Using the graduated filter in Lightroom

One part of Lightroom that can be a great tool to refine your photos is the graduated filter tool. The graduated filter tool is a way to apply settings to part of your image in a gradient so the settings gradually go from 100% to 0%. This is really useful for things such as darkening a sky, changing the color cast to the entire foreground or background and being able to lead the viewers eye by creating more depth to your images. I have done a few other tutorials on dodging and burning and how important that is to lead the viewers eye around an image and this is a more broad based way to lead the viewers eye around the photo. It is a similar tool to the brush tool, however the brush tool in Lightroom is really meant for more selective refinements on specific areas while the graduated filter tool is better for larger areas like the sky or a large foreground.

So lets take a quick look at this tool and what it can do. We will start off with this pretty flat landscape image and give it a little more dimension. First select the tool which is located beneath the histogram.

This will give you a cross hairs cursor mark to drag a selection that will be the start and finish of the effect. First I will want to darken the sky to bring back some of the colors in the sky. As a side note I always like to shoot in RAW to retain as much information as I can, then when using Lightroom or Photoshop I can bring back some of the information that was in the highlights or shadows. I will start out about halfway down the sky and drag a line down to halfway into the water. This will give me 3 lines as you can see below. Anything above the first line will be at 100% then the middle line is where the gradient starts to go from affected to unaffected and the end line is 0%. After I make my selection I will use the exposure, brightness, saturation and a few other sliders to darken the sky and add some extra color saturation.

Now that the sky is looking better I want to do a gradient on the foreground to add a little bit of that warm color from the sky into the foreground of the shot. You can have as many graduated filters going on in an image. Once you have more than one graduated filter on a photo to toggle between settings for a specific graduated filter just click on the center dot in the middle line of the graduated filter you would like to change. Then modify the size or filters for that specific area. Here I will select from the middle of the foreground to the middle of the sky and in the sliders will move the exposure down a little to darken the area. To warm up the color, click on the color box underneath the sharpness settings and from the pop up select a warm tone to match the tones of the sky.

This makes a pretty big difference in your image with only a few very quick clicks. Check out the before and after here. If you have something to share about the graduated filter in Lightroom let us know with a comment at the bottom of the page.

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Author: Mark Stagi

Mark is a fine art wedding and portrait photographer from Northern California. He has been passionate about photography since childhood and started his studio 12 years ago to bring a fresh style of photography to the wedding and portrait world.

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