The graduated filter tool is an excellent resource when you need editing across a certain area of an image. This tool is incredibly versatile, and a great one to have in your post-processing back pocket!
What is the Graduated Filter?
The Graduated Filter tool in Lightroom allows you to make adjustment to a certain area of your image across an even gradient. As you know, in the Develop module you adjust the sliders in the Right-hand panel to make adjustments to the entire image. However, by using the Graduated Filter, you can apply graduated edits to a certain area of an image. The Graduated Filter icon looks like a rectangle and can be found in the Develop module below the Histogram.
Using Local Adjustment Presets
Local Adjustment presets are pre-saved settings that allow you to quickly and easily make adjustments to your image using the local adjustment tools (the graduated filter and the adjustment brush). You can access these presets by using the drop-down menu in the adjustment panel (note that these are different than the Presets in your left panel that effect your entire image).
Lightroom has a few local adjustment presets built in for you, but our favorites are the Polished Presets, a local adjustment collection made specifically for easily retouching your photos.
Using the Graduated Filter
To use it, either use keyboard shortcut ‘M’ or simply click on the icon, and the Graduated Filter adjustment panel will be revealed. You can select from any of these sliders to make adjustments to your image. To apply a graduated filter to your image, simply hold the left mouse button down and drag the filter over the area of the image you wish to adjust. The longer your hold your mouse button down and drag, the more gradual your effect will be applied. If a more narrow filter is applied, the filter will be less graduated, and more defined, the affect will be on your image. You can see this displayed in the example below. The image on the left has a wide graduated filter applied, while the image on the right has a narrow one.
Seeing Where Your Filter is Applied: If you would like to see where your filter will be applied on your photo, make sure that the filter you wish to view is selected (the pin for that brush has a black center), and check the box under your photo that says “Show Selected Mask Overlay.” This will show you in red all the areas of the photo that have been adjusted with that particular filter.
Apply a Filter with a Certain Color: If you’re looking to enhance or apply a specific color on your image, you can select a color at the bottom of the adjustment panel to use within your graduated filter. This is a great way to add some extra color to enhance skies or a landscape.
Applying a New Filter: Each time you want to start a new graduated filter (a different adjustment), you will need to select “New” at the top of the adjustment panel. You will notice that all of the sliders remain in place from previous filter. To reset them, double click “Effect” to reset all sliders, or select a new adjustment preset from the drop down menu.
How to Erase: If your filter is applied to an area where you don’t want your adjustment to be made, there is a way to “erase” the adjustment from certain areas. At the top of the adjustment panel, select “Brush” and then scroll down and click “Erase.” A circle containing a minus sign will appear, allowing you to erase from any area your filter has been applied. To completely delete a graduated you’ve added to your image, make sure that graduated filter you wish to remove is highlighted (pin has black center) and hit Delete.
To see the Graduated Filter in Action, watch me edit in the video below: