How to use the Adjustment Brush Tool

How to use the Adjustment Brush Tool

Estimated reading time: 20 minutes

Learning Adobe ® Lightroom – The Develop Module

Last time we explored the general settings of the Local Adjustment Tools in Adobe ® Lightroom. Today we’ll have a look at how to use the Adjustment Brush Tool. We’ll start looking at some Brush Settings before diving deeper into an example of how to change the colors of a flower. We’ll explore Dodging and Burning with the Adjustment Brush next time.

Adjustment Brush Settings

Before we head into the example of how to change the color of a flower’s petals, we’ll have to go through the Brush Settings.

In Adobe ® Lightroom, the brush comes in one shape and one shape only, and that is a circular Brush. So you won’t be able to create your own Brushshape like you can do in Adobe ® Photoshop, for example. With the Adjustment Brush in Adobe ® Lightroom, you are selecting an area in your photo to adjust its settings, but you won’t be able to paint new elements into the image. Therefore, you don’t need brushes in particular shapes, like snowflakes or leaves.

However, you might end up in a position where you would like to select the leave of a blossom or not select trees before the sky that you want to adjust. We’ll look into the settings that will help you achieve these selections beyond circles and straight lines a little later in this article.

Let’s look at the standard settings and how to use them before we dive into the examples and the advanced settings.

Settings of the Adjustment Brush
Settings of the Adjustment Brush

You can see three different brushes A, B, and — far on the right — Erase in the top line. You can customize each of them individually with the Settings below.

The A and B Brush are “Selection brushes,” where every brushstroke will add a new area to your current selection.

The Erase brush will not delete content from your photograph but deselect a selection you made earlier with an A or B Brush.

When we go through the Flow and Density settings below, you’ll understand how two selection Brushes can come in handy for your workflow.

Brush Customizations

In this section we explore how the different Brush settings affect your adjustments. We’ll go through every setting first, so you’ll get a better grasp of the later example.


This setting determines the size of the brush, where it has full effect. I have created a particular-sized brush with no other customizations in the image below but the size. 

Adjustment Brush without Feathering
Brush without Feathering


This setting gives you an additional outer area around your brush, in which Adobe ® Lightroom gradually builds up the brush’s effect. A feathered brush reassembles a softer brush in Adobe ® Photoshop. You can see how much, if any, feathering this tool has by its shape. If it has two rings, the inner is where the brush has full effect, while the outer is the feathering area, like in the image below.

Feathered Adjustment Brush
Feathered Brush


With the Flow setting, you can control how much of an effect you add with every brushstroke to an area. If you set the Flow to 100, every brushstroke will have full effect. However, if you use a setting of 10, you would only get 10% of the maximum impact with the first stroke. However, painting multiple times over an area will build up to full effect eventually. You can use this to either watch how much of an adjustment you need or if you need to gradually build up the adjustment to fade it in or out of your selected area.
The look of the brush tool does not change if you use a lower Flow setting.

Auto Mask Checkbox

With this little checkbox, you can make Adobe ® Lightroom aware to not paint over individual sections of your photograph. If you enable Auto Mask, Adobe Lightroom will find the color-edges in your photo and only paint over them if you move your brush’s inner cross over that particular section. This way, you can, for example, paint over the sky without affecting the top of the mountains. Or paint over a Lighthouse without affecting the surrounding ocean. Auto Masking is incredibly efficient if there is a hard edge between two color sections, like, for example, in the blossom and its below.

Original Garden Cosmos prior to color adjustments
Original Garden Cosmos

There are other settings to restrict a selection to a range of colors or a range of luminance values with the Adjustment Tools. We’ll have a look at some of these in today’s example, but also next time when we explore Dodging and Burning.


The Density setting restricts the maximum effect of your brush to a specific value. If you set Highlights to +10 and Density to 10%, your brush’s maximum effect equals a Highlights setting of +1. The difference between the Density and the Flow setting is that the Flow setting allows you to gradually build up the brush’s effect, while the Density setting restricts the brush’s effect.

