When & how to crop food photos

When & how to crop food photos

This introduction to rotating, straightening and cropping food photos in Lightroom will be quite a short post.

It’s a simple edit, but cropping & straightening food photos can be an important part of post-processing, especially if you’re using food photos for a number of different channels – how do you get the right crop for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and for use on your website too?

Read this post to find out how to quickly straighten up your images and crop them to the best size.

When and how to crop & rotate food photos

Affiliate disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. If you purchase products or services via an affiliate link I’ll get a small commission (which supports the running of this site) and it won’t cost you anything extra. I’ll specifically point out each affiliate link in the post. Learn more here.

This post is part of a series on using Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom for food photography. See the other posts:
Pixlr vs Photoshop: Why I made the switch
Importing photos to Lightroom
Sorting & organising photos in Lightroom

Get the Adobe CC photography package (that’s Photoshop & Lightroom for under a tenner) using my affiliate link here.

Cropping & straightening food photos in Lightroom

I’m grouping crop & straighten together here for convenience. Though they are different functions, the crop, straighten, rotate & flip options are all in the same sidebar panel in Lightroom.

Why do you need to crop & straighten food photos?

Crop to remove the edge of an image

Cropping food photos allows you to cut out any unsightly edges. Often the side of a table or a piece of equipment will end up just in shot and can easily be removed by cropping a little off the edge of an image:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Crop an image in Lightroom to remove the edge
Cropped to remove table edge

Crop to fit the rule of thirds

Another reason for cropping food photos is to improve the composition. Using the rule of thirds in photography is a simple way to make food photos more visually appealing and pleasing to the eye. For images with the subject centred in the frame, you can crop to instead place the subject at the one-third line:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Crop an image in Lightroom to fit rule of thirds
Cropped to fit the rule of thirds
Crop an image in Lightroom to fit rule of thirds with grid
The rule of thirds grid

Straighten an off-kilter image

Often, when shooting food photos, images can end up slightly off-kilter. Particularly when shooting freehand, or trying to capture a particular angle in a confined space, it can be easy to make your food photos look like they were taken on the side of a mountain. Straightening food photos lets you fix a slightly off-kilter image:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Straignten an uneven or off-kilter image in Lightroom
Straightened to align with the horizon

Rotate an image

As well as the ability to straighten an off-kilter image, you may want to completely rotate an image through 90° or 180°. This is often the case with overhead shots, as it can be hard for the camera to detect the orientation of an image when taken directly from above. Equally, rotating a food image generally only works with overhead shooting. Food shot side-on or from a 45° angle usually has a clear up/down orientation (a top and a bottom), but this is less so with flatlays:

Rotate an overhead image in lightroom
Rotate an overhead image in lightroom
Rotated through 180°

Flip or mirror an image

You can also ‘flip’, to make a mirror image. Occasionally, flipping an image can make it look better. Make sure to look out for words, or cutlery positions that can make a flipped food image look awkward:

Cropping, straightening and rotating in Lightroom - original image
Flip an image in Lightroom
Flipped image

When to crop & straighten food photos

Once I’ve selected the photo to edit, the first thing I generally do is crop & straighten it.

Do this before making any other edits, so you are working with the ‘final’ image composition when making other editing decisions.

How to crop & straighten using Lightroom

First, (affiliate) get the photography edition of Adobe Creative Cloud (which includes Lightroom & Photoshop) for about a tenner a month here.

You can crop & straighten in free programmes, like Gimp or Pixlr, but the slow workflow of those compared to the ease and convenience of Lightroom, make it 100% worth the little monthly spend.

Open Lightroom, import your images or navigate to the image you’re working on, and double click to select it.

Then, open the Crop & Rotate panel in the right sidebar, to access the controls for cropping, straightening, rotating & flipping.

Double click the image you want to work on to select it
Double click the image you want to work on to select it
Open the Crop & Rotate panel
Open the Crop & Rotate panel

Straightening food photos in Lightroom

First, straighten the shot, to line up any straight vertical or horizontal lines. Move the straighten slider left & right, using the grid overlaid on the image to line up a straight line. You can also use the numbers next to the slider to insert a precise degree of rotation to straighten the image by.

Straighten images in Lightroom
Use the Straighten slider
Straighten images in Lightroom
Align an edge in the image with the grid overlay
Set a precise degree° to straighten by
Set a precise degree° to straighten by

Rotating food photos in Lightroom

If you want to rotate the image, you can easily do that with the Rotate Left & Rotate Right buttons, to rotate exactly 90° left or right. Use either button twice to rotate 180°.

Rotatate left or right 90° or 180°
Rotate Left and Rotate Right buttons

Flipping or Mirroring food photos in Lightroom

Create a horizontal mirror image using the Mirror Horizontally button. To flip an image, creating a vertical ‘mirror’ of itself, use the Flip Vertically button.

Flip the image vertically or mirror it horizontally
The Mirror Horizontally and Flip Vertically buttons

Cropping food photos in Lightroom

Cropping your images is a powerful but simple tool in post-processing.

Cropping images before you even start detailed editing can be a quick and easy way to make big improvements to their overall look & feel.

This crop is more to fix any edges or composition issues than to fit specific standard social media sizes.

What dimensions to crop food photos to

The final dimensions of your image will vary, depending on the intended use.

For this post, we’re not talking so much about resizing food photos for various channels (I’m planning a whole other post on that), but about using the crop tool in post-processing to improve your images’ composition.

If you know that you plan to use your images only for a specific platform, then cropping to a ratio to suit that platform may be a good idea:

  • 1:1 (square) images for Instagram
  • 16:9 portrait (long) images for Pinterest or Instagram/Facebook stories
  • 16:9 landscape (wide) images for Twitter, Facebook & most website header images

If you’re not sure, or you plan to use the image across multiple channels, keep the dimensions as large as possible. Ideally, keep the original size & ratio, unless any edges need cropping out, as that will give you more flexibility down the line when you are resizing for different channels.

How to crop food photos in Lightroom

Set your aspect ratio. If you’re not sure, use Original to keep the same dimensions, or Custom if you only want to crop from one edge of the image.

Then, drag the tags on each side and corner of the image to the crop you want. Use the grid overlay as a guideline, to find the centre or one-third line in your image.

When you have the desired crop, press enter to save the image.

Set the aspect ratio
Set the aspect ratio
Drag the tags on the sides & corners to crop
Drag the tags on the sides & corners to crop
Use the grid overlay as a guideline
Cropping in original aspect ratio: use the grid overlay as a guideline
Cropping in custom aspect ratio to trim one edge
Cropping in custom aspect ratio to trim one edge

Now you know why & how to crop & straighten your food photos in Lightroom, the next post in this series will show you how I use the Lightroom edit panel.

When & how to crop food photos