Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps: Develop Module Intro and the Crop Tool

by Alan Haynes / PhotoCitizen on July 11, 2011

Image processing is one of Adobe Lightroom 3’s strong suits. The action happens in Lightroom’s Develop module. That’s where you’ll find the tools  photographers need to properly finish a photo: exposure adjustments, color correction, cropping and more. In this article, I’ll cover the basics of the Develop module and details about  image cropping with the Crop tool.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module and the Crop Tool

Once you’ve imported images into Lightroom, you’re ready to process, or Develop, them. Lightroom 3’s image processing tools are extensive. For most photographs, you can do all of your adjustments and corrections without ever leaving Lightroom.

This is part 2 of my series on Lightroom basics. Read the other articles here: Adobe Lightroom 3 First Steps.

The Lightroom Safety Net

While you’re learning to use the Develop module, don’t worry about accidentally destroying your original image. You can’t do it. Lightroom adjustments are all non-destructive: the original image is never actually altered.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop Module - Reset button and toggle switches

Toggles and Reset

At any time, you can go back to the adjusted image and change or reset as many settings as you’d like. Each panel has a toggle switch on the left next to the panel’s title. Click it to turn off all adjustments in that panel. Or double-click on any slider pointer to reset it to its default value.

If you’d like to remove all of your changes to start over again with the original, unaltered image, just click on the big Reset button in the lower right of the Develop module’s right-hand panel.

Develop Module Tools & Adjustments

Lightroom 3’s Develop module includes a histogram, a toolbar containing five tools, and eight panels filled with sliders and other adjustment tools.

The table below lists the types of corrections and adjustments that can be applied in Lightroom 3’s Develop module:

Cropping Spot Removal Red Eye Removal
Graduated Filter Adjustment Brush White Balance
Exposure Camera Calibration Contrast
Saturation & Vibrance Tone Curves Hue
Lens Distortion Correction Sharpening Split Toning
Black and White Conversion Noise Reduction Luminance
Color Aberration Correction Vignetting Add Film Grain


The Develop module provides tools to adjust everything most photographers need. If you need more – such as layers and masking – you can easily open an image in Photoshop by right-clicking on the image and choosing “Edit in Photoshop.”

Basic Image Processing: Cropping

Since all the action takes place in the Develop module, start by clicking Develop in the Module Picker in the top right of your Lightroom window. (Or press the “d” key in any other module).

Adobe Lightroom 3 Develop module tutorial - Module Picker

Module Picker

Activate the Crop Tool

Lightroom’s crop tool is as easy to use as it is powerful. After switching to the Develop module, access the Crop tool by using one of these methods (I prefer #2 which can also be used in the Library module):

  1. Click on the crop tool icon in the toolbar (it’s the first one on the left which looks like a box with a dashed-line border),
  2. press the “r” key on your keyboard or,
  3. choose Crop under the Tools menu.

Basic Cropping

Once the Crop tool is active, you’ll see the “crop frame,” the boundary around your cropped area. Initially, it will be the same size as the original image. Drag any of the eight crop handles (four in the corners and four on the sides) to change the crop.

Adobe Lightroom 3 tutorial - crop tool

Crop Frame

If you’d like to maintain the original aspect ratio while cropping, hold down the shift key while dragging. This will keep both the vertical and horizontal sides proportional to each other.

If you prefer, you can simply click and drag anywhere in the image to create a crop area. You may have to click the Aspect tool (the icon looks like two L-shaped rulers) in the Crop tool palette (Adobe calls it a tool “drawer”) to make this work. It’s on by default, but once you have begun cropping, it will deactivate.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Lesson - rotate the crop frame


After you’ve cropped into the image a bit, you can shift the photo around within the crop frame by clicking inside the crop box (your cursor will turn into a hand) and dragging the photo around.

To rotate the cropped area, move your cursor outside the crop frame (the cursor turns into an arc with arrowheads at each end), then click and drag. Or, use the Angle slider in the Crop tool drawer.

Constrained Cropping and the Padlock

You can constrain or lock the crop to one of several aspect ratios.

