By default, WordPress uses the center of an image when creating cropped thumbnails. SmartCrop attempts to find and use the most interesting part of an image and centers the cropping on that portion of the image.
This process is entirely automatic and cannot be manually controlled. There are other plugins out there if you wish to manually specify where you want thumbnails to be cropped.
Since this analysis process can be slow on large images, thumbnails are initially center cropped and later asynchronously regenerated to be smartly cropped. This avoids the uploading of new images from being slow. The one side effect of this however is that your browser may load and cache the centered thumbnail before it’s re-cropped.
Want to smartly crop your past image uploads? You can use my Regenerate Thumbnails plugin to trigger that. Make sure to uncheck skipping existing thumbnails.