Customizing the Grid Overlay

Customizing the Grid Overlay

This post was updated on January 16th, 2021

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom – The Develop Module

Last month we started exploring the Crop and Straighten Tool with the Aspect Ratio Section. Today we continue these investigations with the different options of customizing the Grid Overlay itself before we have a look at some examples.

Grid Overlay Settings

You may already have noticed that, once you access the Crop Overlay Tool, your image not only gets a frame overlay with handles but a Grid Overlay too.

Grid Overlay Settings - Grid Overlay Activated
Grid Overlay Activated

Of course, this only happens if you do not deactivate your Grid in the first place.

Grid Overlay Settings - Grid Overlay Deactivated
Grid Overlay Deactivated

In the following paragraphs we will look into how to customize this Overlay in different ways.

How to enable/disable the Grid Overlay

In the bottom left corner, in the toolbar below your photo, you find a little selection list called Tool Overlay. (Circled in red in the next figure.)

Crop & Straighten Tool with the Tool Overlay settings marked
Crop & Straighten Tool with the Tool Overlay settings marked

This list lets you choose between the following settings:

  1. Always: The Grid is visible when the Crop Overlay Tool is active
  2. Auto: The Grid is only visible while you drag the Crop Overlay Tool’s handles to create a new Aspect Ratio. Additionally, this setting activates the Crop Frame Tool automatically too. 
  3. Never: Turns off the Grid Overlay.

The standard is a 3×3 grid, commonly known as Thirds.

Choosing a specific Grid layout

To select a particular style of Grid, use the menu Tools -> Crop Grid Overlay. This menu entry is only available while Adobe ® Lightroom’s Crop and Straighten Tool is active.
In the submenu of this entry, you will first encounter eight entries for different Grid layouts.

Adobe ® Lightroom's Tools Menu with the Crop Guide Overlay Settings

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Adobe ® Lightroom’s Tools Menu with the Crop Guide Overlay Settings

In the following sections, I have colored the Grid in red to make it stand out more. However, this is not an option within Adobe ® Lightroom – I colored each line manually in Adobe ® Photoshop to make it easier to see the Grid in this article.

Grid

The Overlay looks like a mesh of small squares. As opposed to the grid overlay that you can adjust in the Develop Module panels outside of this Tool, you cannot modify the size of these squares.

Screenshot of the Crop & Straighten Tool's Crop Overlay set to Grid

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Crop Overlay set to Grid

Thirds

The Thirds overlay is a Grid overlay of boxes that divide your image into sections, each a 1/3 of the photo’s original size. Since Adobe ® Lightroom displays the Grid only within your future crop, this works nicely to check if you are within the thirds rule, which is often used by landscape photographers.

Crop & Straighten Tool's Overlay set to Thirds

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Crop Overlay set to Thirds

Diagonal

Divides your crop using diagonal lines. However, if you are working on a rectangular section, the diagonal is not connecting the corners of your rectangle.

Crop and Straighten Tool with the Crop Overlay Setting "Diagonal" for a rectangular crop

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Crop Overlay set to Diagonal

Should you want to create a 1:1 crop without the selection list, this Overlay can help you achieve your goal to perfection. As you can see with the rectangular example above, you get four diagonal lines. In a 1:1 aspect ratio, two of them will always overlap.

1:1 with a Diagoal Grid Overlay
1:1 with a Diagoal Grid Overlay

Center

The Center Grid divides your crop into four equally sized sections. This Grid is particularly helpful if you need to find the center of your photograph. However, as of now, there is no way in Adobe ® Lightroom to use the Aspect Tool and create an overlay starting from its center point.

Crop Overlay Setting: Center in Adobe ® Lightroom's Crop & Straighten Tool

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Crop Overlay Setting: Center

Triangle

The Triangle Grid shows you the Golden Triangle. Here one of the diagonals connects the bottom and top corner of opposite sides, while the other two lines are standing in a 90˚ angle on the diagonal and link it with the remaining edges. This layout is particularly helpful if you want to crop your photo obeying the Golden Triangle’s compositional rule.

