The Aspect Ratio settings explained

The Aspect Ratio settings explained

This post was updated on December 10th, 2020

The Crop Overlay Tool

The first thing to notice about this helpful accessory is the second part of its name: Overlay. We have discussed it before: Adobe ® Lightroom’s Development Tools are non-destructive. So when you crop an image with this tool, your original RAW file will stay in its original size, however Adobe ® Lightroom will show it as cropped once you commit your changes and leave the Crop Overlay Tool. When you later export the cropped image for print or digital sharing, you will generate a cropped version of the original.

We will soon see what precisely this “Overlay” means for our post-processing. Let’s have a look at the tool itself first, though.

The Crop Overlay Tool with the Aspect Section framed in red.

The Crop Overlay Tool's Aspect Ratio settings explained
The Crop Overlay Tool

As you will notice in the figure above, the Crop Overlay Tool comes with two sections. The Aspect section will crop your photo to a specific size or format, and the Angle section will straighten your image. Today we will focus on the Aspect Ratio section marked by a red rectangle in the image above and save the Angle section for a later blog post.

Once you open the Crop Overlay Tool, you will notice that your photo has a Grid overlay. That is unless you have set Show Grid in the bottom left below your image to never or auto.

Crop Overlay Tool with an Image where the Grid Overlay is set to Active

The Crop Overlay Tool's Aspect Ratio settings explained
Crop Overlay Tool with an Image where the Grid Overlay is set to Active

Applying and Rejecting changes made within the Crop Overlay Tool

When you confirm or reject the settings that you made in the Crop Overlay tool, you always do so for both the Aspect section and the Angle section. If you only want one of them to be changed/unaltered, you will have to make sure that you revoke the changes you made to the other manually first.

Confirming Changes within the Crop Overlay Tool

To apply all the changes you have made within the Crop Overlay Tool, you can hit <Enter>, click the Done button in the right corner below your image, or click on the little Close button in the bottom right of the tool. You can also simply open another Local Adjustment Tool to have your changes automatically applied.

Revoking Changes within the Crop Overlay Tool

To revoke your changes, you will have to use the Reset button in the lower left of the Crop Overlay Tool – or press the <ESC> Key – to reset all your changes made in this tool. If you want to only reset the changes for the Aspect Ratio, however, you can choose Settings -> Reset Crop (<Alt>+<Ctrl>+<R>/<Alt>+<Cmd>+<R>) to reset to your cameras standard crop ratio. Or, if you selected a specific non-standard format before making the image that you want to reset to, choose Settings -> Crop as Shot (<Alt>+<Shift>+<Ctrl>+<R>/<Alt>+<Shift>+<Cmd>+<R>). The latter choice would reset your settings to the standard ratio if you didn’t specify another one before you made the photograph.

The Aspect Section of the Crop Overlay Tool

With the tools in this section, you can crop your photo to a specific aspect ratio. We can choose between a few standard ratios, but we can also define our own.

Crop Overlay Tool - Aspect Section

The Crop Overlay Tool's Aspect Ratio settings explained
Crop Overlay Tool – Aspect Section

In the figure above, you see the Aspect Section and its tools marked with a red frame.
From left to right, we have the Crop Frame Tool, an Aspect Ratio Selection list, and a Lock. You can also freehand-change the format of your image. To do this, drag the Grid’s corners and sides once you are within the Crop Overlay Tool.

The Crop Frame Tool

With the Crop Frame Tool, you can draw a rectangle anywhere into your photo, which then becomes your selected crop. The aspect ratio of your hand-drawn crop equals the chosen from the dropdown if the Lock is closed. If the Lock is not closed, the final aspect ratio is as you draw it onto your photo. With an open Lock, the selection list value changes automatically to Custom.

Whenever you click on the Crop Frame Tool and move your mouse across your image, your mouse-pointer will look like a cross with the tool’s icon showing below it.

The Aspect Ratio Selection List

When you open the Aspect Ratio Selection List, Adobe ® Lightroom shows you a list of predefined values. The last five Aspect Ratios that you have defined with “Enter Custom…” will show at the bottom of the list.

Aspect Ratio Selection List
Aspect Ratio Selection List

As you can see above, there are first the aspect ratios of As Shot and Original, followed by Custom and then eight different numeric aspect ratios before the “Enter Custom…” entry. These 12 entries are common to all Adobe ® Lightroom catalogs. The five entries below “Enter Custom…” are settings that I have manually specified earlier.

Special Aspect Ratios

Original and As Shot

Two Aspect Ratios are different from all the other ones. They do not give a specific size, and in certain conditions, they are even of the same size. These two are Original and As Shot.
“Original” refers to the standard Aspect Ratio of your camera, possibly a 4:3 ratio, or maybe a 2:3 one.

