Lightroom Graduated Filter: The Ultimate Guide

PostingLightroom Graduated Filter: The Ultimate Guidefirst appeared inSchool of Digital Photography. It was written byAndrew S. Gibson.

A guide to the Lightroom Graduated filter

Lightroom’s Graduated filter is an incredibly versatile editing tool; You can use it to enhance skies, add beautiful vignetting, create sun flare effects, and much more.

But how does the filter work? And how can you use it to achieve the best images possible?

In this article, I share everything you need to know about the Graduated filter. I offer step-by-step instructions to get started, explain when the filter is really useful, and reveal many tips and tricks for better results.

So if you’re ready to become a graduated filter expert, let’s dive in!

What is the Lightroom Graduated (Linear Gradient) filter?

The Lightroom Graduated filter, also known as LightroomLinear Gradient, is an editing tool designed for specific settings:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Apply a Graduated filter and Lightroom will create a graduated edit on your image. The effect starts at 0, then slowly builds up to 100 as it moves across the image. You have full control over the placement of the gradient, where it starts and where it ends.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Note that the Graduated filter doesn’t just have one effect; instead, it is used to apply many different types of edits. For example, you can use it to increase exposure, adjust tones, add saturation, add a color, increase sharpness, and more – all in that signature gradient pattern.

When should I use the Graduated filter?

The Graduated filter is useful whenever you need to adjustpartof a scene without affecting the entire composition. It works especially well when you can see a strong line outlining the area you need to edit (for example, a horizon).

Therefore, landscape photographers often use graduated filters to adjust the sky without disturbing the rest of the scene. They stretch a filter across the sky until it touches the horizon line, then make various changes (for example, darkening the exposure, increasing contrast, adjusting saturation).

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Graduated filters are also a favorite with portrait photographers. By adding a graduated filter to the top or side of the frame, portrait photographers can create a beautiful haze and/or accentuate sunlight, enhancing the atmosphere of the photo.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

But as I discuss throughout this article, it shouldn’t be restricted to specific uses for the linear gradient. Instead, learn its ins and outs – and then experiment! Try it out in different scenarios and see what you can create.

How to use the Graduated filter: step by step

In this section, I provide clear step-by-step instructions for working with the linear gradient.

Step 1: Create a Graduated Filter Mask

To get started, make sure you’re on theLightroom Developer Module, then clickMaskingicon.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

ChooseLinear Gradient, then hover over the image. The cursor should appear as a cross.

Step 2:Put the filter on your image

Click on your image, then drag to apply thefilter mask. You’ll see a series of lines appear; note that the red overlay indicates the areas affected by the adjustment.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

You can click the center handle to drag the filter around the scene. To rotate the filter, drag the outer handle; To increase or decrease the feathering effect (that is, the intensity of the gradation), drag the edges of the filter.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Step 3: Refine the filter

Once your filter is in place, you can proceed to Step 4 – or you can make adjustments to the shape of the filter.

TheAddandSubtractOptions in the Masks panel allow you to expand or contract the Graduated filter. You can also intersect the filter with another filter (such as aRadial GradientorBrush Filter) to reduce the area of ​​the filter.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

For example, if you wanted to edit the sky while avoiding some trees in the foreground, you could create the initial Graduated filter. You can then clickSubtract, selectBrushand paint over the tree branches to remove the mask.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Step 4: Apply your edits

At this point, all that is left is to add the editing effects. In the Linear Gradient panel, you can adjust various sliders, including:

  • Exposure
  • Temperature
  • Texture
  • Clarity
  • Sharpness
  • Noise
  • Contrast

You can also add color to the scene using the Color option, and you can change the colors through the Hue adjustment.

If you decide that the results are too strong, you can reduce the intensity of the filter by reducing theAmountslider (Alternatively, you can increase the intensity of the filter by pushing the Amount slider past 100.)

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Note that you can always reset the edit sliders by double-clicking the “Effect” at the top of the Linear Gradient panel.

