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When I place a picture to work from, it appears really big, I adjusted the artboard which seemed to work but then a small white box appears in the centre - can someone help me with this please? I am beginner.
Is it possible for you to share a screenshot? There should bot be a white box, could it be the centre control handle you are seeing?
Did you use the artboard tool and fit to artwork bounds?
Most times I place an image I would scale the image since the artboard is sized to the the output I am working towards.
How is the resolution of the image (the ppi) set up? If it is set to a low value then the image would have huge dimensions in Illustrator.
Such a situation usually appear when artboard is smaller than image. The white square is an artboard.
Please select picture go to Object-> Arboards->Fit To Selected Art.