How To Crop And Straighten Photos In Lightroom

Cropping a photo is one of the most important tasks for any photo editor. It can eliminate distractions, create a new aspect ratio, or help to straighten an image. In Lightroom CC, cropping photos is simple and easy to learn with the help of a dedicated crop tool. The crop tool has a variety of useful features that you may not know about. Features that will give you more control when cropping a photo compared to many other options. Here’s how to crop or straighten a photo in Lightroom.

Where To Access The Crop Tool In Lightroom

The Crop Tool can be accessed under the Develop Module in Lightroom. This tab is home to all your photo editing adjustments.

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Once you’ve opened the Develop Module, the Crop Tool will be found on the left of your editing toolbar.

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After clicking on the Crop Tool, a new panel will drop down with all the adjustments to customize your crop in Lightroom.

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You will notice a white box now around your image, meaning you can adjust the crop. By clicking on this white box, you can manually adjust the crop to suit your needs.

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I cover how to crop a photo in Lightroom much more in-depth below!

Understanding The Crop Tool Panel

With the Crop Tool selected, a drop-down panel will appear with all your crop adjustments. It’s important to know what each of these tools does to help you crop a photo exactly as you want.

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Here is an explanation of each tool within this panel and what it does:

– Aspect Options

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The Aspect Options allow you to set the aspect ratio of your photo. The aspect ratio is the proportional dimensions of your photo by width and length. For example, the standard aspect ratio of digital cameras is 3:2 (a rectangular shape). If you were to crop your photo into a square, it would be 1:1 since both the width and height are the same. More on this later.

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Beside your Aspect Options is a drop-down menu. Here you can quickly access preset or custom aspect ratios for your image.

– The Lock

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The lock icon in the crop panel dictates whether your aspect ratio will be kept as you adjust the crop. For example, with the lock ‘locked’, the proportions of your crop stay the same as you make adjustments.

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With the lock ‘unlocked’, you can choose whatever image proportions you wish to use. This will change the Aspect Option to ‘custom’.

You can lock or unlock your aspect ratio by simply clicking on the lock icon.

– The Crop Frame Tool

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The Crop Frame Tool is used to manually draw a new crop based on your preset aspect ratio. This tool is excellent for creating a precise crop anywhere in your photo.

To access it, simply click on this icon beside the word ‘Aspect’.

Choose a preset aspect ratio from the drop-down menu and select a new crop for your image. Your new crop will be stuck to the aspect ratio you have set.

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To get complete customization, set your aspect ratio to ‘custom’. This lets you adjust the height and width of your crop as you please.

– The Auto Button

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The ‘Auto’ button is extremely useful for straightening a photo in Lightroom. By clicking this button, it will automatically straighten your photo according to obvious edges in your frame. It typically does a great job but may need some further refinements.

– The Angle Slider

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The Angle Slider lets you adjust the angle of a picture to straighten specific horizons or edges in your frame. By clicking and dragging this slider in either direction, you will alter the angle of your crop.

– The Straighten Tool

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The Straighten Tool is ideal when you have a defined edge to base your adjustments on. To access this tool, just click on the ruler icon beside ‘Angle’. This tool lets you manually draw where your photo should straighten to. More on this later.

– Constrain Crop Option

At the bottom of the Crop Panel in Lightroom is an option called ‘Constrain Crop’. By checking off this box, the crop will be limited to the edges of your photo. This makes it impossible to include any white edges around your image.

These white edges can appear when you merge panoramas or warp the perspective of an image. If you haven’t made any of these adjustments, you won’t notice any difference when using constrain crop.

How To Crop A Photo In Lightroom

Let’s put to use these tools and learn how to crop a photo in Lightroom with a variety of methods. The methods below each assume you’ve already accessed the Crop Tool.

To access the Crop Tool in Lightroom, click on the crop icon within the Develop tab.

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It’s important to remember what exactly will be a part of your crop. As you adjust the crop, you’ll notice sections of your image become greyed out. These areas are not included in your new crop. Keep this in mind as you try these different methods to crop photos in Lightroom!

Method 1: Click And Drag The Crop Overlay

When you select the Crop Tool, a crop overlay will appear over your photo as a white box. You can click and drag this white box around to adjust your crop.

To adjust the width of your crop, click on the left or right of your overlay and drag inwards. This will only crop the width of your photo.

To adjust the height of your crop, click the bottom or top of your overlay and drag. This crops the height of your photo only.

To adjust the height and width of your crop simultaneously, click on any corner of the crop overlay. Doing this lets you fully customize your crop to any size or aspect ratio.

Method 2: Use A Preset Aspect Ratio

If you need to crop your photo to a specific aspect ratio in Lightroom, this method is the easiest. Just click on the aspect ratio drop-down menu and select the aspect ratio you want to use.

