When referring to Lightroom filters, we’re not talking about presets, which is essentially what filters are on Instagram. In Lightroom filters are editing tools and there are two. They are the:
- Graduated filter
- Radial filter
With just these two Lightroom filters you can completely change the look of a photo with targeted adjustments to parts of an image, rather than global adjustments to the entire image. Both filters offer the same editing functions, but the difference is how and when you use them.
So I’ll first tell you about what you can do with Lightroom filters and then we’ll get into how and when to use either the radial filter or the graduated filter.
Editing functions of Lightroom filters
All the functions, except vibrance, of the basic panel in Lightroom can be used with both filters to alter just parts of an image, instead of applying changes to the entire image.
They fall into three categories:
- Exposure – highlights, shadows, whites, blacks
- Color – white balance, hue, saturation, adding color
- Sharpen/blur – contrast, texture, clarity, dehaze, sharpness
So, if you understand how to use the sliders in the basic panel, you already know how to make basic adjustments using Lightroom filters.
All you need to know now is the additional editing capabilities of filters and how to use them.
Lightroom filter settings
Both the radial filter and the graduated filter have fantastic options that can be adjusted for ease of use and to further refine your editing.
We’ll look at:
- Making filters easy to use while editing
- Fine tuning filter adjustments for refined editing
Making filters easy to use while editing
From left: Before photo with no filters. Photo with graduated filter visible, but overlay off. Graduated filter overlay visible with outlines. Graduated filter visible without outlines.
Hide and Unhide a filter
When a filter is active you can see the outlines, which can prevent you from seeing the true effect of the filter while you’re working with it.
To hide these lines and make it easy for you to see your adjustments in real time, click H.
Then click H again if you want to show the outlines again.
Just be aware that when you switch the filter off and you have set it to hidden, the filter pin won’t be visible. Click H to see the pins of all filters again (when the tool is selected).
To see the area affected by the filter click the letter O on the keyboard when the filter is selected. The area shows as a red overlay. To remove the overlay, just hit O again.
In some situations you can’t easily see a red overlay. So, Lightroom gives you the option to change the overlay color from the default of red to green or white or black by clicking shift O to cycle through the options. See images above and below.
Fine tuning how you use Lightroom filters
You have several options for adjusting how both filters work. These include:
- Range Mask
- Brush for painting
- Filter strength
- Duplicating and moving filters
- Deleting filters
- Before and after views
Once selected you’ve selected range mask, you have two options to restrict adjustments within the filtered area according to:
Refine the effect by selecting luminance and then setting the range so that only the shadows (pull to the left) or highlights (pull to the right) are adjusted.
Remember, this doesn’t add color, it selects an area according to its color. Once you’ve selected color, click on the eye dropper tool and then click on the color that you want to adjust.
All areas of that color within the filter will be affected.
To control the blend adjust the Amount slider:
- Left to limit the adjustment to that specific color
- Right to impact a wider spectrum of the color selected
To smoothen her skin I selected the Radial Filter and specified Texture. I then clicked and dragged over her face to select the area. Then, under Range Mask, I selected Color and clicked with the Color Picker to click on her cheek. Next, I selected Brush and while holding down the Option key, I erased the slight spill of the filter into her eyes so that they stayed sharp and weren’t blurred by the texture of the radial filter.
Brush for painting filter settings
This is an incredible bonus function of Lightroom filters!
If you click on Brush while the filter is selected you’ll see something that looks and functions like an adjustment brush. You can then paint your filter settings on any area of the photo that you want to adjust in the same way.
The Brush tool is also great for erasing an area within the filter area that you don’t want to apply the settings to. Simply hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and brush to delete the filter effects.
You’ll notice that when you hold down Alt the plus sign at the center changes to a minus sign, just like it does with the adjustment brush tool.
Strength of the filter
To increase or decrease the strength of your filter settings all at once you have two options:
- Depress and hold Alt (PC) or Option (Mac)
- Click on the pin in the center of the filter
- Drag your mouse to the right to increase or to the left to reduce the filter strength
- Click on the inverted triangle in the filter panel, just below the word “Brush”. This condenses the panel to just one slider.
- Drag right to increase and left to reduce the filter strength.
Duplicating and moving Lightroom filters
Sometimes you might want to create more than one filter with the same settings. Here, radial filters and graduated filters differ slightly.
With graduated filters you can apply another filter with the same settings as the one you’ve just made if the graduated filter is still open simply by clicking and dragging again on the image.
Not so with radial filters.
Customised settings of a radial filter won’t be carried over to the next radial filter you create. Instead, it will default to the standard settings you used to create the last one before customising it.
In other words if you opened the radial filter and selected say Exposure, then adjusted some of the sliders, then created another filter, your new filter will have only the standard Exposure settings and none of the customisations you just created in your last radial filter.
So, to add another radial filter with the same settings, without having to start from scratch:
- Click on the central pin
- Right click and select duplicate from the menu
- Click on the central pin and drag it to where you want it
- Hold down Alt + Control (PC) or Option + Command (Mac)
- Click on the central pin and drag the filter to where you want the new one
You can do this with the graduated filter as well.
