The Crop & Straighten Tool is used for two main functions in Lightroom: Cropping a photo and straightening a photo. How creative!
Throughout this tutorial, I may refer to it interchangeably as the Crop Tool or the Straighten Tool depending on what task we’re using it for.
Locating the Crop & Straighten Tool
The tool is accessed from the Develop Module. Once in the Develop Module, choose the crop tool by clicking it near the top of the right panel.
Hint: The “R” key will immediately take you to the Develop Module and choose the Crop & Straighten Tool, no matter what Module you’re currently in. Learn that shortcut!
Using the Crop Tool
Once the Crop Tool is active, the easiest way to get a crop is to simply click and drag your desired crop on the image.
You can adjust the crop by clicking and dragging the edges or corners of the crop when it’s active.
You can also click inside the crop and move the image around to place the crop where you want it. You’ll know you’re inside the crop when the cursor turns to a hand.
When cropping, you may want to constrain the crop to a certain aspect ratio. In other words, maybe you’d like the crop to be square, the same width-to-height ratio as the original image, or the perfect crop to fit an 8×10 print. In the Crop Tool, you can set the aspect ratio and whether or not the crop is “locked” or constrained to that ratio. To set the crop ratio click in the drop-down menu in the Crop & Straighten Tool settings on the Right Module Panel. (Note: The Crop & Straighten Tool must be active to see those settings. If they’re not there, press the R key.)
You can choose Original (the same aspect ratio of the original image), one of the presets listed in the menu, or Enter Custom… to choose a custom aspect ratio. Remember that these are just ratios. They have no actual units (inches, centimeters, pixels, fathoms, leagues, cubits, etc.) until you export the image.
After you’ve selected a ratio, the small padlock icon in the Crop & Straighten Tool’s settings area changes from unlocked to locked. When you try to resize your crop now, you’ll find that it will always maintain the set aspect ratio, no matter how you try to resize it. To unlock the aspect ratio, simply click on the padlock icon.
Here are some important cropping shortcuts to learn:
- Enter Crop & Straighten Tool: R – This will take you into the Develop Module and select the Crop & Straighten Tool no matter where you are in Lightroom.
- Constrain Aspect Ratio: A – When the Crop & Straighten Tool is active, tapping the A key will lock and unlock the aspect ratio.
- Crop to Same Aspect Ratio: S – Hitting the S key while you’re in the Develop Module will bring up the Crop & Straighten Tool wit a crop set to the same aspect ratio as you last used.
- Reset Crop: Option-Command-R (Mac) or Alt-Control-R (PC) – Removes any crop or straighten settings on the selected image while in the Develop Module.
Straightening a Photo
The straighten tool is quite handy if you have a photo with a crooked horizon or vertical line or if you’d like to adjust the angle of the subject creatively.
As mentioned before, the straighten tool is part of the Crop & Straighten Tool, so a tap of the R key will bring you to this tool, no matter where you are in Lightroom.
The first way to straighten an image, is to move the slider labeled Angle in the Crop & Straighten Tool’s settings area. You can move the slider to + or – 45 degrees. Clicking in the box with the numbers will allow you to enter whatever value you choose (between -45 and +45 degrees).
If there’s a line in your photo that should be truly vertical or truly horizontal, you can use the Straighten Tool to designate a true horizontal or vertical in your image. Click the small carpenter’s level-looking icon next to the Angle slider to get the Straighten Tool.
Once you have the Straighten Tool, click and drag along a line in your photo that should be truly vertical or truly horizontal. When you release your mouse, Lightroom will straighten the image according to the line you’ve drawn and automatically apply a crop that keeps as much of the image as possible.
As a shortcut, when the Crop & Straighten Tool is active, holding down the Command key on a Mac or Control key on a PC will give you the Straighten Tool and allow you to drag a straight line on your image. Also, once a crop has been drawn on your photo, hovering the mouse outside of the crop will give you a curved, double-sided arrow that lets you click and drag to rotate the crop.
When in the Crop & Straighten Tool, you may see a grid or other type of guide overlaid inside the crop area. Lightroom offers a number of useful (and a few useless) cropping or straightening guides for your enjoyment. If you enter the Crop & Straighten Tool and don’t see any grids or guides on your image, go to the View menu and choose Tool Overlay -> Always Show. The keyboard shortcut for this is Shift-Command-H (Mac) or Shift-Control-H (PC).
Lightroom offers six different choices for the Crop Guide Overlay. Select the overlay you like from the View -> Crop Guide Overlay menu.
When the Crop & Straighten Tool is active, tap the O key to cycle through the six different Crop Guide Overlays. Two of the crop guides for which I have little use, the “Golden Ratio” and “Golden Spiral,” allow you to change their orientation using the Shift-O keyboard shortcut. The “Thirds” Crop Guide Overlay is my favorite.
Leaving the Crop & Straighten Tool
Once you’ve drawn your desired crop and/or angle, simply hit the Enter or Return key to accept your crop. Remember, all edits in Lightroom are metadata edits only and can, therefore, always be reversed. So, crop away!
If you’ve drawn a crop that you decide not to keep, the Escape key will take you out of the Crop & Straighten Tool without applying your latest changes.
- You can only crop so much. – Your image is only made up of so many pixels. If you crop out a little chunk of your photo, don’t plan on trying to print a big 13×19 print out of it.
- Have your crop match your subject. – Horizontal subjects or a primary and secondary subject in a horizontal relationship typically look nice with a horizontal crop, and vice-versa. Rules were made to be broken, though, so have fun.
- Don’t be afraid to use a different crop. – Sometimes different can be good. We’re used to seeing long, narrow panoramics in the landscape orientation, but try a tall, skinny crop if you have a subject that matches it. Square crops are also quite appealing.