Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lightroom 3's Crop Overlay Tools

Cropping an image during post processing can be a VERY powerful way to impact your photos ability to convey a story.  Lightroom offers a host of options in this often overlooked feature that will help you get more our of your photos.  Let's take a look.

The Crop Overlay tool can be accessed from the Develop Module by clicking on the icon circled in red in the screen capture shown here.  A more convenient method is to simply press the letter "R" on your keyboard from within any module within Lightroom and you'll be magically whisked away to the Crop Overlay feature.  When selected, you'll be presented with these additional "Crop & Straighten" options:

  • Aspect - Click the icon to the left of the "Aspect" label and your cursor turns into the crop icon.  Now you can simply click and drag over an area on your image to determine how the image will be cropped.
  • Original - You'll notice an up/down arrow control next to the word "Original" in this panel.  Clicking here presents you with a drop down of common print sizes you can use as a template for cropping your image.  You can also create your own custom ratios on this menu such as 10 x 20 or 5 x15 for panoramas.
  • Padlock - Clicking this icon either constrains the height/width ratio of the selected print size template (padlock in "locked" position") or allows you to adjust the height and width independent of one another (padlock in "unlocked" position).
  • Angle - I LOVE this tool.  If you've taken a photo at an unintentional slant, click the Angle icon to select it and then click and drag a straight line on the horizon of your image.  When you let go of the mouse, Lightroom automatically calculates the angle of that line and rotates your image accordingly.  If you don't have an obvious horizon line to click, use the slider to adjust the rotation of your image.  You can also rotate your image by clicking and dragging your mouse on your image outside of the crop area.
  • Constrain to Warp - When this option is selected, adjustments made in the Lens Correction panel will automatically constrain the crop to your photo area and exclude "blank" areas caused by the warping effects of the correction.
My normal cropping workflow usually begins with the Angle tool to be sure my horizon line is straight.  Then, if my goal is something other than the 3:2 ratio of my original image, I'll select my aspect ratio from the "Original" drop down menu and leave the padlock "locked" to maintain that ratio.  I then click on the crop "handle" in the upper right corner of my image and begin to drag it in toward the center of the image to resize the crop area. You'll notice that the area outside your crop area will be dimmed to indicate that, once complete, that area of your image will be lost.  Moving your cursor inside the crop area will change your mouse pointer into a hand.  You can now click and drag to move a different part of your image into your crop area.  You can also click and drag on any of the 8 "handles" on the border of the crop area to resize.  When you're happy with the adjustment, simply press the "Enter" key or click on the "Done" button to commit your crop.

Here are a few additional options that may not be as obvious:
  • Changing the Grid - By default, the "Rule of Thirds" grid appears inside your crop area to help you better compose your crop.  Pressing the "O" key repeatedly will cycle through other grid options.
  • Lights Out - While the outside of your crop area is automatically dimmed to help you visualize the final crop, you can press the "L" key to enter "Lights Out" mode while cropping.  Pressing it once further darkens the area outside your crop, press it twice to completely black out the area outside the crop and press it a third time to "turn the lights back on".
  • Portrait/Landscape - When you enter crop mode, the crop area mimics the layout of your original image showing an area in either portrait or landscape.  Press the "X" key to alternate the crop area between portrait/landscape.
Ideally we want to compose our images to the best of our ability when capturing the photo.  That doesn't mean, however, that we can't make an image better by "recomposing" during post processing with the crop tool.  For example, I took the following shot of two white tail deer racing across a field from quite a distance.

There's a lot of "noise" in this image detracting from my story, but there wasn't much I could do at the time to make it any better.  I'm zoomed out as far as I can reach (200mm), there's no time to get myself closer to the action, and I'm more focused on capturing that lead deer right as it hits that first bend than I am worried about the fact that I've got a big, ugly utility pole sucking up the right side of my frame.  I knew when I was shooting these images that there was a story here, but this isn't it.

Here's the same image after cropping.  The foreground brush is gone. The utility pole is gone. The distant road and trees are gone.  It's just two playful deer racing across the frame into a series of totally unnecessary, but completely fun and understandable curving paths through the snow.  That's the story I wanted to tell and the crop allowed me to do it. 

As you can see from the "Before and After", much of the image was trimmed away and the result probably isn't going to be enough to produce a large print.  That happens.  The alternative, however, was an image that I wouldn't have bothered sharing and a story that would have gone untold.

Do you have any images that you "saved" with a crop?  Drop a link in the comments section below.  We'd love to see them.

Until next time, keep click'n.


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