Today’s Question: Should I make adjustments to an image before cropping, or crop first and then make adjustments?
Tim’s Quick Answer: In many respects it doesn’t really matter whether you crop before or after applying adjustments to an image. However, it is important to keep in mind that in either case you might cause yourself to make different decisions than if you had performed the steps in a different order. In other words, being thoughtful about the impact of your workflow order can be important in some cases.
More Detail: If you apply a crop early in your workflow, you might remove areas of the image that you might have otherwise kept if you applied your adjustments first. For example, there might be an area near the edge of the photo that you feel is distracting. In this case you might choose to crop the area out. If, however, you had applied adjustments first you may have found that the area actually adds to the image. Perhaps highlight details just needed to be toned down, for example. In this type of situation it would have been better to apply adjustments first.
On the other hand, applying adjustments before cropping the image might cause you to apply those adjustments in a way that is different than you would have after the crop. A good example would be adjustments for the black and white values in a photo. If the area of a photo you cropped out happens to include the brightest and/or darkest areas of the photo, that could have a significant impact on the settings you use for the black and white point adjustments. In this case it would have been better to save the cropping for after the adjustments.
Of course, because the challenge here can be a factor regardless of which order you apply adjustments versus a crop, it can be challenging to anticipate the best approach for a given image. This is one of the many great benefits of working with a non-destructive workflow. By applying adjustments and cropping with a non-destructive approach (in either Lightroom or Photoshop, for example) you preserve the ability to go back and forth among the various adjustments and the crop, so you can fine-tune each based on the impact of the other.