Let’s say you want to create some perfectly square images. Locate the gold-colored padlock icon in the Crop tool’s drawer.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Lessons - Crop padlock

Padlock and Menu

Also notice the text to the left of it – by default, it will say “Original.” If you’ve already been using the crop tool, it may say “Custom” or something else.

By default, the padlock is open (unlocked) allowing you to move the crop handles independently of each other. This way, you can crop your image into a long panorama, a skinny vertical or anything in between.

What if you’d like to crop to a specific aspect ratio to create an 8×10 or a square, for example?

Click on that word next to the padlock icon and a menu pops up with several aspect ratio choices. For a square, choose “1 x 1.”

Once you do, the padlock will lock and your crop area will be square. Now, no matter which crop handle you drag, you’ll end up with a square image. To release the lock, click directly on the padlock icon to unlock it.

If you’d like to keep the original aspect ratio of the image, but crop a smaller area from it, choose “Original” from the pop-up menu. If your original image is 3 x 2, the cropped area will be 3 x 2. If it was 16 x 9, the crop will be 16 x 9.

Crop Orientation and Custom Ratios

What if you want to crop a vertical area from a horizontal image or vice versa? With the crop tool active, simply press “x” on your keyboard to switch between vertical and horizontal crop frames. As you drag the crop handles, the orientation of the crop frame will change too, but in a less predictable manner.

Adobe Lightroom 3 Tutorial - crop tool custom aspect ratio

Custom Aspect Ratio

You can create custom aspect ratio presets by choosing Enter Custom. Lightroom will only store five custom ratios. Add a sixth one and an older stored presets will be lost.

Remember, the numbers you enter are not specific dimensions, but simply a ratio. So, if you enter, let’s say, “16” and “20,” your cropped area will look exactly the same as the built-in “8 x 10” preset because they are both the same ratio of 1.25 to 1. Mathematically, 20 is 1.25 times larger than 16. 10 is also 1.25 times larger than 8. You could enter “1.25” and “1” and get the same result.

So, if you wanted to print a 16″ by 20″ photo, use the “8 x 10” preset – or use a “16 x 20” or “1.25 x 1” custom preset if you’ve created one. When you go to Lightroom’s Print module, you’ll be able to set the physical size of the print to 16-inches by 20-inches.

Straightening an Image: The Angle Tool

To level a crooked horizon or straighten a leaning building, use the Angle tool in the Crop tool’s drawer. It’s the one that looks like a carpenter’s level next to the word “Angle.”

Adobe Lightroom 3 Lessons - straighten horizons

Level Horizon

Now, click on one end of the horizon and drag to the other end of the horizon. When you let go, the horizon will be level. This also works vertically for straightening buildings and such.

Keep in mind that the Angle tool does not remove lens distortion, so the image may still not look completely straight if you photographed the scene with a wide-angle lens where straight lines might be slightly bowed.

If you’re concerned about this, use Lightroom’s Lens Distortion tool to fix this before straightening the image. I’ll write more about distortion correction in a future article.

The “Constrain to Warp” check box in the Crop Tool drawer is useful only when distortion correction has been applied, so leave it un-checked for now.

Applying, Changing or Resetting the Crop

Once you’re happy with the crop, apply the crop by using one of these methods:

  1. Click the crop tool icon again, or
  2. Press the Enter key on your keyboard (Return on the Mac)
Adobe Lightroom 3 - How to Reset the Crop Tool


To remove all of your cropping changes, click the Reset button in the lower right corner of the Crop Tool drawer or press the Escape key (Esc) on your keyboard.

To change the crop after you’ve closed the crop tool, simply open the crop tool again. Change the crop as desired and apply the new changes.

More to Learn

I’ll be covering more Develop module basics in future articles. If you don’t want to miss anything, subscribe to PhotoCitizen. It’s free.

If you’re still using Lightroom 1 or 2, upgrade to Lightroom 3. It’s a huge improvement over the earlier versions. To download the upgrade or full version directly from Adobe, click here.

Here are a few good books about Lightroom 3. Click on a title to learn more.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book:
The Complete Guide for Photographers
by Martin Evening
The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book
for Digital Photographers (Voices That Matter)

by Scott Kelby
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
Classroom in a Book
by the Adobe Creative Team

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