Improving the composition of a photo
When you’re hurried, distracted by movement, or shooting in awkward conditions, the result is often a photo that could have been great—if only it had been framed better. The Crop tool and the Straighten tool in the Expert Edit mode toolbar will help you turn the shot you got into the photo you should have captured.
Sometimes you’re just too busy fitting everything you want into frame to notice a crooked horizon. The Straighten tool makes it easy to quickly correct a tilted image. The Crop tool can be customized, by choosing from a range of preset aspect ratios and cropping overlays, to help you bring out the visual potential of your image.
Using the Straighten tool
You can use the Straighten tool to designate a feature in your crooked photo that should be either horizontal or vertical; then, Photoshop Elements will rotate the image to straighten it in relation to your reference line.
Select the image 07_01.jpg in the Media Browser, and then click the Editor button ()—not the arrow beside it—in the taskbar. Alternatively, you could select the file and choose Edit > Edit With Photoshop Elements Editor. If the Editor doesn’t open to Expert mode, click Expert in the mode picker.
Choose Window > Reset Panels; then use the Window menu again to hide the Panel Bin. If either the Photo Bin or the tool options pane is currently open, click the corresponding button at the left of the taskbar to hide it; then, choose View > Fit On Screen, or double-click the Hand tool to see the entire image at the highest magnification possible. Hold down the Ctrl / Command key and press the minus sign (–) key once to zoom out just enough to see a little of the blank artboard (colored gray by default) surrounding the photo in the Edit pane.
Select the Straighten tool () in the toolbar; then, click the Tool Options button () in the taskbar, if necessary, to open the tool options pane. Make sure the Straighten tool is set to Grow Or Shrink Canvas To Fit mode and the Autofill Edges option is disabled; then, hide the tool options pane.
This photo features a sea horizon—the most reliable of reference levels. In the absence of a natural horizon, you can often use a horizontal architectural feature.
Drag a long line along the horizon in the left half of the photo (at the right the horizon is hidden by the land in the middle distance). When you release the mouse button, Photoshop Elements straightens the image relative to the line you drew. Note the newly enlarged canvas surrounding the rotated image.
You could crop the straightened image manually to trim away the angled edges, but for the purposes of this exercise, you’ll look at a couple of alternative options.
Press Ctrl+Z / Command+Z to undo the Straighten tool. Show the tool options pane and click the second of the three icons at the left to activate the Remove Background mode; then, use the Straighten tool to trace the horizon again. Photoshop Elements crops the largest area possible within the angled edges. Hide the tool options pane to examine the results.
Undo the operation; then, reset the Straighten tool to the Grow Or Shrink mode and activate the Autofill Edges option. Trace the horizon, and then inspect the results; rather than trimming the angled edges, Photoshop Elements has used content-aware image analysis to fill the white extended canvas that you saw in step 4 with detail that matches the image.
As you can see in the illustration at the right, this method has preserved all the detail of the original photo.
Choose Layer > Flatten Image; then, choose File > Save As. Name the new file 07_01_Straight, to be saved to your My CIB Work folder in JPEG format and included in the Organizer but not in a version set. Click Save; then, click OK to accept the settings in the JPEG Options dialog box. Keep the file open.
Staying in the Editor, choose File > Open; then, navigate to your Lesson 7 folder, select the file 07_02.jpg, and click Open.
In many photos it’s difficult to identify a reliable horizontal reference; in these cases, you can look for a vertical feature such as a signpost or any structural element that isn’t too obviously affected by perspective or lens distortion. For this image, where the horizon is not visible and almost every man-made horizontal is pictured in perspective, the tower provides the strongest reference.
With the Straighten tool () selected, open the tool options pane. Click the second of the three icons at the left to activate the Remove Background mode.
In Remove Background mode, the Autofill Edges option is disabled; for our lesson photo, Autofill Edges is likely to produce unwanted artifacts, especially in the cluttered detail of the lower-right corner. The composition is unlikely to be diminished by trimming away the tilted edges after rotation, as the tower is the primary focus.
Starting at the tip of the tower, drag a line down through the center of the structure. As the tower is stepped in toward the top and pictured in slight perspective, the bottom of your reference line should pass through the entrance arch a little to the right of center. When you’re done, release the mouse button.
Choose File > Save As. Name the file 07_02_Straight.jpg, to be saved to your My CIB Work folder in JPEG format and included in the Organizer but not in a version set. Click Save; then, click OK to accept the settings in the JPEG Options dialog box. Choose File > Close.
Reframing a photo with the Crop tool
Composing your photo well can make the difference between an ordinary snapshot and a striking, memorable image; framing too much irrelevant detail can detract from your intended focus, and an awkward arrangement of forms within the frame can make your picture appear unbalanced.
In practice, sometimes there isn’t enough time while you’re shooting to frame a photo carefully; fortunately, you can use the Crop tool to improve the composition once you get home.
With the image 07_01_Straight.jpg open in the Editor, select the Crop tool ().
Inspect the settings in the tool options pane.
By default, the aspect ratio is set to No Restriction, which means that you’re free to change the proportions of the crop, and Grid Overlay is set to Rule Of Thirds, a layout guide based on the principle that a composition looks balanced when its elements are aligned with the lines and intersections of a grid that divides the image into three equal parts on both axes.
Photoshop Elements offers cropping suggestions to help you make a start. You may see a different set of suggested crops from those in the illustration above.
Hover the pointer over each crop suggestion in turn to see the effect.
Change the crop aspect ratio from No Restriction to Use Photo Ratio. Drag the corner handles of the cropping rectangle to set up a crop with the upper horizontal guide aligned with the horizon, the lower guide aligned with the girl’s knees, and the vertical guide at her shoulder to the right. Click the Commit button () to execute the crop.
Choose File > Save As. Make sure that the new file will be included in the Organizer but not in a version set. Name the file 07_01_Cropped.jpg, to be saved to your My CIB Work folder in JPEG format. Click Save; then, set the highest quality in the JPEG Options dialog box and click OK. Keep the saved file open for the next exercise.