The Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay tool is a huge help when cropping your photos. Why? Well, they help you compose your photo to a “traditionally proper” composition.

Hunh?

You’ve heard of the Rule of Thirds, right? That’s the rule that says that photos in general are more interesting when they are composed so that the subject is off center.

Image shows Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay for the Rule of Thirds.

For instance, you can see that the photo above is divided into 3 sections horizontally & vertically. There are bull eyes where the lines intersect. It’s these intersections that the Rule of Thirds tells us should be the location of a focal point.

So, in that photo, when my eye looks at the photo, it starts on the rib of the car on the left side and follows that line to his elbow. His elbow acts like a line taking me to her face. Her face is close to another intersection of the Rule of Thirds.

But you guys know all about the Rule of Thirds already, right? And when you crop your photos (whether as you compose on camera or in post processing after you shoot), it’s pretty easy to keep those intersections in mind.

What not as many people know is that there are several other compositional “rules.” Just like the Rule of Thirds, composing your photos to one of these guidelines is supposed to create a more interesting composition – one that holds your viewer’s attention longer. Some of the other rules are:

  • Diagonal
  • Triangular
  • The Golden Mean
  • The Golden Spiral

Each of these photos works to create different “flows” for your image. For instance, the golden spiral is often, but not always, associated with portraits. Diagonal & triangular compositions, on the other hand, often feel more dynamic or active.

You need to be aware of how you will compose your photo while you are shooting. However, once you bring that image into Lightroom, you can find a super cool tool to help you fine tune that image’s composition.

Take this one. Its composition is ok, but nothing to write home about.

Image needs compositional help.

When I enable the Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay, however, Lightroom tells me exactly how I should crop the photo for maximum technical interest. I’ve darkened the photo in the screenshot below so that you can see the tool in more detail.

Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay appearance before edit.

So that screenshot tells us that the center of the spiral, which is currently over the tree, should be over her face. Clearly, I’m way off on meeting the compositional standards for the Golden Spiral.

But watch what happens when I crop. I can change the size of the photo in order to compose it properly:

Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay appearance after edit.

That brings us to this image:

Image after cropped to the golden spiral.

So now, as the theory goes, our eyes can follow the spiral up from her eyes, trace the leaves around to the left, and then down and back to the right corner. That’s where our viewers leave the image, after having been led on a “tour” of the important parts of the photo.

Ok. So how to you access this magical Lightroom Crop Overlay tool? That’s the easy part.

Use the Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay

In Lightroom’s Develop module, activate the Crop tool (type R). Go to the Tools menu and select Crop Guide Overlay. Then choose the compositional rule that you’d like to use for your image.

access-lightroom-crop-guide-overlay

As long as the Crop tool is on, type the letter O to cycle through the various overlay patterns.

You can also change the Grid Overlay Orientation.  This is important because the center of the golden spiral, for example, can be at any of the 4 corners of your photo. It doesn’t have to be only at the top right as you see in the image above. To change the Lightroom Crop Guide Overlay orientation, type shift + O.

Curious about how to change the orientation of your photo itself? That’s another tutorial.  Also, if you like learning about other magic you can work with Lightroom’s crop tool, check out this tutorial about straightening crooked photos.

I’m curious. How many of you compose to the golden spiral or golden mean on camera? Post in the comments below and share your best tips for seeing the composition before you shoot.