To move either of the filters, just click on the central pin and drag the filter to where you want it.
Deleting Lightroom filters
You have two options. Click:
- Delete to delete just the filter you’re working on
- Reset at the bottom of the filter panel to delete all the radial or graduated filters in the image at once
Word of warning about the Reset function…
As you can see in the image above, you could easily push the wrong Reset. Make sure you click on Reset within the filter panel, not the main Reset button just below it, as this will undo all your editing and take you back to how the photo was on import.
Viewing an image with and without the filter
It’s really helpful to see the impact of your filter so that you can prevent overediting an image.
Simply toggle the filter on and off by clicking the little switch at the bottom left of the filter’s panel.
Before (on the left) and after (on the right) 2 different radial filters were applied.
When to use the radial filter in Lightroom
The radial filter is such a versatile editing tool for all types of photography, so there are many uses for it. In portrait photography popular uses include:
- Brighten an area (especially the subject’s face) to draw attention to it
- Darken an area that’s distracting
- Create a vignette to make the subject stand out
- Add a sun flare, with or without a splash of color
- Skin softening
Further reading: 3 quick ways to dodge and burn in Lightroom Classic
The left shows the texture radial filter and on the right you can see the color radial filter I added to make the backlight warmer. Below are the radial filter settings for each. You’ll see the settings on the right show that I used a custom radial filter I created for flares, which I named “Flare slight”.
How to create a Lightroom radial filter
Lightroom loves to give us options, so there are 4 ways to create a radial filter:
Click Shift M from any of the modules in Lightroom to open the radial filter in the Develop module.
Now that the radial filter is active, you have 4 choices:
- Click and drag the mouse then release when the filter is the size you want
- Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and click and drag to create a radial filter anchored to the spot that you first clicked
- Shift and click and drag to create a perfectly round radial filter
- Control (PC) or Command (Mac) and double click anywhere in the image to create a radial filter at the center of the image extending to the edge.
Most of the time I just click and drag to create a freeform radial filter, but if I want to create a vignette, the quickest way is the fourth option.
Adjusting the radial filter size and shape
Again you have a few options, depending on what you want to do with the radial filter. You can:
- Freeform – just grab any of the four handles and click and drag to adjust the size of the radial filter.
- Maintain shape – hold down shift, then click on any of the handles while dragging to enlarge or reduce it.
- Just one side – hold down Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and click and drag a handle to extend or reduce the radial filter on just that side.
- Both sides – hold down Control (PC) or Command (Mac) and click and drag a handle to extend or reduce the radial filter on both sides, either horizontally or vertically.
- Fill the frame – hold down Control (PC) or Command (Mac) and then double click anywhere within the radial filter so that it’s centered and covers the full image.
- Rotate filter – hover your mouse just next to a handle, outside of the outline, and when you see the rotate tool click and drag clockwise or anti-clockwise as needed.
Feathering the radial filter
Set how smooth you want the transition to be around the edge of the radial filter. The default is 50.
- For a slower, softer transition, increase the feathering by pushing the slider to the right.
- Alternatively, for a harder edge, reduce the feathering by pushing the slider to the left.
Invert the radial filter
The default radial filter adjustments affect the image outside of the radial filter circle. To apply the settings within the circle only, select invert.
Closing the radial filter tool
To close the radial filter click the radial filter icon or double click anywhere in the image.
Before (on the left) and after (on the right) adding 2 graduated filters.
When to use the graduated filter in Lightroom
The graduated filter is great for editing large areas of an image, much like a landscape photographer would use a neutral density graduated filter fitted to the camera lens. But it’s more versatile than that. Here are a few uses:
- Darkening skies
- Adding color and punch to a sunset
- Brightening the dark side of an image
- Blurring the background to make the subject stand out
Further reading: How to avoid an overexposed sky – without using Photoshop
How to use the Lightroom graduated filter
The left image shows the bottom graduated filter to darken the sand and the right image shows the top graduated filter to darken the sky, warm up the white balance and add color. Below you can see the settings for each of these graduated filters.
Positioning a graduated filter
To create a graduated filter in Lightroom you can click and drag from:
- Top to bottom or bottom to top
- Left to right or right to left
- Any of the corners towards the middle
To quickly and easily ensure a straight horizontal or vertical graduated filter:
- Hold down shift
- Then click and drag to create the filter
To rotate the filter:
- Position your mouse over the center line
- The hand icon will appear
- Then click and drag clockwise or anticlockwise
On the left are hard and soft edged radial filters and on the right are hard and soft edged graduated filters. In all cases I used an Exposure filter set to darken by 2.40.
Feathering the graduated filter
The feathering option for the graduated filter is different from the the radial filter. Instead:
- Click on the inner most or outer most line
- Then drag it away from the center line to soften the transition
- Or drag it towards the centre line for a harder transition
Lightroom filter shortcut keys
- Radial filter – Shift M
- Graduated filter – M
- Duplicate – Alt + Control (PC) or Option + Command (Mac) and then click and drag the filter pin to a new position
Further reading: 28 essential Lightroom shortcuts that will speed up your workflow
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If you have any questions about Lightroom filters and how to use either the radial filter or the graduated filter, let us know in the comments.
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