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How to Use the Lightroom Transform Tool

Lightroom has so many great tools we all use to edit our photographs. No wonder it’s an essential editing program for just about every photographer. Let’s take a look at the Transform Tool.

The Transform Tool can be used to adjust the perspective in your images. Most know that the tool is useful for straightening horizons or fixing those pesky leaning buildings, but it can do a lot more than that. The Transform Tool can help you to adjust other types of photographs. It has a convenient application, but it can also be used to edit your images to create more dramatic looks. You can also use it to help you create interesting artistic interpretations of your shots.

Image: I used the transform tool to help me edit this image. I made several small adjustments to ali...

I used the transform tool to help me edit this image. I made several small adjustments to align the perspective with my creative vision.

Let’s start with the individual components of the transform tool before progressing to using them in more creative ways towards the end of the article.

The Auto Function

The Transform Tool comes with an automatic option. In this case, it’s pretty simple. Push the Auto button and let Lightroom make all the adjustments to your image. For those who are unfamiliar with how to use the other features of the Transform Tool this may be the simplest option. The problem is that Auto doesn’t always do the best job of adjusting your images. I find that if the adjustment is straightforward like straightening a horizon, then auto works well. However, it has difficulty adjusting the more complex perspective issues. This is meant to be a quick and dirty type of adjustment for minor perspective issues.

Image: Here’s an example of the Auto tool in use on Tintern Abbey.

Here’s an example of the Auto tool in use on Tintern Abbey.

Vertical adjustments

The Vertical Tool automatically analyzes and then adjusts the vertical lines within your photograph. This type of adjustment is particularly useful if you’re trying to fix a leaning building or leaning trees in your landscape because you’re using a wide-angle lens. At the same time, you will find that automatic fixes don’t always work correctly and that Lightroom may over-adjust the verticals and give you something that doesn’t look quite right. So this may not be your best option for using the Transform tool.

Image: In this case, the vertical tool didn’t do a very good job of adjusting the perspective.

In this case, the vertical tool didn’t do a very good job of adjusting the perspective.

Level Adjustments

The Level Tool automatically adjusts your horizontal lines. This tool seems to work reasonably well for most landscape shots. Issues with the Level Tool may arise when you are working with a horizon line along with diagonal lines. Sometimes this combination of lines fools the software. Lightroom may choose to adjust the diagonal lines and skew the rest of the image. Keep this in mind when using the automatic adjustment.

Image: I find the level tool works great for landscape images but in this case, it needs manual adju...

I find the level tool works great for landscape images but in this case, it needs manual adjustments.

Full Adjustments

The Full Adjustment option takes into account all vertical and horizontal lines plus the features of the auto option. This particular tool doesn’t adjust my images well. It tends to overcompensate. This tool rarely creates a look I want to use for my photographs. That doesn’t mean it won’t work for you; however, be aware that it tends to be aggressive.

Image: Some may like the adjustments that a full perspective tool creates. If you do, remember to le...

Some may like the adjustments that a full perspective tool creates. If you do, remember to leave a lot of room around your subject. As you can see here, the crop that needs to occur is quite severe.

The Guided Adjustment option

The Guided Tool is probably the best way to adjust perspective within your images. The problem with the other options is that Lightroom chooses which vertical and horizontal lines it uses to adjust perspective. The reality is that these may not be the lines that need adjusting. This is where the Guided Tool comes into practice. As the editor of your work, you know which lines need straightening so you can guide Lightroom to adjust the proper verticals or horizontals. It’s still a quick and easy tool to use. You are guiding Lightroom by telling it where to focus its efforts.

The tool is straightforward to use. Just choose the line you wish to adjust and then use your mouse to define the line for Lightroom. Once two lines have been selected, Lightroom automatically adjusts your image based on your guidelines.

Image: In this case, the Guided Tool straightens the lines I highlight but the required crop is rath...

In this case, the Guided Tool straightens the lines I highlight but the required crop is rather extreme.

Image: The guided tool worked really well with this simple adjustment.

The guided tool worked really well with this simple adjustment.

Using the sliders

You can always adjust your images using the Manual Sliders located below the automatic options. Sometimes it works very well to use the Guided tool and then to make minor manual adjustments to the image as well.

Just move the sliders to adjust your work for the desired look. Each slider will adjust a different aspect of the image.

Level – tilts the image and creates an angle of sorts

Vertical – adjusts the image by tilting either forwards or to the back
Rotate – twists the image on an access point (adjusting horizon lines for the most part)
Aspect – stretches the image horizontally or compresses it horizontally
Scale – allows you to zoom in closer or further out on an image
X offset – moves the image on the x-axis to the left or right.
Y offset – move the image on the y-axis up or down.

Used on their own you may find that these sliders do not achieve much. However, when used in combination and subtle amounts, you can easily adjust the sliders to obtain the perspective you see in your mind’s eye.

Image: In this screenshot, you can see how the aspect slider works to adjust an image.

In this screenshot, you can see how the aspect slider works to adjust an image.

Using the Transform Tool creatively

You can use the Transform Tool to help you adjust perspective to create more drama within an image. You can also use it to completely change the perspective of an image for a creative interpretation of the subject you originally photographed.

In the case of the following image, I made the adjustments to create something that highlighted the foreground more, thus drawing the viewers eyes towards that area.

Image: I used the vertical slider to adjust the image so the foreground plays a bigger role in the i...

I used the vertical slider to adjust the image so the foreground plays a bigger role in the image.

Here’s the completed photograph exported from Lightroom:

Image: Compare this to the original perspective of the shot.

Compare this to the original perspective of the shot.

In the image below the foreground plays a less important role in the image. You can use the Transform Tool to help you make creative decisions about your photographs.

Image: This is the unedited jpeg of the file above. Consider how the change of perspective affects t...

This is the unedited jpeg of the file above. Consider how the change of perspective affects the visual nature of the image.

It’s a versatile tool

You can use the Transform Tool in very subtle ways to adjust perspective. It can either be used to make an image seem more realistic and more accurate to our understanding of the way the landscape looks in reality or can be used to make some more open to interpretation. Remember, there are lots of options out there when editing work.

Be creative. Give the transform tool a whirl and see what you can do with it. You may surprise yourself and create something extraordinary.

I’ve included a few more photos edited using the Transform Tool to illustrate how you can use it both functionally and creatively.

Image: The goal was to make the foreground more important in this photograph.

The goal was to make the foreground more important in this photograph.

Image: My goal was to capture my friend as she took photos of the incoming waves on the beach in Bor...

My goal was to capture my friend as she took photos of the incoming waves on the beach in Borth, Wales.

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Erin Fitzgibbon

Erin Fitzgibbon is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.