The Problem: When art direction matters, automatic cropping from the center doesn’t always work—particularly for images used as a part of the theme (listings, grids, headers…).
I’d like to propose two enhancements to the Media Editor’s already pretty strong functionality to deal with this problem. Both solutions are currently available as plugins but I think this problem is fundamental enough across many different themes and photographs that they should be considered for inclusion into core.
1) The ability to do manual crops for all registered image sizes. All of the required functionality is already baked into WP’s editor—seems like we just need radio buttons for each registered size (and of course the code to back that up!). At this point, I think it ends up being confusing for users of sites with multiple sizes registered to have crop functionality in the editor but only for the Thumbnail size or all sizes at once. If you have wide hero images, tall sidebar images and 4:6 content images, a single crop doesn’t work.
If I recall correctly, and I could be totally off, the original thought behind the three default image sizes were: Thumbnails for listings, Medium for in-content images and Large for galleries or linked media pages. I think that model still holds well for many personal blogs and the image editor’s cropping strategy makes perfect sense for that. Alas, it is feeling a little dated for most other applications.
2) In lieu of having to do manual crops for every image size, allow users to set a focal point for an image so that crops always include the part that matters. Not having this functionality makes it impossible to use libraries like TimThumb or Photon in certain themes (“What happened to her head?!” - all of my users). There is a paid plugin called Theia Smart Thumbnails that does this incredibly well but this seems like an obvious feature to include in core. By default, WP continues to do what it does now (crop from the center) but if a user takes the time to click on the image in order to set the focal point, WP regenerates the thumbnails based on the new center point. It will help people make better looking sites with very little cognitive overhead. As a bonus, the coordinates for the focal point should be made available within the image object so that theme developers can pass it as the center point to libraries like JetPack’s Photon, TimThumb, GD…
2a) A larger project which might be cool is to eventually have WP detect the focal point of an image and start there. WP6 maybe? :) Perhaps as an extension to the JetPack photon service?
https://github.com/thumbor/thumbor (well respected python detection library… portable?)