agree with Harley in general that it’s usually image dependent. Sometimes it’s quite obvious what crop needs to be made before working on an image - knowing you’ll never go back to the raw to have to reprocess.

In the case of this image, it might be a " 'tweener…" I would think the large dark areas of the original would influence the masking or whatever global adjustments too much, AND there isn’t much “value” in those areas and clearly the jay is the main subject (great processing btw, given your original.)

Given your point and example here about wanting just a wee bit more room all the way around, it would have made sense to not crop so heavily originally, do your processing on the “master” and then crop to your hearts content.

I tend to minimally crop, do cloning and cleanup as my first step, then drill down in the the more targeted adjustments and processing once I’m happy with the overall comp and cleanup. However, I’d be lying if I said I’ve never had to go back and reprocess the original because I cropped, and then processed.

I generally put a set of pre-set adjustments on the original file (no cropping) when I put it through ACR, camera raw. (I don’t use LR btw). Then in PS do the basics of cropping, cloning, dusting, etc. Then lastly fine tuning with masks or whatever.


I always crop and resize at the end of post processing. Then I can decide how the image is going to be shared and what format and size.

As Harley mentioned, it is image dependent.

  • Sometimes I will crop in camera to eliminate severe distractions.
  • I often crop in ACR before doing any processing
  • If I m doing focus-stacked images, I crop after the images are merged.
  • Other times, I have a full-frame, fully processed master file and then do different crops on a duplicate, leaving the master file untouched.

Once I have decided on the final cropped and fully processed master file, I retain the ‘master file’ and then create web or print files as needed.

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Thanks to all. It is all good info for sure.
After viewing and reviewing I think I will try Preston’s last option as it seems to fit my process the best. Thanks to all that responded!

Cropping should be done last.

I see all my images as never being final. What I like on Monday is different than what I like on Wednesday. So I do all my processing now with photoshop layers. If you’re printing your images you need to make additional changes for the different papers so I have print layer adjustments.

Cropping is destructive in the sense that unlike a layer it affects all layers and there is no recovery. Cropping I believe is the most powerful tool in composing an image and composition is an images greatest asset. I therefore crop repeatedly and meticulously.

The only problem I have faced is that some compositions (crops) require different processing than others. So things have to be done over entirely. There is also the issue of cloning or removing objects which is also destructive. Some cloning is very time consuming so why do it to have it later cropped out? Do cloning comes at the very end.

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Good info, thanks. I’ll try a few of these tips.

I look at this from 2 perspectives…

  1. We should always compose an image in camera to include only the elements of a scene that contribute to our ‘vision’ for the scene. So, it might be said we should always ‘crop’ an image in camera prior to tripping the shutter.
    a) The caveat to the above is that there may be times when the above is not possible. For example, if I’m shooting a bird in a tree and really need a 500mm lens to capture my ‘vision’, but only have a 300mm lens available to shoot with, then obviously there will need to be cropping done during post processing.
  2. Any cropping that may be necessary in PP should be the very first thing done. And that because we should already know what elements of the capture contribute to the ‘story’ of an image. And if we crop out the elements that don’t add to the story, they won’t influence any decisions we make about adjustments made to the image.
    a) This assumes we’ve captured the image in RAW. And as long as that RAW file is retained as originally captured, nothing is lost in PP. Though not ideal, we can always go back and re process the image.

If you can then it is probably best to do any cropping in camera. This gets all the pixels on what you want. However most of the time for me this is not possible.
I do almost all of my PP’n in Lightroom which is non destructive. My workflow generally is to crop and level first. This way I get the most accurate Histogram and am only working on the image I want. The nice thing about LR is that if I change my mind I can reopen the crop tool and presto there is the original image again with my crop outlined. And the whole image ill be effected by what other PP’n steps I have taken.

Hey @Igor_Doncov, I can’t say I’ve had this experience using Lr and Ps cc. While I agree that it affects all layers in Ps, it can be used without deleting pixels in Ps.

Still, I agree with your fundamental point that leaving the master file untouched allows one to keep an open mind about various crop options depending on use.

I don’t understand this statement. Perhaps I’m misinformed. I use layers in all my editing because it allows me to do adjustments after the fact, one layer per adjustment type. It also preserves a record of all changes, a record that can be duplicated if I have to start from scratch.

The only cropping I can do is to make each successive crop smaller than the previous. I can’t change my mind and go back to previous version unless i save each crop with all its layers as separate files. That’s been my experience anyhow. I would be interested in knowing how to get around this. Working in ACR creates a record in an XML file that is later read to recreate all the adjustments but I like to be in control of that process as much as possible. Sometimes I make two separate HSL adjustments for two different purposes which I play with. I don’t want ACR or LR compounding them into a single one that is the total of both because I lose that flexibility.

Cropping in the camera should be done without saying. Intelligent camera cropping is the key. Include too much and you end up without enough pixels during post process cropping. Not including enough is a non recoverable disaster as can be seen from recommendations such as “the tree is to close to the frame. Can you add space to the left”. This is why getting a camera with the highest pixel sensor you can afford is the way to go in my opinion.

Having worked a number of years with digital cameras I don’t think you can make a composition in the field as good as in the ‘lab’. You do your best but with conditions in a flux you don’t have the time to consider all the components as well as later on. I crop over 90% of my raw files. In fact, I’ve reached a point where once I’ve gotten my vision and idea I take a conservative image which includes more than I intend to use. I do this purposely now so I don’t have to sweat the edges of the frame later on.

Hi Igor…I hope I didn’t confuse you. What I was referring to is in the crop tool in Ps, as you open the crop too, you can uncheck the box on the toolbar at the top “delete cropped pixels”. This allows you to crop an image, save it as a “version”, and then reset the crop as you wish, save as another version, etc. See image below.

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One issue with PS cropping is that it messes up with layer masks. So making the crop larger after adding a few adjustment layers is usually a messy process.

I’m confused, in LR and I assume ACR cropping is non-destructive isn’t it? It only becomes permanent if you export the edited version.