How to use Lightroom’s Crop Overlay tool

While looking through your camera’s viewfinder, you can zoom and pan the lens to compose the photo. You may know what makes a good composition, or you might use an intuitive point-and-shoot approach, but often it’s only when looking at your photos later that you can ascertain which is the best composed.

When taking the picture you may not notice a distracting object at the edge of the frame. When directing a model in a studio shoot, for example, you’ll be more attentive to his or her pose than to any bits of lighting kit that might stray into the frame. And you may not notice problems such as tilted horizons until after the shoot.

With the help of Lightroom’s Crop Overlay tool, however, you can remove distracting objects, straighten any wonky horizons and even turn a landscape- oriented photo into a portrait-oriented one.

Modern DSLRs produce very high resolution images, enabling you to crop quite severely (perhaps to make certain features look more prominent in the frame) yet still produce large prints.

Cropping RAW files in Lightroom is also non-destructive, so you can always restore the cropped photo’s original composition if you need to.

1. Use a preset crop
Import your start image into Lightroom’s Library. In Quick Develop you can use the Crop Ratio menu to apply preset crops. Some of these (such as 5×7) subtly change the photo’s shape. Others (such as 1×1, or square), make a dramatic change.

2. Choose an overlay
For more control, take the photo into the Develop module. Click on the Crop Overlay icon on the left of the tool panel. You can summon different overlays to help you crop subjects. Go to Tools> Crop Guide Overlay and explore the options.

3. Create a landscape crop

Make sure the padlock icon is in a locked position so the cropped photo retains its original shape. Drag the top-left handle of the Crop Frame tool to remove the lamp. Drag inside the overlay to show more of the model’s head. Click Done.

4. Create a portrait crop

Click the Crop Overlay icon to reveal the Crop Frame tool’s overlay. Drag the top-left handle up to the right, and the overlay will change to a portrait orientation. Drag the corner handles to create a tighter crop and hide the distractions on the left. Click Done.

5. Create a crop Snapshot

Go to the Snapshots panel. Click on the + icon. Name the new image and click on Create. It will appear in the Snapshots panel. Click on the Crop Overlay icon. Click on the As Shot dropdown and choose 1×1. Click Done. Create a new Snapshot. You can toggle between the versions.

6. Straighten an image

Import your image and take it into the Develop module. Click on the Crop Overlay icon. Choose Tools>Crop Guide Overlay>Grid. Click on the Straighten tool icon. Draw a line that follows the tilted horizon. The tool will rotate the overlay to counteract the tilt. Click Done to crop.