January 20, 2021

Let’s straighten something up

Are your horizon’s wonky or your walls leaning? There’s an easy way to straighten everything in Lightroom with the Transform tool.

When you are out taking photos, it can be relatively easy to forget that your horizons aren’t exactly straight. If you are taking pictures of a building then sometimes you’ll need to point the camera upwards – the result is the walls barrel inwards. If you don’t correct these things, then the images you produce won’t be like those you saw. Adobe Lightrooms’ Transform Tool allows you to straighten the horizons and walls, so you see the scene in your snaps as you remember them.

Where is the Transform Tool?

Correcting and straightening your photos is all part of the editing process. The module where we do 99% of the editing is the Develop Module, so head into there. On the right side of the screen are a series of panels. In December 2018, Adobe allowed the panels’ order to be customised (you can read how I have them set up here). If you haven’t customised the order, then the Transform panel will be the third one from the bottom.

There are two sections to the Transform panel. The Upright area is the one that we will concentrate on today and is where you can do all manner of actions to straighten your photos. I have circled it in red in the picture above. The second area, Transform, is where you can make much more manual changes and I may cover this in a later blog.

There are five different ways that we can adjust the photos. Let’s go through each one to see how it works and when you may want to use each of them.

Level Straighten Tool

The first two tools we’re going to look at work in similar ways. They will examine the photograph and look for straight lines either horizontally or vertically and then ensure that they are perfectly straight. The Level tool, which is the first item on the bottom row, looks at the image for horizontal lines. If you’ve taken a landscape shot and the horizon isn’t straight, this is a great tool to fix it (I wouldn’t usually take a shot so badly, this is just for demo purposes!). Simply press the Level button in the panel, and you’ll have a nice straight horizon.

Vertical Straighten Tool

It is probably quite easy to work out how the vertical tool is going to straighten the image. Instead of detecting horizontal lines, this time, Lightroom is going to look for a vertical line. It is particularly useful if you’ve taken a shot of a building looking upwards. To correct the photo, click on the Vertical tool and the upright walls are now straight. I’ve added a before and after image below.

You’ll probably see that the corrected photo has also lost some of the edges. If the original picture was very wonky, then there may be a white area on the corrected image. It happens when there is no information to tell Lightroom what should be in his gap. You can either use the crop tool to manually remove it or else click on the Constrain Crop box at the bottom of the panel and Lightroom will crop it automatically for you.

Auto Straighten Tool

The next one of the five tools we will look at is on the top row and is the Auto tool. You may think that this would be the one to use as a default. However, you may find that it doesn’t always work as you would expect. The definition that Adobe describes on their page is that it ‘Corrects both vertical and horizontal distortions while balancing the overall image, and preserving as much of the original image as possible.’ The critical thing to note is the part which says it preserves as much of the image as possible. Sometimes, you’ll see using the Auto tool that either the vertical or horizontal lines aren’t precisely straight. Retaining as much of the image as possible, Lightroom decided to allow one of the axes to be slightly ‘out’.

You can see this in the images below taken during one of my Switch to Manual sessions. The shops on Victoria Street are nearly 200 years old. I’m sure the builders built the shops straight, so, over time, they must have settled so that walls and floors aren’t exactly at 90 degrees to each other. The original photo was shot at street level, so the camera is pointing upward, causing the windows’ barrel effect. The corrected image on the right has done an OK job or fixing the horizontal and vertical lines, but you can see the window on the right is still leaning inwards a little.

Full Straighten Tool

The next tool is on the bottom row and is labelled ‘Full’. In many ways, this should be called the Auto tool. According to Adobe, the tool is a “Combination of full Level, Vertical, and Auto perspective corrections.”. You can see the difference between Auto on the left and Full on the right by moving the slider in the picture below;

The Full tool does a much better job to straighten the horizontal and vertical lines. However, it does lose quite a bit more of the original image in straightening everything up. It is worth experimenting between Auto and Full to decide which works best for any particular image.

Guided Straighten Tool

As good as the folk are at Adobe, now and again, the various algorithms they make to automate things don’t work as we expect. The Guided tool comes into its own and allows us manually to tell Lightroom where the straight lines are. I used this last week when shooting the artworks for a gallery. The photographs were taken in the warehouse where the paintings are being stored. We didn’t have much space, so I had to point the camera downward slightly to ensure that we didn’t have reflections on the glass. In the various shots below, you can see how the four tools we have looked at so far have dealt with straightening all the edges. Clockwise from top left are the Level, Vertical, Full and Auto versions. None did a great job because there were too many lines that confused the algorithm!


Instead, we are going to tell Lightroom where the horizontal and vertical plains are. Click on the Guided tool. When you hover the mouse over the photograph, it switches to a cross-hair instead of a pointer. I like to zoom into the picture to make it easy you are doing the next steps accurately. Draw a straight line along the top edge of the frame as seen in the screenshot below;

We then repeat the process for the other three sides of the frame. As long as you have marked all four sides accurately, we have a perfectly straight photograph which I could then crop into for the final images sent to the client.

Give us your feedback

While it is always best to spend time shooting to get everything right in-camera, there are times when the job has to happen in post-processing. The powerful upright transform tools give great control when you’re trying to straighten your photos. Experiment with each of the tools to see which work best for you in different circumstances.

If you’ve got any questions or comments, leave them below. You can sign up for the Edinburgh Photography Workshop monthly newsletter where you’ll get regular updates on exciting things happening in photography and some great tips. Sign up by clicking here.

About the author

As well as running Edinburgh Photography Workshop, Rich Dyson is a professional photographer. His photographs are regularly used in newspapers such as The Times, Guardian and Daily Telegraph. He also had two solo exhibitions as well as being featured in a members sponsored exhibition in the Scottish Parliament. You can see and buy his photography at richdysonphotography.com

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