Crop Overlay Setting: (Golden) Triangle in Adobe ® Lightroom's Crop & Straighten Tool

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Crop Overlay Setting: (Golden) Triangle

Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio Grid is a so-called Phi-Grid (or φ-Grid). The sections of this Grid have a ratio of 1:0.618:1. They do not divide the Grid into segments of equal size. As you can see in the figure below, the mid-sections are significantly smaller than the border-sections.

The Golden Ratio or Golden Square Grid Overlay

Customizing the Grid Overlay
The Golden Ratio or Golden Square Grid Overlay

Golden Spiral

The Golden Spiral Grid is also known as a Fibonacci Grid and is related to the Golden Ratio. The length of each square equals a Fibonacci number. Leonardo of Pisa (*1170, †1250), called Fibonacci, developed this number range initially to show the growth of a rabbit population. However, it turned out to create a pleasing pattern that graphic designers and painters often use. Within a Fibonacci range, each number is the sum of the two previous numbers, while the range starts with 0 and 1. So let’s have a brief look at the Fibonacci range.

0 + 1 = 1 \\ 1 + 1 = 2 \\ 1 + 2 = 3 \\ 2 + 3 = 5 \\ 3 + 5 = 8 \\ 5 + 8 = 13 \\ 8 + 13 = 21 \\ …
How to create a Fibonacci Spiral

To create a Fibonacci spiral, we start with a square (red on the left side) and divide it vertically into two rectangles of equal size. The diagonal from the left bottom of the right box to its right top corner (blue line) is the radius of a circle (green below), which has its lower midpoint at the rectangles’ meeting point. Now we extend our square along its bottom line to the right until it meets the circle’s arch (bottom blue line). From this endpoint, we draw a path upward, with the same height as the original square, before connecting the resulting endpoint with the right top of the original square form.

The result is a rectangle, with the aspect ratio of 1:0.618 from its inner square to the remaining figure.

Fibonacci Rectangle

You can then separate the small rectangle itself into a square and a rectangle, which’s sides again fulfill the 1:0.618 aspect ratio. If you do that often enough, you come down with a set of boxes connected in this Golden Spiral pattern.

Golden Spiral Crop Overlay for the Crop and Straighten Tool in Adobe ® Lightroom

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Golden Spiral Crop Overlay

You can find examples for the use of the Golden Spiral in paintings, like Johannes Vermeer’s “The Girl with the pearl earring,” in nature, for instance, in snail houses, or in architecture in spiral staircases among others.

Aspect Ratios

The Aspect Ratios Grid overlay shows you a set of different aspect ratios.

Aspect Ratio Overlay - with all Standard Ratios enabled

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Aspect Ratio Overlay – with all Standard Ratios enabled

Per default, you will see an overlay with all standard Aspect Ratios of Adobe ® Lightroom. However, you can adjust this with the help of Tools -> Crop Overlay Guide -> Choose Aspect Ratios. This menu entry opens a little pop-up window displaying the list of Aspect Ratios from which to choose. Mark those you want to include in the Overlay and unmark those you do not need. Confirm your selection by clicking on OK, or abort by clicking Cancel.

Aspect Ratio Selection for the Crop Overlay

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Aspect Ratio Selection for the Crop Overlay

Cycling through the different Grid Overlays

Maybe, you had a Golden Spiral Grid activated for your last portrait photograph, but for the next crop of a landscape photo, you’d instead use the Third Grid? Or, maybe you would like to see if your photo fits any of the composition rules in photography, so you’d like to check it with these Grid overlays?

There are three ways to achieve that.

  1. You go back to Tools -> Crop Guide Overlay -> Choose Aspect Ratios and chose one aspect ratio after the other. This way sounds a little cumbersome if you ask me.
  2. You go back to Tools -> Crop Guide Overlay -> Cycle Grid Overlay and repeat this step until you have gone through all of them. Well, that’s not less cumbersome than the first way of doing this. 
  3. You press your keyboard’s <O> Key and do that until you have gone through all of the Overlays. This way is probably the fastest method to cycle through the different Grid Overlays, especially if you only have a few that you are frequently using.

