Leveling and Cropping in Camera Raw

Leveling and Cropping in Camera Raw

We're almost all guilty (yes, even when using a tripod) of paying so much attention to the subject that we forget to carefully level the horizon line. Granted, tilted photos can sometimes be effective in making them look more spontaneous. However, most of the time tilted photos (especially if the tilt is only slight) just look unprofessional. Of course, Photoshop has some great tools for fixing this problem, but they are all destructive. For instance, you could tilt the top layer of the photo and make that layer from a flattened duplicate of the photo. However, if the original was a RAW file, that's a lot of wasted time. Straightening the RAW file can always be reversed because the data outside the crop is never deleted.

Leveling and cropping are so easily done that you may be wondering why you should even bother to think about doing it in Camera Raw. There's another very good answer: it's faster to turn around your work for client acceptance in a condition that makes it much more likely to be accepted.

Camera Raw features two tools in its toolbar that relate to leveling and cropping. The Straighten tool lets you level and crop in one operation. The Crop tool is strictly for those images that are already level, but need some degree of freeform cropping.

The Straighten Tool

Of the two, the Straighten tool is by far the coolest. Only some sort of photo robot is going to be able to keep all handheld shots perfectly level all the time. But all it takes to make them perfectly level is to drag the tool along a line (such as the horizon) that should ultimately be either perfectly level or perfectly vertical (see Figure). Zap! A new frame, already rotated to precisely the degree necessary and cropped to the maximum size possible after the rotation, is automatically placed around the image.

Figure. The Straighten tool allows you to level out the horizon.

Figure shows what the Preview Window looks like after the image has been cropped and rotated. The file is rotated and cropped every time Camera Raw saves the image. You can change the size and proportions of the crop by dragging the marquee's handles. You can also rotate the crop (if there is room within the original image frame after resizing the crop) by placing the cursor outside the marquee and dragging.

Figure. The Preview Window after an image has been cropped and rotated.

Click the Crop tool, drag diagonally across the image, and release. You will see the Crop marquee and its handles. You can now resize by dragging the corner handles, reproportion by dragging the midpoint handles, or rotate by placing the cursor just outside the marquee and dragging in the direction of the desired rotation.

If you want to cancel the operation for either the Crop or the Straighten tool, select the tool and click outside the marquee. The image will simply return to its original state.

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