Adobe Lightroom has a plethora of features with some hidden away unknown to many people. One easily accessed but relatively obscure feature is that Lightroom has a number of compositional overlays which aid in cropping an image so that it’s most powerful elements are positioned correctly.

The overlays are accessed when the crop tool panel is active.

Access the crop tool panel by hitting “R” on your keyboard or clicking on the far left rectangle

Once you open up the Crop Tool Panel, you’ll see some gridlines superimposed over the picture. Lightroom will display the last crop overlay used. Off the shelf, Lightroom defaults to the rule of thirds. To toggle through the available overlays, simply hit the “O” key on your keyboard.


Rule Of Thirds


Grid Overlay For The Rule Of Thirds

When utilizing the rule of thirds you’ll want to have the most important part of your image located where the lines intersect. For example, if you’re cropping a picture of a bird, you may want to have the birds eye directly under one of the four intersection points.


The Golden Ratio


Grid Overlay For The Golden Ratio


This is used similarly to the rule of thirds in that you want the most important part of your image at one of the four points of intersection but as you can see, the grid in this overlay is slightly different. Instead of equal areas in the vertical as well as the horizontal, this grid is 40%-20%-40%. You can read more about the math and aesthetic appeal of the Golden Ratio here.


The Diagonals Overlay


The Diagonals Overlay


Hitting “O” again brings us to the Diagonals Overlay. Again, in this overlay the interest points are the intersection points. You want to use this overlay when you have diagonal lines running through your picture. You’d like to crop to keep the diagonals within the rectangles running from the lower left to upper right or the lower right to upper left.

Another application of this overlay is when you have 1-3 elements in you photo. You’d like to place them in either of the triangles formed on the left and right or the diamond in the center. For example, perhaps you have a sunset framed by two trees. Place the sunset in the middle diamond, one tree under the left triangle and the other tree under the right triangle.


The Triangles Overlay


The Triangles Overlay


Hitting “O” on your keyboard one more time brings you to the Triangles Overlay. Use this overlay when you have a diagonal running through your photo. Try to place interesting features that occur along that diagonal under the points where the corner lines meet the diagonal line. You can toggle a mirror image of this overlay by hitting “Shift-O”.


The Golden Spiral


The Golden Spiral Overlay


Hit the “O” key again and you’ll come to The Golden Spiral. This overlay plots the Fibonacci Sequence. The photographer wants the focal point of their image to be under the end of the curl. This overlay is most powerful when the image has leading lines that roughly follow the spiral with the main subject of the image laying at the end curl.

The Golden Spiral Overlay has 8 different positions which are accessed and cycled through by hitting the “Shift-O” keys.  The positions include four clockwise and four counter-clockwise orientations.


The Grid Overlay


The Grid Overlay


Hitting the “O” key once more will bring you to The Grid Overlay. Utilize the grid overly to make sure your photograph is level and your verticals are vertical.


Those are the six composition overlays in Lightroom. Use them as a visual aid when you crop your images.