Lightroom 4 Cropping Tool in Complete Detail

Lightroom 4 Cropping Tool in Complete Detail


In this article we will go over Lightroom’s Cropping Tool in complete detail. We will be covering manual cropping, Custom Ratio’s, the Straighten Tool, as well as the Frame Crop Tool and the Constrain to Warp option. We will also touch on Major Crops, and how to compensate to enhance detail.  To get started, you can access the Crop OverlayTool by hitting “R” on your keyboard or by selecting it on the Adjustment Tool Bar.

Cropping Basics

The most common way of using the Crop Tool is manual cropping. To do so, place your mouse on the outside of the image and a double sided arrow will appear. Then just click and drag in either direction untill you have corrected the crop to the proper angle. To set the crop you can hit “Enter” on your keyboard, or “R” which will set the crop and take you out of the Crop Overlay.

You can also adjust the size of the crop by hovering your mouse over the edge or corners of the image and clicking and dragging your mouse.  This will reduce or enlarge the size of the Crop. Once you adjust the crop, to move the Crop selection, place your mouse over the  image and a hand tool will appear which will enable you to move the crop selection around the image. The hand will only appear after you have sized your crop selection down.

Constrain Proportions

If your porportions are constrained then the crop will keep the original aspect ratio (4×6 unless you are shooting with a different format camera) when the size is being adjusted, if not, you will need to hold “Shift” while dragging in to constrain the proportions. You can tell if the crop ratio is constrained if the lock on the Crop Overlay Tool drop down menu is in the locked position. You can toggle this on and off by simply clicking the lock.  If you unlock the Constrain Proportions then you can free transform your crop into any aspect ratio.

You can use one of the premade commonly used ratio’s, or enter a custom aspect ratio in the drop down menu located next to the lock icon.

Crop Frame Tool

Yet another useful tool, and another method to crop within the Crop Overlay, is the Crop Frame Tool which you will see the cursor pointing to in the image below.

This tool will let you drag on the image and select whatever crop you would like. The ratio will be set to whatever ratio you have selected, or will be free form if Constrain Proportions is unlocked.

Resetting the Crop

To reset your crop at anytime you can hit “Ctrl + Alt + R” on a PC, or “Cmd + Opt + R” on a MAC. You can also hit the Reset button in the Crop Overlay drop down menu.

Cropping with the Straighten Tool

Another option with the Crop Tool is the Straightening Tool. This is very practical to use when your image has a prominante horizon line.
 To use this tool simply select it from your Crop Tool drop down menu. Now you can click on the horizon line (or whatever line you would like your crop to be parallel to)  and drag the tool along the line.  The crop will then correct itself so that this line is level.

Constrain to Warp

One of the final options that you see in your Crop Overlay Tool is the Constrain to Warp at the bottom of the Crop Overlay drop down menu. This option controls whether or not  the crop will constrain to the edges of the image if you use lens correction or another warping tool to adjust the image. Having this option checked will always crop the images so that no gray areas will appear on adjust that have been adjusted/warped.

Cropping for Compositions Using the Grid Overlay

The Grid Overlay is a useful tool for checking your composition, as well as your alignment. By hitting “O”  on your keyboard while the Crop Tool is selected, you can cycle through the different overlay’s lightroom offers.  There are numerous overlays that portray different compositional rules such as the Rule of Thirds. I usually keep our’s on the Rule of Thirds Grid Overlay in order to correct to  simultaneously correct compositions as well as horizon lines.

“Major Cropping”

We use the term “Major Cropping” when you are not cropping to make small adjustments, but rather to completely change the composition.

Now, doing this can this will severely decrease the detail of the image since you are cropping away such a large portion of the images initial resolution. A tip for this is to shoot in Large camera file formats where possible, especially when you know that you will have to be cropping into the image during post production. If you shoot at 22 megapixels, then cropping away 50% of the image still gives you 11 megapixels to work with.

I have chosen the same image as above to alter the composition. We are going to adjust the image so that it perfectly fits the Rule of Thirds. So let’s  pull up the Grid Overlay by hitting “O” and cycle through to the Rule of Thirds overlay.

As you can see from the image above, the subject does not quite fall on the one third line. What we will do to correct this is reduce the size of the crop by once again placing our mouse on the edge, or corner of the image and dragging in.

Now you can bring your mouse over the image and the hand tool will appear so that you can move around the crop selection. Once you have the crop selection where you would like, you can hit “Enter” or “R” to set it.  We have now successfully cropped our image to the desired composition.