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Once you select a ratio, your crop will automatically adjust to fit that ratio.

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If you need to get more specific, click and drag the crop overlay to select a new part of your photo. Unlike with Method 1, using a preset aspect ratio will maintain the same crop dimensions as you make adjustments.

Method 3: The Crop Frame Tool

Rather than dragging the edges of the crop overlay, you can draw a brand new area to crop. The Crop Frame Tool is automatically selected when you select the Crop Tool in Lightroom. All you need to do is click and drag out a new crop over your photo.

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Hover anywhere on your image and click and drag. A new box will appear that changes size as you move the cursor. This new box will be your new crop.

frame-crop-tool-selectionIf you’ve selected a specific aspect ratio, your new crop will stick to those same dimensions as it changes in size. If you are using a custom aspect ratio, you can create any crop dimensions you’d like with your new selection.

How To Change Crop Orientation (i.e. Landscape To Portrait)

Let’s say you have a photo that’s currently in the landscape orientation, but you want to crop it to portrait. You can easily switch back and forth between orientations while maintaining the dimensions of your crop.

Click and drag any corner of your overlay to the opposite corner. In this example, I’m pulling the bottom right corner to the top left. Now your crop overlay will change orientations while keeping the same aspect ratio.

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It’s important to note that this only works when you have a locked aspect ratio. If it’s unlocked, the height and width of the crop will change independently. In that case, you could simply reposition the edges to fit a portrait orientation instead.

These methods can be used to change the crop orientation from landscape to portrait and vice versa.

Understanding Aspect Ratios

At first, aspect ratios can seem pretty confusing. Which ones are you supposed to use, and what’s the difference between each?

Depending on how you’re going to use your image, changing the aspect ratio can be useful. For example, you might alter the aspect ratio to ensure nothing important gets left out when you print a picture.

Maybe you want to see how your photo will look on Instagram so you use a 4×5 ratio to match Instagram’s crop.

Perhaps your website banner needs a specific ratio to fit your image.

There are a variety of reasons why using a specific aspect ratio may be necessary when you crop a photo in Lightroom. If you aren’t sure, leaving your aspect ratio as is won’t do you any harm either.

To help give you a better visual of how each aspect ratio in Lightroom compares, here is an overlay:

aspect-ratio-for-lightroom-crop

– How To Set Custom Aspect Ratios In Lightroom

If none of the default options suit your needs, you can set a custom aspect ratio for any photo. Just open the aspect ratio drop-down menu and select ‘Enter Custom’.

A dialogue box will appear, asking you to set the width and height ratio of your new dimensions. Click ‘Ok’ when complete.

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Your photo will crop to your custom aspect ratio, and the aspect ratio is now available in the drop-down menu. That way, you can easily access any of your custom ratios for future use!

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How To Change Crop Overlays In Lightroom

There are a variety of crop overlays to help you refine your composition and perfect the crop of your photo. By default, your crop overlay is likely set to ‘Thirds’. This means you’ll probably see something like this when you use the Crop Tool in Lightroom:

Depending on your preference or technical requirements, you can change this overlay by pressing O on your keyboard. This will cycle through your selected overlay options.

Here are the different types of crop overlays in Lightroom:

– Grid

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The grid overlay creates a ton on horizontal and vertical lines over your photo. This makes it exceptionally easy to straighten your photo to a specific line.

– Thirds

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The thirds overlay creates a more basic set of lines to help identify different thirds and power points within your frame.

– Diagonal

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The diagonal overlay is excellent for identifying leading lines that draw focus to the center of your frame.

– Center

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The Center overlay breaks up your photo into four main quadrants. This is perfect for when your subject is centre punched in the frame.

– Triangle

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The triangle overlay makes it easy to identify horizontal lines in your image and simplify your composition as you crop.

– Golden Ratio

golden-ratio-crop-overlay-lightroom

The golden ratio is theorized to help make your image more appealing to the eye. There is a fair amount of scientific thinking and math behind this theory beyond the scope of this article. If you want to learn more, click here.

– Golden Spiral

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Similar to the golden ratio, the golden spiral is aimed to help draw your viewer’s eye to your subject.

– Aspect Ratios

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The aspect ratio overlay is great to see how a variety of aspect ratios will affect your photo without cropping. This overlay simply shows a series of different crops for a variety of aspect ratios. You can alter what aspect ratios appear in this overlay by going to Tools > Crop Overlay Guide > Choose Aspect Ratios. Now all of the ratios you’ve added will appear within this overlay.

How To Choose Your Crop Overlays

Now the above options are all of the different overlays you have in Lightroom. However, that doesn’t mean you want to use all of them!

