This is simple tutorial explaining the transform tool within Lightroom. It is a tool that’s been around for quite awhile now and has even made its way to Lightroom mobile where its called the geometry tool. It doesn’t require a lot of processing power and is in very easy way to radically improve images that would otherwise look rather rubbish.
Using the tool:
The idea of the tool is too either automatically or manually find vertical lines in an image and then make those lines perpendicular by warping the image to have a different perspective. If you have ever used a tilt-shift lens, this tool in Lightroom functionally does the same affect, but digitally. I’ll be using a bunch of example images here from weddings and traveling, you’ll notice the key common feature between them is that they have strong vertical lines because its easiest to use the tool when you can identify what lines you want to align. Let’s get started though, develop mode you can find the tool on the right hand side within the develop module in Lightroom classic, I have moved it up to the very top just to make it easier to see in this tutorial but it’s usually just farther down the list. The tool is split up with the automatic settings on top and then the manual settings with the sliders down below. I will go over the automatic settings first to explain what they do and when to use each.
The first option and probably the most useful is the ‘auto’ button. As its name implies it’s fully automatic which is very convenient; it essentially will find vertical and horizontal lines in the image and then using lightroom’s algorithm determine what the best outcome will be. With this image it works quite well however you will find yourself in situations where it horribly mangled the image so are other options that we can use it auto does not cut it.
I’m going to skip over the guided option for now as we’ll touch on that one last and I’ll move on to the level option which is the most simple. All the level button does is find one consistent horizontal line and then make that line 90 degrees to the image essentially all it does is try to find the horizon and then level the image off. This is useful for images where you have a very clear-cut horizon however in a lot of situations it does nothing more than you normally do in the crop tool.
Next up is the vertical upright tool. This tool is essentially the opposite of the level tool and rather than looking for the horizon what it does is try and find every vertical line in the image and make them all 90 degrees too the bottom of the image. The issue is as you can see with this image if your horizontal axis is not correct it makes the image have a undesirable warping effect to one side.
The last tool is the ‘full’ option. The full auto option often results in a very similar image to what you would get with the auto option and the key difference between them is that the full option by default will find all the horizontal and vertical lines and align them to each other. This tool is often the most aggressive, but in certain situations it’s going to be the best for an image. I still think for the one I am working with now it’s a little bit wonky looking and I’m going to opt to try and use the guided tool.
The guided tool is the semi-manual mode where you can choose which lines are going to be the guiding lines to the image. To activate it you click on the small grid button in the top left corner of the toolbox or click “shift+t”. In this situation I would like to use the vertical lines of the building, so all I’m going to do is simply click in drag on the image along the lines that I would like to use until I have the desired effect. For the horizontal lines I would like to use the line on the top of the building and then the bottom so that they are level. sometimes it will take several tries to get this right and sometimes it will not work at all, but often the guided tool is going to be your best bet to getting the most aesthetically pleasing image when you have the time to use it.
Constrain to Crop
One thing you might notice now is that you get these white angled edges showing up on the edge of the image while using the tool this is because the images being warped and as result there are going to be edges that are cropped off. To fix this issue all you need to do is simply go over to the ‘constrain crop’ option and click that and then you can crop the image normally however you would like in the regular copping tool.
Manual Transform Sliders
There is the option though to do everything manually if you would like via the sliders below, in my opinion this is a futile task to do within Lightroom though and you’d probably be best off taking the image into Photoshop if the picture needs that much work. With that said though the sliders are very useful when you’re just trying to subtly hone in how the image is going to look by adjusting them. The sliders are all rather self explanatory thankfully, the vertical slider adjusts the image’s tilt from top to bottom and the horizontal slider does the same thing but rather tilting the image from left to right. The rotate slider literally rotates the image. Next up is the most useful of the sliders in my opinion and that is the aspect slider. This slider either stretches the image vertically or horizontally, which will allow you to compensate for some of the warping that can occur while you’re adjusting the lines in the image. This is particularly useful when you do have human subjects in the image because making sure they are the right height is obviously quite important to keeping the image aesthetically pleasing. The last two sliders are the X&Y offset, and all these do is move the image to the left and right or up and down to adjust the vertical and horizontal axis.
Even though this is a fantastic tool it does have some huge limitations. The main issue is it does not create more pixels, so depending on the resolution of the image you’re working with it is only able to stretch an image so far before resulting in one edge of the image be coming blurry and depending on how misaligned the lines are this can really destroy an image. The other main issue that you’ll encounter is the cropping that can occur when again an image is too far misaligned with what you’re trying to adjust it to. Often when you are using this tool it’s because you’re trying to edit an image that you might have made a mistake on, such as the image that I used as the main example in this video where I already took a few images before it and this was just one of the last shots in the set that I actually liked it the best and I used the tool to make it visually usable, but ultimately had to sacrifice it being a landscape image and turn it into a square crop, which thankfully nowadays is an acceptable crop. There will be situations where you will have to dramatically change the images perspective though and the crop may be too dramatic to keep the image being deliverable.
With that now in mind there are clearly certain situations that will not work when using this tool, so let’s focus on how to best use it. When taking images where you think you might want to try to use this tool you want to get a enough area around the subject of your photo so that when you are using the tool you have space to crop afterwards. To best do this you just want to end up using wider angle lenses. You will find that the tool is most often used when using wide angle lenses anyways as they are always prone to distortion, and of the example images that I used in this video all of them were shot at 35 millimeters or wider up to 18mm on full frame cameras. The other thing to keep in mind is to keep yourself neutral to the horizon as you can. As you saw while I was editing the photo earlier having a misaligned horizon is a completely unnecessary issues to have to combat while editing and if you have the horizon properly aligned it’ll make this tool a lot more functional as you don’t have to edit the horizontal axis as heavily. My last tip will be just to practice with the tool, overtime I found that I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable using this tool in situations where I never thought I would have such as at weddings when I wanted to get a little bit more of a flat perspective on an image. There is never any harm to try out while editing an image just see what happens.