Cropping in Adobe Lightroom

  • Thread starter JodyBuchanan
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May 10, 2021
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I’m not sure there can ever be enough posts written about cropping, especially when it has to do with Lightroom, Camera Raw and Photoshop. And if those posts include some really great power tips that inspire even the best of us, all the better.

If you thought you knew everything about how to accomplish the most creative and effective crops in Adobe Lightroom, think again. In today’s post, I’m going to share some cropping tips, tricks, methods and shortcuts that will make you want to grab a pen and write them down. Let’s get to it.

Launching the Crop Tool​

There are a few methods for launching the Crop Tool in Lightroom. First and definitely most simple is to press the R key on your keyboard. Doing this will immediately bring you to the Develop module with the large (loupe) photo view and crop overlay, no matter what view or module you’re currently in. So, if I’m looking at small thumbnails in the Library module and select (click on) a photo I’m interested in cropping, all I need to do is press the R key.

Now, the more traditional method for launching the Crop Tool is to enter the Develop module yourself and then head to the Tools > Crop menu item and select it. Either way is fine, but the keyboard shortcut is much faster.


Finally, if you enter the Develop module and click on the Crop Overlay button, you’ll enter the Crop Tool area as well.


Again, whichever method you choose is up to you. Ultimately, you’ll end up in the Develop module and you’ll see the Crop & Straighten panel appear in the right column. This panel contains some very important tools and settings.


Changing the Overlay​

Right now, I’m seeing the traditional Rule of Thirds overlay. An overlay is considered as the lines that appear on top of an image when the Crop Tool is in effect. If I’d like to change the overlay lines from the rule of thirds to something else, I would press the O key on my keyboard. Doing so would cycle through all the available options in their entirety.


If you’re not sure what an overlay is, I encourage you to read through some of my previous posts on cropping, where I talk about the topic, soup to nuts.

How To Crop a Photo in Adobe Camera Raw

Examples of Using the Perspective Crop Tool in Adobe Photoshop

How to Crop a Photo to an Exact Size & Resolution in Adobe Photoshop

When viewing an overlay, it’s common for a designer or editor to move it around the image so it better fits what they’re working on. So, in the above screenshot, the tight curl area is over to the right. If I wanted to move that tight area to a different part of the photo, I’d click Shift+O on my keyboard. That basically rotates the overlay.

What if you didn’t want an overlay at all? Well, to hide it, but keep the Crop Tool active, simply press the H key on your keyboard. Either that, or you could click on the Tool Overlay drop-down that’s located at the bottom left of the photo. The three choices given are Auto, Always and Never. In this case, you’d choose Never.

Locked Vs. Unlocked Aspect Ratio​

If I were to grab one of the Crop Tool handles and drag it around, it would generally go wherever I want it to. I would be able to shape the photo’s crop to my heart’s desire. This is because, by default, the Constrain Aspect Ratio feature is unlocked.


If I were to click on that small lock icon (or press the A key on my keyboard), the aspect ratio would lock to whatever shape it’s currently in. So, if I shape the crop into a perfect square and then press the lock icon, the square will be locked in and I can continue sizing it.

There are also built-in aspect ratios. If I were to click on the drop-down that’s directly to the left of the lock icon, some choices will be available to me. No matter what my crop looks like at the moment, after I click one of the choices, the crop will reshape itself accordingly.


Reversing Crop Aspect Ratio​

Besides this blog, I also run a food blog. Oftentimes, when I process images for that blog, I like to vary between wide and tall shots. The thing is, both of these types of outcomes have the same dimensions – they’re just reversed. When I do the cropping, I use a keyboard shortcut that really saves a lot of time. The shortcut is the X key. When I shape a crop and want to reverse its orientation, I press X on my keyboard and the aspect ratio reverses. It’s that simple.

Straightening an Image​

There are quite a few commands in Lightroom that can help you twist or straighten a crooked image.

First, there’s the Auto Straighten feature.


