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How to Straighten an Image

Taking an image at a precisely straight angle, without the use of a tripod, can be quite challenging. As a photographer, you will want to get the best possible image straight out of camera, but a straight horizon line can be affected by a number of things.

Even the slight shake caused by pressing down the trigger can throw your lines out of alignment – and that’s not good news for a perfect image. So, what can you do to fix it? There are some really easy fixes to apply, whether using Photoshop or looking for a free option, so check out these options to solve your problem.


Photoshop’s Ruler Tool

The easiest way to straighten an image in Photoshop is using the ruler tool. You can spot this quite easily, because it literally looks just like a ruler in the menu icon! You can also find it by clicking through your menus, so if you can’t spot it at first, don’t worry. It’s in there!

Once you have your tool selected and the image open, you will want to draw a straight line across your image. Do this by clicking first on one side of the screen – you should find a line you can use as your horizon point, or any kind of straight marker, and start there. Then drag your mouse across to the other side of the screen, creating a straight line between them.

It’s important to make sure that this line is aligned properly, as it will be the basis of your straightening. You should only mark out a line that you would want to see as perfectly straight in the finished image.

Now that you have your line in place, head up to the top of the screen. Here you will see an option to straighten your image using the ruler tool. Click on this button, and wait just a few seconds for Photoshop to work its magic.

Once you have the straightened image, you will notice that there are some blank spaces at the corners. This is because, when the image is rotated to align to the new straight edge, it no longer fits on the canvas. Some of the corners will be outside of the current canvas, no longer seen within the image, and some will be inside, leaving that blank space.

It’s simple enough to fix this. Go ahead and use the crop tool to cut the image as closely as possible to the edges. You will lose some content from the sides of your image, and perhaps the top and bottom too – unfortunately, this is a side effect of the straightening process.


Filling in Edges

If you are a bit more experienced at using Photoshop, you can maybe save some of the content at the edges. This won’t be possible with every image, unless you are a highly skilled retoucher with the ability to paint in missing details.

Any image with a plain background, or a repeating pattern with no breaks, will be easy to alter. Just use the clone tool, or the patch tool, to put a copy of the content right at the edge into the gap. This will give you a complete, properly aligned image again.

If you are looking at a single-colour background, such as something shot in a studio, you could even use the colour picker with the paint tool to simply paint the right colour into place. Almost always, however, the clone or patch tools will do a better job.

It might also be possible to fill in the edges of more complex images if you have more than one shot from the same location. Creating a composite, by sliding the new image along on a layer below your original, could allow you to patch up the missing content. This will only work if the content was not moving – for example, if you are missing part of a face, the facial expressions or precise angle of the head might not match up.

To avoid missing parts of your subject, take a step back or zoom out a bit when you are photographing something that does not have a guaranteed straight edge. It’s better to straighten and crop in later to the correct composition, than to lose part of your composition because of straightening.


Free Apps: Social Media

There are a number of different tools that you can use to straighten and correct your images. If you don’t need to use them anywhere else, for example, you could try putting them into Instagram. Here, there is a built-in straightening tool which will allow you to line everything up properly on your screen.

You could also pre-prepare images for social media and with a number of different sizes with a free service like Canva. Set the template to the dimensions that you require, upload, and drop in the image you want to edit. You can then select it and click on the rotation icon, which looks like an arrow going in a circle. Drag to either side to change the angle of your image within the frame, thus straightening it.


Photoshop Emulators: Gimp

If you can’t afford to get a Photoshop subscription yet, or you don’t want to use it to edit just one image, then you can try Gimp. Gimp is a free emulator which does many of the same functions as Photoshop, although it is far less sophisticated. It also doesn’t allow for the use of Photoshop presets, brushes, and so on, but it does have a straightening tool.


There are a number of other apps and free tools online that are great for straightening your images, although they may not be great for other kinds of editing. Lightroom also has its own straightening tool! In order to prevent this problem in the future, make sure to use a correctly aligned tripod whenever possible, or keep a close eye on your composition when holding the camera. This will minimise your issues with wonky lines!

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