The selective adjustment tools in Lightroom are a powerful collection of editing capabilities that set Lightroom apart from many of the other photo processing platforms on the market. The Lightroom Graduated Filter is no exception, and allows you to selectively & non-destructively apply multiple effects seamlessly on a gradient.
This article explains the application of Graduated Filters into your digital image work-flow, the effects that you can use with some examples.
Lightroom Graduated Filter
The Lightroom Graduated Filter replicates a graduated filter applied to the front of your camera lens. But it’s actually much more than that. You can apply many of the effects in the development panel including exposure, contrast, colour tones etc; as illustrated in the next figure. Not only can you add multiple effects into one gradient, but, you can also apply multiple different gradients.
The Graduated Filter is accessible through the Develop Module in Lightroom, by clicking the rectangle shape at the top of the panel. Once you have selected it, you click and drag the filter onto your image in the location that you want it.
TOP TIP The panel stores the previous settings that you used in any previous image edit. You can however reset the whole panel to datum by double clicking the label that says ‘Effect: ‘
When you have a Graduated Filter in place, you will notice it has 3 lines, and a central adjustment handle.
Placing a Graduated Filter
Everything above the top line applies the filter effect at 100%. From the top line to the middle line, the effect is graduated from 100% to around 25%. Finally, from the middle line to the bottom line the effect is graduated from around 25% down to 0%.
The great thing about Lightroom Graduated Filters is you can adjust them so that you get the graduated effect wherever you want it. To do this you simply left-click to grab and drag each of the lines. You can also change the angle of the gradient by left-clicking and dragging towards the central adjustment handle. Finally, you can move the entire gradient by dragging the grab handle. Doing this maintains the spacing between each of the lines.
TOP TIP when positioning a Graduated Filter is to check the Show Selected Mask Overlay radio button.
This option appears in the panel at the bottom of your image. Checking the button gives you a visual representation as a mask to show where the effect will be applied. Ok, so now let’s look at a few worked examples.
Local Exposure & Contrast Corrections
The sunset image below is of the Wadi Mountains in Jordan. It was captured hand-held without access to a graduated ND filter to balance the exposure in camera. Sunrise/Sunset pictures are notoriously difficult for a camera to capture correctly. This is due to the wide contrast difference between the sky and the ground. Consequently you either end up with an over or under-exposed image.
In this case, the sky was over-exposed, and the contrast in the foreground need lifting slightly. Here is the before after.
To achieve this effect, I used two separate Graduated Filters, one for the sky and one for the foreground. Here they both are, with the settings illustrated.
Whilst in this example we changed only the contrast and exposure, the principle for a localised adjustment of any aspect of contrast, de-haze, sharpening or noise reduction is exactly the same.
Color Masking / Correction
For this example, I have a picture of a meerkat, the overall tone of which is a brown meerkat on a predominantly brown background. Except there are green tints in the corner which slightly distract from the overall composition. We can mask the green tones with a Graduated Filter. Here is the before/after:
To achieve this effect, I added a Graduated Filter over one corner of the image, reduced the Saturation, then counteracted the desaturation with a brown Hue, and upped the Temperature balance on the gradient.
Our final example is a graduated colour filter. This could be for example to enhance the colour in a sky, enhance sun-glow tones in an image, or for improving contrast in monotone images. To demonstrate Color Gradients, lets say we want to apply a classic bi-colour gradient to an image to add coolness to a washed out sky and a little warmer tones to the ground. Here is the before/after.
To achieve this I added a Graduated Filter top-down to the horizon line for the sky, and a separate Graduated Filter bottom-up for the ground.
To set the colours of the gradients, you select the colour picker at the bottom of the Graduated Filter panel.
This brings up a colour palette selector. The colours at the top of which represent 100% opacity, and the colours at the bottom 0% opacity.
Lightroom Graduated Filter Conclusions
These examples are just a few of the creative uses for the Lightroom Graduated Filters, and provide the photographer with a powerful tool to enhance images during post-processing.
If you enjoyed this article, please check out our Ultimate Lightroom Guide, here are some other articles which may interest you:
The Lightroom Calibration Panel allows you to adjust the global RGB settings of your digital images.
The HSL & Color Panels allow you to perform targeted adjustments to specific areas in your photograph for Hue, Saturation & Color optimisation.
The Effects Panel in Lightroom allows you to create aesthetic vignette and film grain to your digital images.
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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.