Here comes a twist for options 2 and 3 though, neither of them will necessarily walk you through all the available Grid Overlays. You will only be cycling through the overlays that you have marked with the help of Tools -> Crop Guide Overlay -> Choose Overlays to Cycle.

Configure the Grid Overlays to Cycle through

As mentioned above, you have to select the Grid Overlays that you can cycle through by pressing the -Key or using the Tools -> Crop Guide Overlay -> Cycle Grid Overlay menu entry. To configure your choice, you select Tools -> Crop Guide Overlay -> Choose Overlays to Cycle, which opens the following window in Adobe ® Lightroom.

Selects the Grid Overlays that you can cycle though

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Selects the Grid Overlays that you can cycle though

Mark the Overlays that you want to include when cycling through them and unmark those you do not need. Once you have made your selection of Overlays, click on OK to confirm it or click on Cancel to abort your adjustments.

Rotate the Grid Overlay

Sometimes you will find that the photograph that you have in a landscape format would look beautiful in a smaller portrait format crop. Of course, you could hand-draw your new Crop Overlay. However, what if it also needs to be of a specific Aspect Ratio?

Welcome to Adobe ® Lightroom’s Rotate Crop Aspect Ratio function, which achieves precisely this with the press of one key.

Pressing the -key changes your Grid Overlay from a landscape orientation into a portrait orientation or vice versa. Of course, you can also use the menu entry under Settings -> Rotate Crop Aspect.
Let’s give it a go with the Thirds Overlay.

Thirds Grid following the orientation of the image

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Thirds Grid following the orientation of the image
Thirds Grid Rotated

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Thirds Grid Rotated

Rotate the Grid within the Overlay

As you might have noticed above, some of the Grid Overlays might come in an orientation that is not the one you need. For example, if you have a look at the Golden Triangle shown here:

Golden Triangle Grid

Customizing the Grid Overlay
Golden Triangle Grid

What if you wanted the long diagonal not to go from the lower left to the upper right corner but the top left to the bottom right corner instead? However, you still want it to be a landscape format Overlay. So rotating the entire frame would only get you there with the extra step of enlarging the Grid back into a landscape format again. While this is still an option for Grids with only two different settings, it would not work if you were looking at the Golden Spiral instead.

A much more appropriate way of rotating the Grid within the Overlay is to use the Adobe ® Lightroom’s “Cycle Grid Overlay Orientation” function. You find it in the Tools menu, or you can use the shortcut .

Using this the Golden Triangle switches to this version (or back to the original):

Rotated Golden Triangle Grid
Rotated Golden Triangle Grid

Now, this function has only an effect on the following Overlays:

  • Golden Triangle – 2 versions
  • Golden Spiral – 8 versions
  • Aspect Ratios – 2 versions

Have a go and try it for yourself later.

Practical Examples on how to use the different Grid settings and the Crop Tool

Moving the sides of the Grid or using the Aspect Tool?

The original photo for both is the following.

Orignal Image prior to cropping
Orignal Image prior to cropping

If you wanted to crop out only that dried blossom in the top left corner, I would probably use the sides and edges to create the new image. Moving only the top left corner down and to the right, gives me the following result.

Small amount on the side and top cropped
Small amount on the side and top cropped

But what if I wanted to keep only the blue blossom in the image and cut off everything else? Using the Overlay’s edges and sides, I would have to use multiple adjustments before reaching my final result. However, using the Crop Frame Tool, I can quickly draw the new rectangle onto my photo to crop it accordingly.

Crop selected with the Crop Frame Tool
Crop selected with the Crop Frame Tool

Adjusting by Aspect Ratio selection

But what if you need a fixed aspect ratio for your photo?