You can choose which crop overlays you want to be able to display by going to Tools > Crop Overlay Guide > Choose Overlays To Cycle.

A new window will appear with all the available overlay options. Uncheck all the overlays you don’t want to use or cycle through.

Now when you press O to cycle through crop overlays, you’ll only have the options you want to see.

How To Flip Crop Overlays In Lightroom

You may want to change the orientation of an overlay to better suit the layout of your photo. This is quickly done by pressing Shift + O when your crop overlay is visible. Each time you press this shortcut, the overlay will rotate the overlay 90 degrees.

How To Change Crop Overlay Visibility

No matter what crop overlay you’re using, you may not want to see it all the time. Fortunately, there are a few different visibility modes you can access for crop overlays.

With the Crop Tool selected, a ‘Tool Overlay’ option will appear in your bottom toolbar. This option lets you choose between three different visibility modes: auto, always, and never.

Auto will show your crop overlay only when you are making adjustments to the crop. This is ideal if you want to utilize an overlay, but don’t want distractions when you’re not making adjustments.

Always will show the crop overlay all the time while the Crop Tool is active. Whether you’re making adjustments or not, your overlay will still be visible.

Never will make your overlay completely invisible. You will still be able to crop your photo, but you won’t have any overlay patterns to look at.

It doesn’t matter which option you use; it’s all personal preference. I tend to prefer using ‘auto’, so it minimizes distractions and lets me see my crop better.

How To Straighten A Photo In Lightroom

There are four different methods you can use to straighten a photo in Lightroom. Each has its advantage in specific scenarios, but the Straighten Tool is typically the most versatile. Let’s go over the different tools to straighten images in Lightroom:

Option #1: The Straighten Tool

To access the Straighten Tool, click the ruler icon within the Crop Panel.

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Identify a line in your photo that you want to look straight. In this case, that line will be the horizon. Click and drag a line following along the horizon and let go when you’re done.

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Your crop will automatically straighten to the line you created using the Straighten Tool!

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Option #2: The Angle Slider

Within the Crop Panel is the Angle Slider. By moving this slider left or right, you will adjust the angle of your crop and straighten your photo.

angle-slider-in-lightroom

This method does take a little bit of guesswork, but using the ‘grid’ crop overlay can help a lot. Since you have more overlay lines to use as reference points, it’s easier to line up any edge in your photo.

As you straighten the photo, your crop will automatically adjust to fit within the confines of your image.

Option #3: Auto Straighten

One of the easiest ways to straighten a photo in Lightroom is with the Auto Straighten option.

auto-straighten-tool-in-lightroom

To use this tool, just click the ‘auto’ button within the Crop Panel.

Lightroom will automatically straighten your photo without any manual labor involved!

Option #4: Manually Adjust The Crop Angle

The final option for straightening a photo in Lightroom is by manually adjusting the crop overlay.

Hover your cursor just outside of any of the corners of your overlay. Your cursor will switch to a U-shaped double-sided arrow.

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Click and drag your photo in any direction to adjust the angle of the crop and straighten the photo.

This is another simple way to straighten a photo in Lightroom if you prefer to make more manual adjustments.

How To Apply Crop Or Straightening Adjustments To Multiple Photos In Lightroom

There are many situations where you need to apply similar crop or straightening adjustments to multiple photos. Cropping each photo manually is a huge time suck, so why not batch edit them?

After you’ve made your crop or straightening adjustments to a photo, you need to copy these adjustments. To do this, click on ‘Copy’ on the bottom left of your Lightroom window.

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A dialogue box will appear with all the photo adjustment options available in Lightroom. To deselect all of these options, click ‘Check None’. 

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With everything deselected, check off the crop options you want to copy over to another image. You can select all three crop options or whichever ones apply to you.

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With the correct crop options selected, click copy.

In your filmstrip, highlight all of the images you want to paste your crop adjustments to. You can select multiple photos by holding Command (MAC) or Control (PC) or by pressing Shift.

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With the correct images highlighted, press the ‘Paste’ button on the bottom left of your Lightroom window.

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Now all of your copied crop adjustments will be made across your selected photos.

Batch editing images like this will save you a ton of time, especially when working in bulk!

Conclusion

Learning how to crop a photo in Lightroom is very simple, but there are a ton of ways to do it. It’s useful to know what options are available, so you can pick the cropping methods that fit your needs best.

There is a lot more to the Crop Tool than meets the eye. Fortunately, with the tips outlined here, you’re now a master at cropping images in Lightroom! If you’re new to photo editing in Lightroom, be sure to check out my Beginners Guide To Lightroom.

Do you know someone who should learn how to crop a photo in Lightroom? Be sure to share this post with them!

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– Brendan