How to Crop in Lightroom

by May 10, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Crop in Lightroom

One of the most common photo editing tasks is cropping and it sounds easy. After all, photo editors like Lightroom provide all the tools you need, but the reality is, you can easily get into a mess. In “How to Crop in Lightroom” we will explore some of your options together with the limitations you might encounter.

Why You Might Want to Crop an Image

There are lots of reasons why you might want to crop an image, in Lightroom. The most common is probably where the image isn’t framed correctly or includes an unwanted area.

If you ever shoot image panoramas and use Lightroom to merge the individual images, you will probably have encountered situations like this one.

Cropping an image in the Merge to Panorama dialog in Lightroom

After merging the three images to a panorama, empty white areas appeared around the edge of the frame. Whilst it’s possible to fill the empty areas using either the “Fill Edges” or “Boundary Warp”, these options can often show up the joins between the frames. When this happens, a better option is to crop the image to remove the empty white space. The “Auto Crop” option provides a simple way to do this and ensure no empty space whilst maximising the image area.

Another common scenario where you might want to crop an image is because you couldn’t frame the subject correctly at the time. So, you take the shot but with the intention of cropping it during editing in the Lightroom Develop Module.

Cropping in the Lightroom Develop Module

After selecting your image for editing and switching to the Develop Module you can open the Lightroom Crop tool by clicking the Crop Overlay icon, just below the histogram. You can see this indicated in the screenshot below.

Crop Overlay tools in the Lightroom Develop module

After clicking the Crop Overlay icon, Lightroom displays the “Crop & Straighten” tools which you can see outlined here in the red box. As well as being able to crop an image with these tools you can also rotate and straighten images. To learn more about straightening an image see my tutorial describing how to level the horizon in Lightroom.

Together with the Crop & Straighten tools, you should see a grid overlay displayed across the image preview. Typically, this will be a thirds grid to help you apply the rule of thirds when cropping which could help you produce a more balanced image. It’s also possible to switch to using other popular crop overlays. You can do this in the Lightroom Tools menu by selecting the “Crop Guides Overlay” sub-menu.

selecting a new crop overlay display

Here you can see the menu with some of the different overlay options like Diagonal, Triangle and Golden Spiral. Click the one you want to use, and the Crop Overlay updates to reflect your choice.

Making the Image Crop

To make the crop of the image you can click and drag the corners and edges of the crop overlay to position it on the image. When happens when you do this will depend on the “Crop & Straighten” panel.

Options in the Lightroom Crop and Straighten panel

At the top right of the panel is a small padlock icon with the dropdown menu to the left, which shows “Custom” in the screenshot. If you click the dropdown menu you can change the option from Custom to one of several pre-defined ratios like 1×1 and 5×7. These are aspect ratios that define the relationship between the longest and shortest side of the image crop area. When the 1×1 option is chosen for example the longest and shortest sides of the crop are the same which produces a square crop. If you chose this option, when you click and drag a corner or side of the crop, the other edges are resized to maintain the aspect ratio of 1×1.

The Custom option is a little different and allows the crop area to be freely resized. This does though depend on the padlock icon. When you click the padlock, you toggle it between being open and closed. When the padlock is closed, it locks the current aspect ratio. It’s therefore possible to set a custom aspect ratio for the crop and then lock this by closing the padlock icon. Once locked, if you resize the crop, it will maintain the locked aspect ratio even if that’s a custom ratio.

If you were to select one of the predefined cropping options like 5×7 in the dropdown menu you would find the padlock closes. This again maintains the crop ratio if you change the size of the crop. It’s only if you click the padlock to toggle it to open that you can resize the crop to create a Custom crop.

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Constrain to Crop Option

The other extremely useful cropping feature is found at the bottom of the panel which is “Constrain to Crop”. When you click this, Lightroom will crop out any white “empty” areas. If it finds any empty space within the crop overlay, it adjusts the crop to remove the space. In a merged panorama like the one in this example, it’s just like clicking the “Auto Crop” option in the Panorama Merge dialog.

Another place where you might find this option useful is if you rotate an image to level it, or if you have used the Transform Tools in Lightroom. Both actions can cause empty space to appear around the edge of an image which you may want to crop out. Selecting the Constrain to Crop option will do this for you automatically whilst maintaining the maximum area of the image.

Completing the Crop

Before you apply your crop, you may want to reposition the crop area on the image. Not every crop you make in Lightroom will need to include the maximum image area. If you have sized a crop but find you need to move it, click and drag the image using your mouse. This repositions the image so that the crop overlay is over a different area.

positioning the crop overlay and completing the crop in the Lightroom Develop module

When you are satisfied with your crop position and size, click the Done button to the bottom left of the dialog. This completes the crop of the image and closes the “Crop & Straighten” panel.

After applying your crop to an image in Lightroom, do remember the crop isn’t final. Instead, you can reopen the cropping tools by clicking the “Crop Overlay” icon (below the histogram) again. This displays the tools and the original image with the crop overlay in position. It’s then possible to resize or reposition the crop overlay before applying it.

A Note About Image and Print Sizes

In some photo editors, the cropping tools may also include options for resizing images. This isn’t the case with Lightroom. If you want to resize your cropped image in Lightroom, you do that when you export the image using the Export dialog. In the Export dialog you will find a section for “Image Sizing” where you can enter the size and resolution of the image to export. The size you enter is then applied to the cropped area of the image when it’s exported.

When it comes to printing a cropped image at a given size in the Lightroom Print module, it’s a little more complicated. Lightroom will by default print the cropped image but setting the size requires additional steps. These steps may also involve further cropping to achieve the required print dimensions. To learn more, read my tutorial on print sizing in Lightroom.

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Summary of How to Crop in Lightroom

In this tutorial we’ve looked at a few of the ways you can crop in Lightroom and why you might want to do so. We’ve also looked at how to position the crop and setting the aspect ratio. The cropping tools in Lightroom are extremely flexible and non-destructive. If you decide later that you don’t like a particular crop, you can open and adjust it in the Develop module.

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