If you want to prepare your photograph for export in a specific size, say 10x15cm (4x6inch) to print it on some photo paper, or 4:5 to post it as a portrait photo on Instagram, the selection of a fixed aspect ratio is excellent to achieve exact measurements.

Aspect Ratio Selection list with standard values framed in red
Aspect Ratio Selection list with standard values framed in red

When you open your Aspect Ratio Selection List, you might notice that it does not list all formats given in the previous screenshot. The ratios below “Enter Custom…” are those I defined before writing this blog post. In this custom section, only the latest five aspect ratios are stored.

Once you select an aspect ratio or enter a custom ratio, the Lock closes itself. Adobe ® Lightroom then presents you with the largest possible crop overlay in that format, which is reachable from your current Overlay.

What does “the largest possible crop” mean?

Let’s assume your current crop overlay covers the entire image. This format is your starting crop overlay for the next step. Now you choose 1:1 as the new Aspect ratio. Adobe ® Lightroom will present you with a crop overlay with the length and width of the shortest side of your starting crop overlay.

However, what happens if your starting crop overlay, for example, is a 2000:1 aspect ratio? In this case, your starting crop overlay might cover only a skinny stripe of your original photograph. If you now chose a new Aspect Ratio of 1:1, the Overlay will again use the shortest side from your starting crop overlay to determine the new size. This selection might end up with a crop that is 3×3 pixels large.

If you base your crop on a square format photo or a crop overlay that is in the 1:1 aspect ratio, the next aspect ratio assumes that the top and bottom sides of your square are the sides that should keep their length if your original photo was a landscape format. The new crop keeps the length of the left and right side from the previous one if the original is a portrait format image.

Which lengths does Lightroom preserve – Examples?
Landscape format photo as the base

Let us use the following photograph for this example.

Original Landscape format photo
Original Landscape format photo

If I choose a new aspect ratio of 5:7, the Overlay will not only adhere to the original photo’s landscape format. It will also preserve the length of the shortest side, if possible.

Original with 5:4 Aspect Ratio Grid Overlay
Original with 5:4 Aspect Ratio Grid Overlay
Portrait format photo as the base

Let us use the following photograph for this example.

Original Portrait format photograph
Original Portrait format photograph

If I choose a new aspect ratio of 5:7, the Overlay will not only adhere to the original photo’s portrait format. It will also preserve the length of the shortest side, if possible. So, in this case, the short side is converted into the shorter side of the crop.

Photo with 5:4 Crop Overlay in portrait orientation
Photo with 5:4 Crop Overlay in portrait orientation

However, you can adjust the size of it, the same way you created a freehand crop in the previous section.

Moving the crop overlay

It is possible to move the Overlay into a different position, by clicking into the Overlay, when you see the Hand as a mouse-pointer, and holding your mouse button pressed while moving your mouse. You can only move the Overlay within the boundaries of your photograph, though.

You will notice that Adobe ® Lightroom pretends to move the photo below the Overlay, so when you move your mouse upward, it seems as if your Overlay moves down. Don’t worry; you will get the hang of it eventually. 😉 Of course, the freehand drawn crop described in the previous section can be moved in the same way.

Manually defining your Aspect Ratio

If none of the predefined Aspect Ratios matches your expectations, you can select “Enter Custom…” from the selection list. Once you choose it, a pop-up window like in the following screenshot opens.

Pop Up window to enter your own Aspect Ratio
Pop Up window to enter your own Aspect Ratio

Example of cropping with a given Aspect Ratio

Let’s assume you want to prepare a photo in two versions. A vertical crop fitting for say Instagram, and a square crop for you to print in the future.

The vertical crop would need to have an aspect ratio of 4:5, and the square one needs an aspect ratio of 1:1.

We will use this flower image as a base for both.

Photograph prior to cropping
Photograph prior to cropping

The original size of this image is 6016×4000 pixels, so about close to a 6:4 (or 3:2) ratio.

