The selective adjustment tools in Lightroom are a powerful collection of editing capabilities. They set Lightroom apart from many of the other photo processing platforms on the market.
This article steps through how to use the Adjustment Brush in your digital post-processing workflow, as well as some worked examples.
Lightroom Adjustment Brush
The Adjustment Brush enables you to apply multiple effects in a brush stroke such as:
- Hue, Saturation, Luminance
- White Balance
- Texture & Clarity
This gives you maximum creative control over the effect. The Adjustment Brush is one of the most powerful local adjustment tools in Lightroom. What was previously the sole domain of programs like Photoshop, you now get within Lightroom.
The Adjustment Brush is selected within the Development Module, by left-clicking the rather curious looking brush icon near to the top of the panel. Alternatively, you can use the short-code K.
TOP-TIP: By default, when you go into the panel, any of the effects you previously used are selected. To quickly reset these, you can double click the word “Effect” within the panel. This takes everything back to its datum position.
Lightroom includes a brush panel, so that you can store 3 of your favourite brushes. You get an A and B Brush, as well as an Erase Brush. These are selectable by left-clicking A, B or Erase in the brush panel
You can change the size of you brush either with the Size slider, or with the bracket keys [ for smaller brush and ] for a larger brush.
In addition to the brush size, you can choose to what degree your effect is feathered using the Feather slider; whereby, 100 gives you a very feathered edge and 0 gives a hard defined edge. In general, I tend towards 100 all the time to ensure any edits are discreet. However a harder edge can be useful at times if you are editing along say a boundary edge.
As well as feathering the edge of your brush effect, you can change the flow of the effect using the Flow slider. This is very much like painting with an airbrush. Setting the Flow slider to 1 means your brush strokes are extremely subtle, and you may need several strokes to start seeing the effect. Conversely at 100, the brush paints the effect in a single stroke. I tend towards 15-25% when painting with the Adjustment Brush, but obviously it is all down to personal choice/preference.
The final slider near to the bottom of the Adjustment Brush panel is Density. Density is like a boundary limit for the effect. So for example if you set it to 75, then you will only ever see 75% of the brush effect, regardless of how many times you use the brush.
The final option is Auto Mask, selecting the little radio button allows you to target areas within your brush strokes based on Color, Luminance and Depth. For an in-depth look at how these work, see our article on Lightroom Gradient Masks.
I short however, Color allows you to select either one or more specific colours within your masked range. Luminance is for selecting the lightness or darkness of the hues to target. Depth unfortunately at time of writing is only for those with the higher end iPhones, and allows you to make selections based on Depth of Field information.
Lightroom Adjustment Brush – Worked Examples
The Adjustment Brush gives you tremendous creative possibilities, limited only by your imagination. Here are some typical examples. In traditional darkroom photo processing, Dodging & Burning is a term used to describe the technique for regulating the exposure on specific areas of a print. Dodging is where a photographer would hold back during developing to lighten specific area of an image. Burning is the opposite, where a photographer would darken specific areas during darkroom processing.
Here is a very quick demo video showing the principles of the application of the Dodge effect. I firstly reset the Adjustment Brush to set all the sliders to datum. Next I set the Exposure to 0.26. When applying the Dodge effect, you want the result to look natural and subtle. If you set the exposure too high, then the portions of image you paint will end up to bright and unnatural. I generally then keep this effect to below 0.3.
I then set the brush a medium size Brush 7.0 with the Feather set to 100 for a nice soft transition, and the Flow to 28. Finally I set the Density to 71.
You can see from the video, I painted the area in the centre of the image along the building line. This raised the brightness of the buildings slightly compared to those in the foreground; which helps draw the eye into the centre of the image.
Here is a before/after view. You can see the effect is very subtle, but makes a difference to the aesthetics of the image.
As alluded to above, burning is where we darken areas of an image which are too bright. A common use of this effect is to increase the contrast in clouds.
To demonstrate this, our example image is of a mountain range in Iceland. The shot was taken handheld, and without a graduated Neutral Density filter to balance the bright tones of the sky with the darker tones of the and mountains and foreground.
For Burning, we set the exposure down. As with Dodging, we want the effect to be subtle; so less is more! I set the exposure down by -0.25, and used the same brush flow settings as we did for Dodging.
I painted areas of the cloud where I felt it would benefit from increased contrast. Below is the before/after comparison.
If you enjoyed this article, then please check out more of our Lightroom Ultimate Guide. Here are some which may interest you:
This article covers the integration of Radial Filters into your digital Image workflow.
This article explains how to apply a Gradient Mask to your Graduated Filter Effects.
This article explains the use of Graduated Filters into your digital image workflow.
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Specialising in landscape and wildlife photography, David is a semi-professional photographer based in Scotland, with an established fine art and stock photography portfolio; which includes published photography with the New York Post, Huffington Post, as well as various travel and tourism companies worldwide.