If you roll over the Auto button in the Crop & Straighten panel, you’ll see the Automatically Straighten the Photo tool tip appear. If you press the button, Lightroom will look for straight lines in your photo and attempt to twist the photo to level out those lines. In my demo photo, there’s only one straight line, so you can see that the image is twisted only a tiny bit.

If I needed a more drastic change to the photo or if Lightroom chose the wrong line to straighten the photo with, I can always click and drag the Angle slider that’s right below the Auto button. I did this and as you can see in the screenshot below, I can pretty much do anything I want with it, as far as rotating the image goes.


If I wanted to rotate a photo strictly by hand, I could move my mouse pointer so it’s outside of the Crop Tool perimeter and click and drag in any direction. Doing this will twist the photo once more.

Using the Straighten Tool​

I find that I don’t like to eyeball images when it comes to straightening them. After all, that’s what I did when I took the photo and it came out crooked, so why on earth would I trust my eyes again. To assist with my straightening, I can use what’s called the Straighten Tool.

There’s a button directly to the left of the Angle slider. It looks like a round clock. If I press that button, I can access this tool. Once I do, I find the edge or horizon that I want to use as a guide and click on one side of it. Without letting go of my mouse pointer, I drag the tool to the other side of the edge and let go.


In my case, I chose the horizontal line at the bottom of the photo. You can choose any line you’d like, whether it be horizontal or vertical, and Lightroom will rotate the photo accordingly.

Reusing a Crop Aspect Ratio​

Let’s say you recently shot an engaged couple and promised to give them 20 photos that were square. The couple wants to arrange them all, side-by-side and on top of each other, on their Facebook page. To do this, you’ll need to do a lot of adjusting and cropping. And if you think about it, it’s the adjusting that’s the real time consumer here, not the cropping.

What if there was a way to make a crop aspect ratio just once and then apply that same aspect ratio to other photos as well? Guess what – there is. What this.

First, I’ll make my crop shape aspect ratio. In this case, I’ll choose 1:1, so my crop shape is a square.


Next, I’ll apply the crop. After that, I’ll click on another image from the filmstrip view at the bottom of Lightroom. Once the next photo is viewable, I’ll click R on my keyboard to activate the Crop Tool. Once that’s done, I’ll use a keyboard shortcut to apply the same shape crop as the previous image. The shortcut is Shift+A.


The best part about using this trick is that it’s good for as many photos as you like, so you can bang them out, one by one, until you’re finished.

Drawing Your Crop​

Before using the Crop Tool in Photoshop, I used to use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to draw out the area I wanted cropped and then I’d go to the Image > Crop menu item and select it. This would basically (destructively) trim the image to the shape I drew. Once I discovered the Crop Tool, I never did that again. I don’t like the destructive nature of it. However, I did like the way I could draw the area of my crop, instead of dragging the handles around.

The good news is, Lightroom has a very similar feature to the one I just described, but it’s non-destructive. Actually, it’s a really great way to use the Crop Tool.

If I press the Option (Mac) or the Alt (Windows) key and then click and drag with my mouse, a shape will form. All I need to do is draw that shape into what I want my crop to look like and let go. Once that’s finished, I can apply it just as I would in any other scenario.

TIP: To lock the aspect ratio of your crop drawing, just use the following keyboard shortcut – Shift+Option (Mac) or Shift+Alt (Windows).

Applying a Crop​

This is the big moment. I mean, we’re not just playing with the Crop Tool here – we actually want to crop an image.

Applying a crop is easy. Personally, I just press the Enter key on my keyboard. This command holds true across many of Adobe’s applications, such as Camera Raw and Photoshop. Another command to crop is to double-click your mouse pointer anywhere inside the crop area on the image. And finally, you could click on the Done button that’s located directly below the picture.

If you made a mistake or want to go back to the original image after you make the crop, with the crop tool still shaped the way you left it, just press the R key on your keyboard again. Or, you can press the Reset button that’s located toward the bottom of the Crop & Straighten panel if you just want to start over again with no crop shape at all. That will bring you to your full-sized image with the Crop Tool active.