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When you crop a photo, you're defining a crop boundary and Lightroom hides the parts of the photo that fall outside of that boundary. There are a couple of reasons to crop: to remove unwanted content at the edges of a photo, to improve the overall composition of a scene, to change the aspect ratio, perhaps to fit a print into a physical frame, or maybe you need to straighten a photo. In any event, when you crop and straighten, you'll go into a special mode called Crop Overlay mode. If you're working in the Develop module, you can enter that mode by going to the Develop Tools panel and clicking the first icon there, the Crop Overlay button.
If you're working in another module, you can get directly into Crop Overlay mode by pressing the R key on your keyboard. In Crop Overlay mode, you'll see this dropdown panel with Crop & Straighten tools and options, and there will be this border around the photo in the main window. To size the crop border, I'll move my mouse over any of the crop boundary borders, or over one of the corners, and drag in. And now here's something that may surprise you.
To define which parts of the photo are going to be inside the crop boundary and which outside, I'm not going to move the crop boundary, as I do in other programs like Photoshop; instead, I'm going to move the photo around inside the static boundary. I'll move my mouse so that my cursor is inside the boundary, and it changes to a Hand tool, and then I can click and drag to get the photo just where I want it inside of that boundary. Now, to finish the crop, I can either press Done at the bottom of the main window, or I can click Close over here at the bottom of the Crop Overlay panel, or I can just press the Return or Enter key on my keyboard.
Now, of course everything outside the crop boundary has disappeared, but that's no problem if I change my mind about this crop, because Lightroom crops nondestructively. Cropping doesn't change any pixels in the photo. Like all of the adjustments in Lightroom, it's just instructions and metadata. So if I go back into Crop Overlay mode, now or in the future, I'll see all the rest my photos here outside of the current crop boundary, and I can tweak the crop boundary now to change the area that gets cropped. Or if I want to start all over, I can reset the crop boundary to encompass the entire photo by going to the Reset button at the bottom of the Crop Overlay panel and clicking there.
Now let me say a word or two about the aspect ratio of a crop, the proportion of the width to the height of the crop boundary. You may have noticed that when I move my mouse over one border and drag, as I'm sizing the crop boundary, the other border goes with me. I can't move one border independently of the other by default. And that's because, if you look over in the Crop Overlay panel, by default, this menu, the Aspect Ratio menu, is set to Original. That means that the crop boundary is going to be in the same aspect ratio as the height and the width of the original photo.
And that aspect ratio is constrained, or locked down, as represented by this lock icon, which is by default in lock position. So if I want to be able to move one border of the boundary separate from the other, I'll click on this lock to unlock it, and then I'll move into the image, and when I move this border, the other border doesn't move with me. So now I have the freedom to make a crop boundary in any shape, even something odd like this. Another thing about aspect ratios is that sometimes I need to crop to a common specific aspect ratio, like 4x5 or 5x7.
If I want to do that, then I'll come over to the Aspect Ratio menu, and I'll click there, and I'll choose one of the common Aspect Ratios in this list. 1x1 will give me a square crop boundary. Or I'll choose this Aspect Ratio if I want to make a print that will be 4x5 inches, 8x10 inches, or maybe even 16x20 inches--all of which are ratios of 4:5. So if I choose that, I now have a crop boundary that's 4x5. And if I drag one side of this boundary, the other side goes with me in a ratio of 4x5.
Even if I make the crop boundary as big as it possibly can be, I am going to lose some of the image to this crop, and that's because my camera captured this photo at a 4x6 aspect ratio. So that's cropping. Now let's talk about straightening. I am going to reset in the Crop Overlay panel, and I am going to select another tool here, the Straighten tool. When I click on this tool, it's as if I were picking up the tool, and then I can move into the image and release my mouse and drop the tool for a moment. You want to straighten a photo when you've got an important horizontal or vertical element that looks crooked.
The most common example is a slightly crooked horizon line, like the line of the lake here in this photo. I can use the Straighten tool to automatically straighten the horizon in this photo. To do that, I'll click on the horizon and holding my mouse down, I'll drag out a line exactly along that horizon, and then I'll release my mouse. As soon as I do, Lightroom makes this crop bounding box and it rotates the image inside of the crop bounding box so that the horizon line appears straight. At this point, I can move the image slightly inside of this crop bounding box, but I don't have a lot of wiggle room.
And I can't make the bounding box bigger, because to do so would take the bounding box outside of the area of the photo, and that's something that you can't do in Lightroom. So to finish off straightening the horizon line, I'm going to click Done at the bottom of the main window, or I could click Close on the Crop Overlay panel, and Lightroom crops the image slightly in order to make the horizon line look straight. So that's the nuts and bolts of straightening and cropping in Lightroom. Many photographers are in the habit of cropping and straightening before they make any image adjustments, and you're welcome to do it then.
But in Lightroom, you can make this or any adjustment whenever you like. And remember that you can go back in to re-crop or straighten again at any time-- for example, if you need to make prints at different aspect ratios--because as we've seen, cropping and straightening are nondestructive in Lightroom.
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