How to Straighten an Image in Photoshop

Since I can remember, I’ve been told I was a little off-kilter. Whether or not that’s true about me, it is an issue with several of the photos I take. I’m not alone, as many of the photos I receive for projects are as tilted as Italy’s iconic tower. Photoshop gives us a couple of ways to straighten a crooked image with very little effort.

I was too pre-occupied with not falling off a cliff to worry about my horizon.

I was too pre-occupied with not tripping over a log to worry about my horizon.

The first approach is super old-school and the way I still tackle this fix. Old habits refuse to die, I guess. This method isn’t readily apparent and maybe it makes me feel like I have a hidden superpower.

Straightening Images with the Ruler Tool

If you have a pre-CC 2015 version of Photoshop, this method is for you.

  • Go to the Tools panel and choose the Ruler tool (nested under the Eyedropper tool).
  • Click and drag along the horizon, or any plane you want to make horizontal or vertical.
  • In the Image menu, choose Image Rotation > Arbitrary.
  • The values and direction are filled in with info from the Ruler tool, so just click OK.
  • You’ll have to crop the image to accommodate the blank bits of canvas created by the rotation.


Using the Straighten Button

Newer features have made the process a little more straightforward and easier. The Straighten button in the Control panel works like the old-school method, but in reverse.

  • Select the Crop tool in the Tools panel, move the handles to crop if needed.
  • Click the Straighten button.
  • With the Straighten tool that appears (it looks like a level), drag it along the horizon, then release.
  • The crop even automatically adjusts to get rid of any empty canvas areas created by the rotation!


Just Because It’s a Classic…

Sometimes an old dog knows there’s a new trick, but she just doesn’t want to learn it. But in this case, considering how many crooked images I have to fix, the Straighten button is my new best friend!

Posted on: February 27, 2017

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for an unbelievable 30 years! She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular presence at CreativePro Week’s PePcon and InDesign Conferences, and has spoken at ebookcraft in Canada and Making Design in Norway. You can find Erica’s online tutorials at CreativeLive and through her YouTube channel. When she isn’t at her computer, she can be found exploring her new homebase of Seattle and the greater Pacific Northwest.

6 Comments on How to Straighten an Image in Photoshop

  1. This was very helpful. I have to confess that I straighten my images by eyeballing them and use the rotate tool, then crop. Will try these methods to hopefully straighten a bit more accurately!

  2. Within PS it’s easier to simply click outside the cropping area to rotate it – find the horizon that way and then re-size the cropping box. You get to choose your best fit that way. Frankly Corel PhotoPaint does it much more intuitively so I use that instead. Faster and smoother by far for straightening images in my workflow.

  3. Thanks, Erica, it’s good to see other techniques. I like to turn on Show Grid (Cmd-‘), hit Cmd-T for Transform, then rotate the image to a horizon line using the grid lines as guides. Simultaneously, you can click-drag the image to move its position, then continue your rotation/scaling edits all during the same procedure.

    • …I forgot to add, I do these steps, including canvas crops, using Smart Object layers to avoid progressive image interpolation over the course of multiple edits. This way, of course, the original image will always be a double-click away.

  4. What “straighten button”?
    Much easier in Picasa.
    When will Photo Shop catch up?

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