Better Cropping

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Today’s Question: Which program gives you a better image when cropping, Lightroom or Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In the context of simple cropping, both Lightroom and Photoshop provide comparable (and potentially non-destructive) results. My feeling is that a decision should be made based on workflow considerations and personal preference.

More Detail: The simple act of cropping a photo does not cause any change to the image itself, other than removing (or hiding) pixels from view based on your crop. That said, it is worth noting that if you are resizing as part of the crop, there will be some minor differences in the quality of that resizing from one software application to another. Of course, both Lightroom and Photoshop do an excellent (and comparable) job of resizing photos.

In the context of your source image file, cropping (along with all other adjustments) within Lightroom is non-destructive. What that means is that the original image file is not altered in anyway, as the actual adjustments are essentially metadata updates within Lightroom. Of course, when you actually export the image to create a derivative copy, that copy will reflect the adjustments and the cropping, meaning the pixels you cropped out within Lightroom are not included in the derivative image.

Within Photoshop it is also possible to perform a crop non-destructively. When you select the Crop tool you’ll see a “Delete Cropped Pixels” checkbox on the Options bar. Make sure this checkbox is turned off before applying a crop to a photo, and the crop will not actually remove the pixels outside the crop box. Instead, the canvas size for the image will be adjusted to hide the pixels from view. At any time you could choose Image > Reveal All from the menu to enlarge the canvas to reveal all of the hidden pixels in the image.

Because of the similarities of both Lightroom and Photoshop when it comes to cropping, I would say there isn’t a strong reason to choose one over the other for this purpose.

Personally, I tend to perform most of my photo optimization work in Lightroom, and so if I am cropping for aesthetic purposes I would tend to apply that crop in Lightroom’s Develop module. Most of my printing, on the other hand, is initiated from Photoshop, in part because I prefer to have the extra control over output sharpening that Photoshop provides. If I also want to crop as part of that print process, then I would generally use Photoshop to apply that crop.

The bottom line is that you don’t need to worry about overall image quality issues when it comes to choosing to crop in Lightroom versus Photoshop. Therefore, you can let workflow considerations and personal preference guide your decision.