In this video from our Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD, we will demonstrate how to make minor crops to our images in Lightroom 4. In our previous article, “The Cropping Tool: A Simple but Powerful Tool in Lightroom 4,” we explained what the Cropping Tool does and how to use it. In this tutorial, we will now use some images as examples to demonstrate how to make minor crops to our images with the Cropping Tool.

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Minor Cropping

Sometimes your overall composition is great but a small crop adjustment needs to be made to correct a horizon, or any near-the-edge lines in an image.  Of course you should try to compose your shots perfectly in-camera, and if necessary you can use your focal points or in-camera grid lines to line up the horizon before you click a shot. This will save you a lot of time in post production!

However, we can’t square-up every line perfectly every single time, because we simply do not always have all the time in the world while we’re shooting something active. Anyways, whenever we straighten and crop our image, we need to crop to the strongest line. If we crop to the wrong line in the image, for example if there is an odd perspective that causes vertical walls and a horizontal ceiling to appear at an angle other than 90 degrees, we will notice that something doesn’t look quite right about our photo. Some images might also have distortion, which naturally occurs from the camera lens. Lens distortion is often confused with the slanted lines of perspective or composition in an image, but just be aware that these two are different. The horizon of an image might look crooked and bent, but it actually may be from the lens distortion instead. In this tutorial, we will be making slight crop adjustments to our images. In fact, the majority of these examples are good enough; however, for the purpose of this tutorial, we want to show you guys a few examples.

Keyboard Shortcuts

To have more space in Lightroom when editing images, you can go into Full Screen as well as remove the Identity Plate. To cycle to Full Screen Mode, press “F.” To remove the Identity Plate, press “F5” or simply click on the top edge of the Identity Plate. If the image information appears on your image, press “I” until it toggles off. If you ever need to select the Cropping Tool, simply press “R.” To reset the crop of an image, simply press “Ctrl + Alt + R.”

The Cropping Tool

We have a couple options with the Cropping Tool. First, we can just click-and-drag and try to manually line up the crop lines with a horizon by eyeballing it.


Or, we can use the Straighten Tool if there is a nice straight line in our image. You need to have the Cropping Tool selected (“R”) in order to select the Straighten Tool.


To use the Straighten Tool, simply click on the leveling icon to the left of the angle slider, then click-and-drag along the horizon in the image. Once you let go of the mouse, it will automatically set the crop of your image so the line you just drew is perfectly leveled. If you have trouble drawing a straight line across, then just reset it and try again, or manually fine-tune the crop.


To check to see if the horizon line of our image is now straight, use the Grid Overlays by pressing “O.” Continue pressing “O” to cycle through the various different Grid Overlays.


Examples of Minor Cropping

Now that we know how to use the Cropping Tool, let’s go over some examples of minor cropping.

Lens Distortion
As mentioned earlier, it is natural for distortion to appear in an image, due to the camera lens. The horizon line of the image may look crooked and tilted at one end, but it might actually be from the lens distortion instead.

Our image below is slightly crooked, so we are going to drag and pull down to manually fix the crop and straighten out the edges a bit. In addition, our image has some distortion so the horizon of our image may still appear a little crooked or curved. However, we will not be adjusting distortion in this tutorial.


In our next image, most of what we see is actually lens distortion but this image could still use a bit of cropping. In this particular image, we are going to pull up just a bit on the left side. The rest of the curve in the image is from the lens distortion.


Multiple Lines
The rule in cropping is always crop to the strongest line! Sometimes, there are multiple strong lines in the image, making it hard to tell which one is the correct line. However, there is always going to be one line that will have all of the weight and that is the line you want to place the crop on. Use the Cropping Tool and test what the strongest lines are in your image. If you crop to the wrong line, you will be able to tell that your image looks a bit off.

In our image below, the strongest line is probably the bike frame, so crop to that line. Then, double check your image to see if the crop is correct. For our image, we can leave that crop at the bike frame, but we’re keeping our eye on that painted stripe on the road behind them.


Our next image is a little bit trickier since there are two different lines that we can straighten to: either the pool table or to the stairs. First, we will try and straighten based on the stairs. Select the Straighten Tool and drag it across the staircase. However, once we let go of the Straighten Tool and the crop sets, we can tell that the image looks crooked and the pool table feels like it is slanting down. In other words, we have corrected to the wrong line in the image, even though the stairs in our image are now straight.


We need to reset our crop (“Ctrl + Alt + R”) and straighten again. This time, we will straighten to the pool table in our image. Select the Straighten Tool again and straighten to the pool table. Then, select the Cropping Tool to tweak and center the image. Our image is now cropped and straightened correctly.


Creative Twist
One thing to be careful about, especially new photographers, is the dreaded creative twist or tilt. Sometimes we twist too much on an image, thinking that it looks artistic when in reality, everything in the image looks like it’s falling over. So, be careful not to twist too much. With creative twists, we normally would not crop the image unless that twist does not work out and the image does not look good. In addition, we highly recommend that you do not do creative twists when there is a strong horizon line, as this can give you the “sinking ship effect”…  Here is an example of when a “creative tilt” is okay, and the image could work either way.


Conclusion & Learn More!

The adjustments made to the majority of the images in this tutorial were pretty small, so it is a little hard to see a difference. However, we hope that these examples on minor cropping have given you a better understanding on how to get a more perfect crop for your images.

We hope you enjoyed this article and video excerpt from the Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD. Stay tuned for our next article and episode!

The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD is a 14 hour video workshop turning any Lightroom novice into a complete master of Lightroom 4 in no time! The Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop can be purchased by itself, or within the Lightroom 4 Workshop Collection which also contains our award winning and industry standard Lightroom 4 Preset System, as well as the Lightroom 4 Workflow System.