How to straighten photos

How to straighten photos

This post was updated on February 27th, 2021

Estimated reading time: 12 minutes

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom

In November 2020, we explored how to customize the Grid overlay. Today it is time to move on within the Crop and Straighten Tool of Adobe ® Lightroom and figure out how to straighten photos using the Straighten section of it.

Buttons and Sliders in the Straighten Section

The Straighten Tool is located in the lower part of the Crop and Straighten Tool.

The Crop and Straighten Tool
The Crop and Straighten Tool

Let’s have a look at the buttons and sliders in the Crop and Straighten Tool’s Straighten Section.

Straighten Section of the Crop and Straighten Tool
Straighten Section of the Crop and Straighten Tool
  1. The Angle Tool looking like a spirit level placed within an old railway station clock on the left side. Don’t let this full circle clock-looking tool mislead you. You can only change the angle of your image between -45˚ and +45˚.
  2. Next, you find a slider initially centered at 0˚.
  3. The digits in the scale next to the slider will change according to which degree you have set. However, you can also dial in a numeric value here. Again, that value needs to be between -45˚ and +45˚.
  4. Above this scale, you find a little button called Auto. Admittedly it does not look like a button, but it is one, after all.

What consequences does straightening have?

There is, of course the obvious consequence that your photo should be leveled after you have successfully used the tool.

However, there is a more inconvinient consequence as well.

If you have to straighten a photo in Adobe ® Lightroom, you will crop some parts of it. The higher the absolute value of your rotation degree, the higher is your loss. If your image contains important content in its corners, you might better straighten it in Adobe ® Photoshop, where you can "restore" missing content. Your best option, however, is to get it as straight as possible in-camera.  

The Overlay will always show you which areas of the photo are going to be cut off, like in the next image.

Areas that are going to be cut off when you straighten the image are located outside the overlay
Image areas outside the Overlay are going to be cut

How to use the Straightening Tools

Straightening photos with the Auto tool

If you click on the Auto button in the Straighten section, Adobe ® Lightroom attempts to straighten your photo for you.

In some cases, Adobe ® Lightroom is unable to level your image for you. It will then present you with an error message instead. These errors occur when there is no clear straight line in the image. For example, because you used ICM or in a macro shot of a flower.

Adobe ® Lightroom is unable to automatically straighten the following image, for example.

A photo that cannot be automatically straightened
A photo that cannot be automatically straightened

However, the Auto tool can straighten the next photo.

The auto button would work for this photo
The auto button would work for this photo

If there is more than one line that could be the one to straighten along, Adobe ® Lightroom might choose the one you do not want to get leveled. Or it might decide that it cannot decide along with line to straighten the image, as in the first photo.

If your image contains a clear horizon line, the Auto straightening function should be able to level your image automatically. Of course, you can use the other tools to improve on the automatic settings, if necessary.

Using the scale to level photos

This tool is suitable for tiny corrections or you know the rotation degree that you need. It is a helpful tool for micro-adjustments. However, I suspect you’ll never use it as a starting point.

Adobe ® Lightroom rotates your photo below the grid overlay in the given direction and degree value. Valid numbers are in the range between -45.00˚ and +45.00˚.

If you increase the amount, the upper right corner moves downward. Decreasing the value moves the upper left corner downward. Changing the amount from +5 to +4 is a decrease, so the upper left corner of your image moves downward. Changing the amount from -3.9 to -2 is an increase. Therefore the upper right corner of your photograph moves down relative to the overlay. When you change the numbers in this tool, you will also see the slider tool moving ever so slightly. Of course, how far the slider moves depends on the change of the numbers in the scale tool and vice versa.

From the direction, the slider moves to you can anticipate the corner that is going to move downward. If you move the slider to the right, the upper right corner of your image will be moved down. Moving the slider to the left, moves the upper left corner down.

How to use the slider to straighten images?

Initially, you see the slider in the 0-position. However, if you move the slider to the right from its current position you increase the angle’s value. Move it to the left, and you decrease the angle’s amount. It might be easier to remember this way: Moving the slider to the right moves the upper right corner downward. Moving the slider to the left, moves the upper left corner downward.

Let’s have a look at an example

Look at the horizon in the next figure. You will notice that it is climbing upward from the left to the right side of the image.

Unstraightened fall image
Unstraightened fall image

Which upper corner would you want to move downward, the left or the right one?

I suspect you agree with me that the right upper corner needs to move downward. It means you need to move the slider to the right to correct the image.

While moving the slider in either direction, Adobe ® Lightroom automatically displays the Grid overlay as an aide.

Let’s make a first adjustment to the right. If you do this with your photos, watch the overlay related to your horizon line. Once it looks as if the horizon is parallel to the horizontal guidelines, you have successfully straightened your image.

Photo with overlay from the Crop and Straighten Tool
Photo with overlay from the Crop and Straighten Tool
Settings for the leveling of the photo above
Settings for the leveling of the photo above

Straightening with the straighten tool

When you click on the straighten tool in Lightroom, your cursor turns into a little cross with a spirit level.

To straighten your photograph, you find a line in your photo running at an angle that should be level. Click on one point of this line and hold the mouse button down while dragging the mouse along the line. As long as you do not release the mouse button, you can change your tool’s line’s angle easily. Once you have matched your drawn line with the one in your photograph, release the mouse button.

Adobe ® Lightroom will now calculate how many degrees and in which direction to turn your image to level it.
As with all the other straightening tools in this section, it will cost you some pixels of your image.

To straighten images without the loss of pixels you have to rely on other programs like Adobe ® Photoshop.


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 “The Basic Panel of the Develop ModuleX” IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography.

Comments are closed.
Social Media Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
%d bloggers like this: