This is one of those things you just kind of stumble upon, and think to yourself, “Hey, that looks kinda cool,” but you’re not sure why (well, now I know why, but I didn’t when I first found it).

The idea for this came to me while I’m working in Lightroom one day. I normally work in a view called “Fit” which fits your entire image inside the center preview area, with a bit of gray canvas area around it (as seen above).

But for some reason, on this particular day I had my View set to Fill (so your image fills the entire center preview window, as seen above). Probably did it by accident.

Normally, when I want to focus on just the photo, without all the distractions of Lightroom’s panels, I press Shift-Tab, which hides the top, bottom and side panels from view, so all you see is the photo, but on this particular day, instead I hid just the side panels (as seen above), and I’m looking at the screen and I’m thinking “Man, that wide cropping really looks kind of cool.” I didn’t quite know at the time why, but I went over to Matt Kloskowski’s office and he loved it. Next stop, RC Concepcion’s office and when I showed him this on one of his photos in Lightroom—he loved it.

But it was when RC said, “I kind of makes it look like a widescreen movie,” that it hit me why I liked it so much—it’s got that cinematic movie feel to it. So, he and I spent a while trying to figure out exactly what this wide cropping ratio was, and how we could apply that widescreen crop to our images in Photoshop the easy way. We made some screen captures of the image in Lightroom with that on-screen cropped look, and then starting counting pixels. We even brought Corey Barker over to look at it, since he’s a total movie freak, because we though if anyone would know how this relates to a movie style cropping, he would know.

As it turns out, Photoshop has a built-in New Document Preset that was literally within a pixel or two of being the exact same cropping ratio as what we had captured in Lightroom. To find this, press Command-N (PC: Ctrl-N) to bring up the New Document window, then choose Film & Video from the Preset pop-up near the top. Now from the Size Presets choose NTSC D1 Widescreen Square Pixel (as shown above), and it creates a new document with guides already in place for a widescreen image like the one we captured in Lightroom.

However, when you size the image to fill within the inside guides, there’s white space left over on the top and bottom. But, at least now I could drag my image onto this document, size it to fill left to right, then I could crop the document down so just the image is visible, and then I would know in inches (or pixels) how large to make my Custom Crop. That way, I could just create “Cinematic Style Cropping” from here on out, without having to create this new document, and all extra these steps.  The cropped size turned out to be a 12.111″ x 5.389″ size at a resolution of 240 ppi (or in pixels, 2907 x 1293).

So, now you can create a custom crop in Photoshop you can apply to any standard digital camera image to give it an instant “Cinematic Style Widescreen Crop” by simply clicking on the Crop Tool, going up to the Options Bar (shown above) and then typing in 12.111 inches as your width and 5.389 inches as your Height, and then set your resolution at 240.

Now, when you drag out the crop tool so it fits side-to-side in your image (as seen above), the area that appears inside that cropping border will get the Cinematic Crop.

Here’s what it looks like (above) with the crop applied to that image.

If you want to take it up another notch, and really give it the Cinematic feel, add the letterbox look you get with anamorphic widescreen movies. You do this by going under Photoshop’s Image menu and choosing Canvas Size. When the dialog appears (seen above), turn on the Relative checkbox, then for Height enter 1 inch. Lastly, for Canvas extension color (at the bottom of the window), choose Black from the pop-up menu (as seen above), then click OK.

Here’s what it looks like with the black Canvas area added in Photoshop.

And here’s what the final image looks like, with the Cinematic cropping and letterbox added.

So, at this point, it’s just a simple custom crop, and you can save that custom crop, with those dimensions and resolution as a Tool Preset by clicking on the Tool Preset icon at the top left corner of the Options Bar (as seen here), then click on the New Preset button (shown above). Now, anytime you want this crop, you’re just one click away.

Now, it’s entirely possible that there’s a way easier way to do all this—-to create a Cinematic Cropping inside Photoshop, but I haven’t figured it out. Yet. ;-)

UPDATE: Just learned from @ersphoto (Enrique San Roman, who follows me on Twitter) that you can enter the Crop Ratio 2.39 to 1 in Lightroom’s Crop Tool to get the same cropping. Just click on the Crop tool, then click on the pop-up menu to the immediate left of the lock icon and choose “Enter Custom” then type in 2.39  and 1.00 in the Aspect Ratio pop-up menu (as seen above), and you’ve got that crop. Enrique noted that the crop ratio is based on Panavision film. Thanks Enrique, and I’m sending you a signed copy of my Lightroom 3 book today for helping me out! :-) Also, thanks to Mike Reeves who pointed out that this also works with Camera Raw’s Crop tool as well.

Anyway, give this a try on some of your photos and see what you think. Of course, if you have Lightroom, just open any image, set the View to Fill (in the Navigator panel), and then just hide the left and right panels from view (press F7 and F8 to hide them), and there you have it—Cinematic Style Widescreen Cropping (without having to actually crop).