How to Use Lightroom’s Crop Overlays to Help with Composition

If you want more control or precision in your cropping than just eyeballing it, Lightroom has some built-in tools to help. Guides include Golden Thirds, Golden Spirals, or Aspect Ratios.

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Filed Under: Develop Module

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A lot of the time you use the crop tool in Lightroom you might just be visually eyeballing it to what looks about right. Or you might be cropping something out of the image. Cropping is also the first step of resizing an image in Lightroom.

But there are also times you might want more control and precision. Perhaps you want to have a 4:5 aspect ratio for a perfect print on 8×10″ paper. Or you might want to put your subject exactly in the left third to allow copy space for a magazine editor. Or maybe you want to go even fancier and use some of the classic photography composition techniques like the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio to steer the viewer’s focus to a particular part of the frame.

Lightroom can help. It has a series of built-in crop overlays that serve as useful guides when you’re cropping images. They’re not necessarily front-and-center, but once you know they’re there they can come in very handy.

How to Change the Crop Overlays

When you’re using the crop tool, you can cycle through the different options by pressing O (for overlay). You won’t see the option unless you’re actually using the crop tool.

And you have some options for controlling how the crop overlays behave.

Firstly, you can choose which overlays are available when you cycle through by going to:

Crop Guide Overlay > Choose Overlays to Cycle

Secondly, you can also choose when the tool overlays display. When you’re using the crop tool you have a “Tool Overlay” option that appears to the bottom left of the image where you can choose Never, Always, or Auto. The last one, Auto, displays the overlay only when you’re actually dragging the crop boundaries but hides automatically the rest of the time. You can get to the same functions from the top menu:

Tools > Tool Overlay
Now that Photoshop CC also uses Lightroom’s crop method, these crop overlays also work in Photoshop. To cycle through them you use the same keyboard shortcut (O). The available overlays are mostly the same, with a few different options.

Aspect Ratios

The Aspect Ratio option is especially useful if you’re trying to compose the image for a particular size of paper for printing or for something like video.

These are different from setting the crop aspect ratio, which you do in the right panel. These are simply guides to help.

aspect-ratio-guides

Rotate by pressing SHIFT+O.

You can also choose which aspect ratios display. Go to Tools > Crop Guide Overlay > Choose Aspect Ratios …

aspect-ratios
Choose-Aspect-Ratios

Basic Grid Pattern

Grid

Rule of Thirds

Rule-of-Thirds

Golden Ratio

Golden-Ratio

Golden Spiral

Golden-Mean-1

Rotate by pressing SHIFT+O. Each press rotates 90 degrees.

Golden-Mean-2

Golden Triangles

Triangles-1

Rotate by pressing SHIFT+O. Each press rotates 90 degrees.

Triangles-2

Diagonals

Diagonal

FAQs

Can you change Lightroom’s crop overlay?

Yes. You can cycle through the available crop overlays in Lightroom by pressing the keyboard shortcut O (the letter O) in the Develop module.

You can also change the selection of crop overlays that are available by the menu item: Crop Guide Overlay > Choose Overlays to Cycle.

How to rotate Lightroom’s crop overlay?

You can rotate Lightroom’s crop overlay by pressing SHIFT-O (the letter O).

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David Coleman / Photographer
by David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my travel photography here. I've been using Lightroom for years, from back before it was Lightroom (RawShooter). More »

12 thoughts on “How to Use Lightroom’s Crop Overlays to Help with Composition”

  1. How do I crop the center of a photo using lightroom? Specifically, I have a photo with 2 people standing side by side. I want to crop out the space between the 2 people to have them standing closer together. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • I can’t think of any way to do that in Lightroom, but it’s pretty straightforward in Photoshop (or an alternative like Gimp).

      Reply
    • It doesn’t impact the image quality, as such, but you’ll need to keep an eye on resolution issues. And that depends on what size you’re printing at. The ideal range to print an 8×10 at “full” resolution of 240dpi to 300dpi is an image somewhere from 1920×2400 px to 2400×3000 px (larger also works, obviously). The 5D Mark II shoots at 5616 x 3744p px, so that leaves a lot of room for cropping while still leaving plenty of resolution at that size. If you’re printing larger prints you’ll ideally want more pixels and less cropping. But you can still usually get excellent results below that ideal range of 240 dpi to 300 dpi–maybe even down to 150 dpi.

      Reply
  2. Very useful, thank you so much. Nice to experiment with which grid fits which type of photo. I usually simply use rule of thirds or golden ratio but now I see the possibilities are much richer.

    Reply

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