If you set, in-camera, a custom Aspect ratio before taking the image, it is referred to as “As Shot.” Your camera stores this particular aspect ratio in the Metadata of your image file. However, your camera saves the photo in its original size. It is only the EXIF field Aspect Ratio that applies the automatic crop visible in Adobe ® Lightroom. Therefore you can always revert to the standard image size. You do so by choosing an Aspect Ratio of “Original” or selecting Settings -> Reset Crop ( <Alt><Ctrl><R>/<Alt><Cmd><R> ).

If you have changed the aspect ratio in post-processing and you want to return to the Aspect Ratio that you have taken your photo in, chose instead Settings -> Crop As Shot (<Alt><Shift><Ctrl><R>/<Alt><Shift><Cmd><R>) from the menu or the Aspect Ratio of “As Shot.”

If you do not change the Aspect Ratio in-camera to a non-standard value, the crop sizes for “Original” and “As Shot” are the same.


Let’s assume that your camera has a standard aspect ratio of 4:3. However, in your camera’s settings, you have chosen to save your photos as a 1:1 format. Your camera saves your RAW file as a 4:3 photo. However, in its EXIF data, it will be specified that it should be a 1:1 format nevertheless. If you now import this file into Adobe ® Lightroom, you will see it as a square format photo. Entering the Crop Overlay Tool, you see that the square is only a crop of a restorable larger image.

Imagine you are now looking at this photo in the Crop Overlay Tool, and you find that the standard crop of 4:3 would be more suitable. To achieve this, you can choose to Reset the Crop. This via the Settings Menu, or you can select “Original” from the selection list.

If you now find out, the 4:3 is good. However, if you still need the 1:1 format, you can reset it using the “Crop as Shot” from the Menu or “As Shot” from the selection list.


You might wonder why there is an “Enter Custom…” and a “Custom” entry in the selection list. However, the “Custom” entry is not one that lets you change the Grid Overlay to a new size. It only indicates that the lock was open when you created the current crop. The “Custom” entry only changes back to Original. This change happens if your custom crop equals to the full-sized standard format of your camera.

Enter Custom…

You use this entry if:

  • none of the predefined Aspect Ratios matches your expectations
  • you don’t want to freehand draw a Crop, because you need a specific size

Once you select “Enter Custom…” a pop-up window, like in the following screenshot, opens.

Enter Custom Aspect Ratio Pop Up Window

The Crop Overlay Tool's Aspect Ratio settings explained
Enter Custom Aspect Ratio Pop Up Window

You enter your desired Aspect Ratio into the fields, and you confirm the settings by clicking OK. The resulting Crop Overlay will adhere to the orientation of your photograph.

So if you, for example, have a landscape format image and enter an aspect ratio of 1:2 the result will be a landscape crop. However, if you assign an aspect ratio of 2:1 for the same photograph, it results also in a landscape crop. This orientation-preservation happens, as long as you do not rotate the Grid Overlay – which we will explore next month.

Freehand drawing/adjusting an Aspect Ratio

You might want to change the size of your resulting image from the one shown in the Crop Overlay. Or, you might want to create your own ratio for a photo.

There are two ways of achieving both.

  • You can drag the sides/corners of the Aspect Ratio Overlay to fit your desired size.
  • You can free-hand draw an overlay with the Crop Frame Tool.

Dragging the sides/corners

A double arrow like this:, indicates that you can you to change the size of your overlay. You do so by clicking and dragging your mouse when you see the arrow. As soon as you let the mouse button go again, you have defined the format. The setting of the lock determines if the new size adheres to the same aspect ratio as before or not.

This method is only available while you are pointing at the sides of the Crop Overlay. It is, therefore, best used for minor adjustments.

Using the Crop Frame Tool

If you click on the Crop Frame Tool, your cursor changes to a cross with the tools icon showing at its lower right-hand. You can use this to click and drag anywhere in your image to create a new crop.

This method is optimal if you want to create a new size of your image, that would require multiple adjustments of the sides.

Positioning the Crop Overlay

You have just created the crop in your desired size. However, maybe it is located in the wrong position. You could, of course, start by freehand drawing a new crop in your desired location with the same size. But, Adobe ® Lightroom offers a different, and in my opinion easier, way to reach your goal.

Meet the Hand tool. Well, it is not a tool that you would have to select from the menu. Whenever you hover with your mouse inside your Crop Overlay, your mouse-pointer changes into an open right hand.

If you click on your right mouse button, this changes to a closed hand which holds onto the image below. While still holding the mouse button down, you can move your mouse around, which then changes the position of the photo underneath your Crop Overlay. Et voilà, you are now moving your image into your desired Crop selection. Let go of the mouse button when you have made your final choice.

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