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How to Use Lightroom’s Transform and Crop Tools to Improve Composition

Everybody loves to get it right in camera. But if you don’t, you have plenty of tools to help you make it right. Lightroom is one of the best available, and the easiest to use. In this article I’ll show you how you can use Lightroom’s Transform and Crop Tools to improve your composition.

The Transform Tab

First, let’s talk about the Transform tab, in the Develop module. Transform is relatively new to Lightroom. It’s an improved version, split-off of the Lens Correction tab. Essentially, Transform helps you straighten crooked or skewed images.


Here, in the first example above – a lovely seascape – there is a crooked horizon. Before opening the Transform tab, press the R key to activate the Crop Tool. Now press the O key (letter not number) to toggle the Grid overlay. With the Crop Tool still activated, click on the Transform tab in Lightroom and choose Level.


The Level option is perfect for images like this, when there are no strong vertical lines that need correction. It simply straightens the horizon so it no longer slopes crookedly. With the Grid overlay turned on, it’s easy to verify that the horizon is now straight. Here’s the image after the crop is applied.


In this next example (below) – an interior image of an old Italian mansion – the windows are falling over backwards.


Here the Vertical option in the Transform tab does a great job of straightening the perspective. The windows align perfectly with the horizontal and vertical lines of the Grid overlay.


But as you can see, straightening the image has created a few problems. The image was so crooked (perspective distortion) that now there is a lot of white space to crop out. The good news is that when fixing these issues, composition can be improved too.

Composing with the Crop Tool in Lightroom

The white space can be eliminated, and the composition strengthened, by creatively using the Crop Tool in Lightroom. The next step is to adjust the composition with the Crop Tool by moving it around the image.


In this image, to eliminate all of the white space and direct the viewer’s focus to the chandelier and windows, grab the Crop Tool at the top centre point, and draw down. This eliminates both the unnecessary ceiling, and the white spaces on either side of the image.

Now that the image is starting to look better, scroll through the Crop Tool overlays and review the newly cropped image to see which ones work. By reviewing your images with different Crop Tool overlays, you can strengthen your intuitive sense of strong composition.

To review each of the overlays, press the O (the letter oh not zero) key. You’ll toggle through the following:

  • Rule of Thirds (below left)
  • Diagonal (below right)
  • Golden Triangle
  • Golden Ratio (similar to the Rule of Thirds overlay)
  • Golden Spiral
  • Aspect Ratios
  • Grid

In the example images above, both the Rule of Thirds and the Diagonal overlays clearly show that the composition is strong.




Final image.


Here’s the final image (before correction is above left, after is on the right). Now let’s take a quick peek at one more image, and one more feature in Lightroom.

Flipping the Golden Spiral and Golden Triangle Overlays

You’ve probably toggled through the overlays and disregarded both the Golden Triangle and the Golden Spiral because they just never work. Unlike most of the overlays, neither the Golden Spiral nor the Golden Triangle is symmetrical. That means that you need to flip the overlays around a few times to find the orientation that aligns with your image. By pressing the Shift key and the O key at the same time, you can change the orientation of both the Golden Spiral and the Golden Triangle. Changing the orientation makes those overlays a lot more useful.

Here, in this image of a wild stallion (below), before flipping the Golden Triangle orientation, this overlay doesn’t work at all. Looking at it you might question whether or not the image had a strong enough composition to start with.


By pressing Shift plus the O key, and flipping the overlay orientation, the stallion fits neatly into his own triangle. His legs and nose are also no longer bisected by one of the diagonals. In addition, he’s positioned towards the back of the triangle. The top diagonal edge of the triangle that contains the stallion shows us that he is moving forward into the composition, towards the viewer, which is naturally pleasing to the eye. The other triangles neatly organize the foliage surrounding the stallion. Even the beam of sunlight highlighting the stallion falls within the main triangle, further confirming that this image is well composed.


With a little practice, some judicious use of the Transform tab and Crop Tool, you’ll master composition in no time. How do you use these tools to help you? Please share in the comments below.

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Lara Joy Brynildssen
Lara Joy Brynildssen

is an avid equine, wildlife, nature and travel photographer. She is crazy about her cats, loves her Canon 5D Mark IV, and never refuses a sip of limoncello. More seriously, LJ is working on several series of wild horse images, writes about and teaches photography and exhibits her work in the Chicagoland area. Follow her at www.LaraJoy.us.

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