Cropping as a 4:5 portrait format

Use the aspect ratio section to set the new size to 4:5/8:10 in the selection-list. Lightroom will present you with an overlay on top of your photograph. Since we started with the original image, the Overlay will have the next smaller fitting size. Our photo started with 6016×4000 pixels. To fit into the newly chosen ratio of 4:5 Adobe ® Lightroom cuts the long side down to 5000 pixels, and the short one stays at its original length. There is one more thing happening: the image keeps its original orientation. So even if you manually specified a 4000:5000 aspect ratio in the customs settings, it would apply the lower value to the shorter side and the higher one to the longer side.

4:5 landscape format Crop Overlay
4:5 landscape format Crop Overlay

This result is not quite what we wanted. The idea was not only to convert this image into a 4:5 aspect ratio but also to turn it from a landscape format into a portrait format photo.

To archive our goal, we have to choose another approach.

Adobe ® Lightroom offers four different ways of reaching our goal here.

Creating a custom crop in the desired format first

For this, we first need to create a custom crop overlay that has the desired portrait format.

Custom portrait format Grid Overlay
Custom portrait format Grid Overlay

Once we have done that, we can select the 4:5 ratio from the crop format selection again, and it will now base its calculations on the orientation of the previous crop and not the original.

4:5 Crop overlay in portrait format for a landscape photo
4:5 Crop overlay in portrait format for a landscape photo
Using the Crop Frame Tool to create the desired format

The second way of creating a portrait format 4:5 crop from a landscape format image is to select the aspect ratio first and then use the Crop Frame Tool to draw the Overlay into the desired position, format, and size.

However, I have found that this occasionally switches forth and back between the landscape and portrait format so that the first approach might be more straightforward.

Moving the handles of the Crop Overlay to create the desired Aspect Ratio

The third way of reaching our goal is to set the Aspect ratio selection to our desired ratio of 4:5. Now the Crop Overlay is still in the landscape format. However, if you drag one of the corner-handles vertically toward the other side (right corner straight to the left or vice versa), the Crop Overlay will eventually change from a landscape to a portrait overlay.

The same would be true if you worked on a portrait format photo, which you wanted to change into a landscape format.

Creating the desired format with the help of the Settings Menu

The final and probably the easiest method to rotate a crop from landscape into portrait format or the other way round.

Choose the desired aspect ratio of your crop from the selection list, or define your own. The crop overlay will now show it obeying to the original format of the photograph. Now choose Rotate Crop Aspect from the Settings menu or press . The crop overlay will rotate into – in this case – the portrait format.

Of course, we can adjust the crop size as usual by dragging the overlay handles or using the Crop Frame Tool.

Cropping into a 1:1 format

Let’s assume we continue from the previous 4:5 crop and do not set it back to the original size.

4:5 Crop Overlay as a starting point
4:5 Crop Overlay as a starting point

If we now change the crop to a 1:1 ratio from the selection list, what is going to happen?

Adobe ® Lightroom uses the 4:5 crop overlay as a base for the size calculation of the new 1:1. So again, it preserves the length of the shortest side(s) in the new format.

The result looks like the following figure
1:1 crop from a 4:5 overlay
1:1 crop from a 4:5 overlay
1:1 crop from the Original photo's Crop Overlay
1:1 crop from the Original photo’s Crop Overlay

The difference between the two 1:1 crops above does not come from manual adjustments. It only occurred here, because when I selected the 1:1 crop I had a 4:5 crop selected before I changed the selection. Whereas for the second one I had “Original” in full size as active selection, which I then changed to 1:1.

Now, if I was rotating through different crop sizes, without adjusting their sizes manually, the Crop Overlay would shrink with every new selection.

But, of course, you can change the position and size of the crop to your liking. And as long as you keep the Lock closed, you will always adhere to the selected aspect ratio.

I hope this article, together with the previous one, has helped you gain a better understanding of the Crop Tool and its Settings.


All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “Customizing the Grid Overlay” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Wiebke Schröder / Lille Ulven Photography.

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