One of the things software can do in our compositional cropping quest is to give us guides to aid us in applying accepted graphic design concepts. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom does this by offering a nice series of cropping overlays in the Develop Module.
In any Lightroom modules, the [R] key will take you to the Develop module and invoke the Crop dialog automatically. When you do this, the Crop tool overlays the image with a Rule of Thirds grid. This is the most common compositional aid and is supplied by many software packages. It is very useful for quickly composing an image’s horizon and balance.
You have an option to set the Overlay to be Always on, Never, or Automatic when you are cropping an image. Lightroom comes with multiple overlays to assist you in composing an image in software. The [O] key (not Zero) allows you to cycle through the various overlays.
The next overlay is the Golden Section overlay. This overlay attempts to create a series of guides that rely on the the Golden Ratio, Golden Mean or Golden Section, depending upon your nomenclature. This is a very effective overlay for placing objects and framing them within a scene. I also use this overlay quite handily in my Passport Photo Tutorial located here.
Pressing [O] again brings up the Diagonals overlay. This overlay creates 45° diagonal lines from each of the four corners. In the case of a square crop, the diagonals overlap and go from 4 lines to two. This overlay is particularly helpful in intersecting diagonal elements with the image’s cropped corners.
The next overlay is a diagonal that runs top left to bottom right. The other two corners of the image have diagonals running from corner to perpendicular to the original diagonal. This overlay is commonly referred to as the Triangles overlay. It has two versions. The Second version is a mirror image and accessed by pressing [Shift][O].
The next overlay is the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Spiral. It has 8 different positions which are accessed by cycling through the [Shift][O] keys. The positions include four clockwise and four counter-clockwise orientations each originating from the four corners of your image. The overlay is very powerful at placing leading lines and focal points in your image.
The final overlay in Lightroom’s bag of tricks is the standard grid. This view is very effective in cropping architectural images where horizontal and vertical fidelity is important. It is no accident that the overlays cycle to grid when ever you perform a rotation on an image while in crop mode. The selected overlay will revert from grid when you complete the rotation.
These overlays are very powerful compositional aids and should be used to guide you in strengthening your images. Each overlay offers you different guides for major elements and vertices for placing your subject. Use the [O] and [Shift] [O] to amp up your cropping game.
Rikk Flohr © 2011