Enhancing Details After Major Cropping

Since we have cropped about twenty percent of our image out, we have lost quite a bit of image detail. To adjust for this we will enhance our detail.  Let’s start by zooming into the image one to one. You can do this by selecting the 1:1 icon in the Navigator Panel on the upper left hand side of your Develop Module.


We will enhance our detail by adjusting our Sharpening and Noise Reduction in our Detail Panel. You can acess your Detail Panel by hitting “Ctrl + 5” on a PC or “Cmd +5” on a Mac, or by scrolling down on your Right Panel in your Develop Module and selecting it.  We will first bring up our Sharpening to +90, our Radius to 1.5, and our Detail to 30.

Now we want to adjust our Noise Reduction. In order to reduce the noise we will bring Luminance to +25. You do want to be careful not to reduce too much noise in your image as it will diminish detail. If taken too far, it will have an “oil painting” filter type effect.

Let’s glance at the original image information to see what ISO we shot on.  If you press “I” on your keyboard you can toggle the information display.

As you can see this image was shot at 800 ISO. The higher the ISO, the more likley your image will also have Color Noise. If we zoom inn 3 to 1, you can see the Color Noise which is represented by small artifacts of varying color. Rather than the entire sky just being blue/gray, we see bits of yellow, darker blue, green, etc which is known as “color noise.”

To reduce color noise, simply bring up your Color slider in your Detail Panel. I brought Color Noise up to +40. While there is still grain/noise from luminence, the color noise has been removed as shown below.

After adjusting the Detail we are finished with our crop and our image is ready be color corrected and go through basic post production. Here is our finished cropped image.

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Post Production Pye I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Phil August 5, 2012 04:20 pm

    Thanks for your comprehensive article. The Lightroom cropping tool is such a joy to work with when preparing the final image output. The option to change the Overlay Grid is a pretty awesome aid to tweaking the composition.

  • ccting July 25, 2012 12:38 pm

    I currently using compass and square triangle for more accurate composition.

  • ccting July 25, 2012 12:36 pm

    Thanks Peter for the tip

  • Al July 7, 2012 04:07 am

    Can I correct keystone shape photos by individual dragging the corners of my crop outline?

  • Sharon Mallinson July 6, 2012 10:37 am

    What an eye opener!! Agree with other comments - a crop tool
    Is a crop tool?? Thank you!

  • How Eye See July 5, 2012 12:39 am

    I am so grateful that I read this article! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I did not realize the depth of impact on an image these tools made.

    It's a good day!!! I feel so lucky to have learned this today.

    Ceil, take care and take pictures.

  • Peter June 23, 2012 10:54 pm

    You can rotate the grid overlay in Lightroom by:-

    Selecting an aspect ratio

    Clicking on a corner handle and dragging horizontal until the grid rotates

    If you hold down the ALT key while dragging the grid centres it's self.

  • Peter June 23, 2012 10:44 pm

    You can rotate the grid overlay in Lightroom by:-
    Selecting an aspect ratio
    Clicking on a corner handle and dragging horizontal until the grid rotates
    If you hold down the ALT key while dragging the grid centres it's self.

  • ccting June 21, 2012 12:40 pm

    But could we rotate the LR's grid overlay? they should be able to be rotated..

  • ccting June 21, 2012 12:37 pm

    Yes, it is the artist composition that you are using.. thanks for telling me that this can be done in LR!

  • Marisa June 21, 2012 05:55 am

    I'll admit—when I saw the title of this post, I thought, "Psh. What's to know about the cropping tool? It crops. The end." But I read the post anyway. I had no idea about the different crop overlays and the straightening tool—I've always had my crop overlay on the Rule of Thirds overlay by default, and I've always straightened by hand (and by that, I mean dragging the image with the mouse). Thank you for pointing those things out!

  • Judy Royal Glenn June 21, 2012 04:32 am

    Nice article:) Thanks for the tips.

  • Mike Spivey June 21, 2012 01:19 am

    The thing I hate is the "sticky" Constrain Aspect Ratio padlock. I normally keep my images constrained to the original aspect ratio. Once in awhile, I do a free form crop and then about the next 10 times I crop I have to click the padlock until it finally changes to closed. Wish there were some way to set closed as default.

    Good article. I shoot action sports (Night time dirt track racing) and it is impossible to compose on the fly so I shoot loosely and compose with crop. One of my most used tools.