And if necessary, you can create additional Graduated filters by repeating the process detailed above.

Tips and tricks for using the Graduated filter

Now that you’re familiar with the basics, it’s time to dive into more advanced graduated filter methods and strategies.

1. Apply several graduated filters to darken the sky

The most common reason to create a Graduated filter is to darken the sky. It is easy to do; drag your filter across the sky (to the horizon line), blur it as needed, and then release the exposure.

Editing tends to add some much-needed contrast, detail, and even drama to the sky. (Note, however, that the Graduated filter cannot save a completely blown-up sky. It can only work with details that already exist!)

Here’s a scenewithouta graduated filter:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

And here is the same sceneaftera filter has been applied:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter
I’ve added a Graduated filter to this shot. For a perfectly natural effect, I would need to subtract the part of the filter that goes over the branches, but I’m already liking it just the way it is!

Nice, right? I just adjusted the exposure,but the filter added a subtle sense of drama.

But while a single Graduated filter can create a nice effect, you can often get better results by adding a second, smaller filter right on top of the first. The idea here is to create a kind of vignette above the sky that pushes the viewer’s eye towards the center of the image.

So once you’ve added your Graduated filter to the sky, create a second less blurred gradient, then release the Exposure slider once more.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

When done carefully, the results can be impressive!

2. Use the Graduated filter to enhance your close-ups

I’ve talked a lot about the power of the Graduated filter to selectively adjust skies. But you can also use a filter to selectively adjust the foreground, which can look just as awesome.

Just drag a Graduated filter over the foreground of the image, then start moving the sliders. Increasing the exposure can add detail and help create a better balance between the ground and the sky. You can also add contrast and/or clarity, both of which can help make the foreground (and the image as a whole) feel more three-dimensional.

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

And if you want to draw the viewer’s attention back to the scene, try adding a second, smaller Graduated filter below the first, then use it to reduce exposure in the immediate foreground area.

3. Create a bullet with several graduated filters

Most photographers use Lightroom’s Effects panel or a radial filter tocreate a bullet. But you can also get great results with a Graduated filter, especially if your subject has sharp geometric edges.

This is how it works:

Drag a Graduated (very soft) filter along the side of the image, then use it to subtly remove exposure.

Duplicate the filter, then place the second filter on the other side of your subject.

Continue the duplicating and positioning process until your graduated filters cover all edges of the subject. You want to direct the viewer’s attention away from the exterior areas and toward the focal point.

The following diagram shows roughly where I placed three graduated filters while editing an image of a metal figure:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Here you can see the results:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Sure, I could have used a radial filter, but by working with multiple graduated filters, I was able to better customize the effect.

5. Use a graduated filter to add a wash of color that mimics sunlight

This trick works well on just about any shot taken first thing in the morning or in late afternoon sunlight. The goal is to mimic hazy atmospheric light filtering into the scene.

Start by creating a Graduated filter and carefully place it in the area closest to the light source. Open theColoroption, then choose a color that matches the color of the light. (For a more romantic effect, choose a pretty yellow, orange, or red.)

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

Then increase the Exposure slider and watch your scene transform:

Lightroom Graduated Gradient filter

For a little extra ambiance, try lowering the Dehaze slider. And be careful not to overdo the effect. Release the Effect slider as needed, and make sure your color choice isn’t too fancy. Do you wantimprovethe scene, not make it feel unnatural.

Lightroom’s Graduated filter: final words

Now that you have finished the article, you know how to use the Graduated filter – and you are ready to create stunning editing effects!

So pick your favorite image, head over to Lightroom, and try out those Graduated Filter skills. See what you can produce. The more you practice, the better you will become.

Now it’s your turn:

How will you use the Graduated filter? Which of these tips will you follow first? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

PostingLightroom Graduated Filter: The Ultimate Guidefirst appeared inSchool of Digital Photography. It was written byAndrew S. Gibson.

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