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How to fix tilted photos without cropping in Photoshop

Have you ever tried straightening a tilted photo? Typically, you must crop the photo since it leaves empty space. However, Photoshop can fill in those empty spaces realistically. Here’s how to straighten the horizon without cropping.

Drummer at concert.
Drummer of The Convertibles playing at a 4th of July concert at the Nora Ross Bandshell in Woodland Hills, California. I photographed this quickly. It was a little crooked. However, I was able to straighten it without losing the edges or empty spaces, keeping the crop the same.

Content-Aware Crop

Content-Aware Crop automates filling in empty space after cropping. This can occur when you are trying to fix a crooked horizon line in an image.

Ordinarily, you would straighten the horizon line by rotating the image while keeping the same crop. However, this leaves empty spaces. Often, you need to go in manually and fill in these empty spaces via cloning or a content-aware tool.

Content-Aware Crop alleviates that by automatically filling in the empty spaces in the image. This can be a minimal fill. However, if you pulled the edges out, you could fill in more room. More on that later.

Straightening an image using Content-Aware Crop

Step 1: Select the Crop Tool 

Selecting the Crop Tool at left.
Selecting the Crop Tool at left.

The Crop Tool is located on the left side. Then click anywhere in the photo to enable the grid. It typically defaults to thirds, as shown below.

Crop grid.
Clicking on the image to produce the grid.

Step 2: Select Content-Aware and Straighten

These are located in the Option menu on the top left corner. 

Step 3: Draw a line across the horizon you want straightened

Drawing Horizon Line in Photoshop.
Selecting the Straighten Icon, you can draw a line across the horizon to let Photoshop know how you want it straightened. It’s intuitive and easy.

Since you selected the Straighten icon, you can draw a line across the horizon. This will let Photoshop know what you want straightened.

Photoshop will straighten your photo. After a few seconds, it will also fill in any empty spaces.

Straight horizon in Photoshop.
Moments after I release the horizon line I’ve drawn, Photoshop straightens the horizon. A few seconds later, it will fill in the empty spaces as well!
Content-Aware Crop.
Like magic! Photoshop’s Content-Aware Crop has now filled in the empty spaces. That looks realistic. I chose to clone out the leaves in the upper left corner but left everything else alone. I later decided that it looked good in black and white. Other than that, I was done. And it only took about 10 seconds to straighten the horizon and let Photoshop fill in the empty spaces!

Step 4: Fix anything in the filled areas that looks odd

Often, Photoshop will fill in the corners quite satisfactorily. However, sometimes, it will add something that you don’t want to have. Simply select the Lasso Tool. Draw a line around the area that you want changed. Then use the Clone Stamp or Content-Aware Fill to do the rest.

Bonus tip: Creating more space in a cramped image

If you want the Content-Aware Crop Tool to add a little more space to a cramped image, start out the same way as above. But this time, grab one of the corners or sides and drag it to where you want more space. The Content-Aware Crop Tool will attempt to fill in this space for you.

Remember that Photoshop is generating part of a new image to fill in these empty spaces. The more you drag out the border, the greater the chance that Photoshop begins generating odd graphics. As you might suspect, Photoshop is best when it works in corner areas with consistent colors or patterns. It generally does very well in filling in skies (with or without clouds), grass, sand or continuing patterns. 

Please let me know how this works for you in the comments section. Also, if you have developed a different workflow for straightening horizon lines while filling in the empty spaces, please share that as well!

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Rafael Jones

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