Comparison of the Adjustment Brush’s Density and Flow settings

  1. Highlights +100, Density 100, Flow 100 => each brushstroke has full effect immediately.
  2. If you use Highlights +100, Density 10, Flow 100 instead => each brushstroke has the full effect of the reduced density. So the change that you will see in your photograph equals a Highlights setting of +10. You can paint over the same area multiple times, but the effect will never reach a Highlights +100 value.
  3. Setting the Highlights +100, Density 100, Flow 10 means each brushstroke has 10% of the full effect. So the first brushstroke will increase Highlights by +10. Repainting that area one time increases the impact to Highlightsvalue of +20, a second time to +30, and so on until you reach full effect.
  4. Highlights +100, Density 50, Flow 10 => each brushstroke has 10% of the full effect, and the maximum change you can get is that of a Highlightsvalue of +50 (equalling five brushstrokes over the same area). Your Density Setting prevents you from reaching more than +50 (50%) effect, no matter if you paint over that area another 6 or 100 times.

Introduction to how to use the Adjustment Brush

Let’s say you have made your adjustments in the Effects section and have selected a Size and Flowvalue for your first brush. You can now paint over your image and see either where you are painting, activate the Show Selected Mask checkbox, or see your brush’s effect if you deactivate the Show Selected Mask checkbox. Every new click and drag across your image adds a brushstroke with your initial Effects settings. Since there is currently only one brush, the only one Pin happens to be active.

However, you might want to increase the Highlights in one area of your photo and decrease them in another section. To do so, you would need two brushes with different settings. Click on “New” in the Settings Mask section to add a second brush with the new Effects settings and start painting over the area that it should affect. All adjustments that you make now will only affect this active brush. As soon as you make your first brushstroke with your (new) brush, the activated Mask setting is Edit, so all changes that you now make to the size, Flow, or other brush settings will only affect this active brush. If you find out later that you should not have used another Highlightsvalue for your first brush, all you need to do is click on its Pin and change its settings.

How to change the color of a flower’s petals with the Adjustment Brush

It is finally time to get into the first practical example of how to use the Adjustment Brush to make changes to your photograph in Adobe ® Lightroom. 🙂

Changing the color of a subject is a creative technique. If you want to shoot a Documentary style, you won’t use it.

However, the selection techniques that I will use with this might help you with other adjustments. Maybe you have a photo where a flower’s red would look much more natural if it were a little underexposed or less saturated? Or you somehow got that one golden spot in a field that needs a little bit of a twist without changing the greens around it?

In the following example, we will cover two things. First, we will cover the Hue Slider in the Effects Settings, which is relatively new in Adobe ® Lightroom. Second, we will cover how to restrict a setting to a color range using a Color Range Mask.

For this, we will work on my photograph of a purple Garden cosmos. The goal is to change the flower’s petals to pink without affecting the pollen.

This photo is the original one that we are going to change.

Original photograph of a Garden Cosmos
Original photo of a Garden Cosmos

Masking the flower with the Adjustment Brush

I made the general adjustments in the Develop Modul’s Basic panels already. So now it is time to work on the center flower and nothing else. To open the Adjustment Brush Tool I hit the <K>-key on my keyboard. You can, of course, also just click on the Tool’s icon or open it via Adobe ® Lightrooms Tools Menu.

I am using a relatively small brush 6.6 in size, with no feathering; I have set Flow and Density to 100. Of course, with another subject, I might want to use a smaller or broader brush. But for this photo, I want to use a brush that can cover the petals in as few as possible brushstrokes, with as little as possible overdrawing. Yes, with the settings that I will show you later in this example, I could draw across the entire photo. But maybe your image has multiple blossoms, and you only want to change one?

Since the color difference between the blossom and its background is rather prominent, I could use the Auto Mask checkbox to avoid painting into the background. It would work in this example, as it is not too delicate to hit all the corners without going overboard. However, I wanted to select the pollen initially here as well, so you can have a better look at the Hue Slider’s effect.

Adjustment Brush Overlay
Adjustment Brush Overlay

As you can see in the figure above, I did paint a little into the background. But don’t worry about that just yet. We will fix that in a moment. For now, we will have a look at the color change that I want to make to this blossom.

Changing the Hue of the blossom

To change the color of the flower’s petals, we are going to use the Hue Slider from the Adjustment Brush Settings. There are three ways of adjusting this Slider.

  1. Click and drag that little, grey handle into a position of your choice.
  2. Dile a value into the field to the right of the color bar.
  3. Hover with your mouse over the Hue value field until you see a hand tool with some “dumbbells” on the index finger – if you look closely it is an arrow pointing right and left – then click and move your mouse in either direction of that arrow to move the grey handle into position.

If you find that the increments in which the color values are changed by method one or three are too big, mark the “Use Fine Adjustment” checkbox. This mark ensures that a more significant mouse movement translates into a smaller color adjustment.

And yes, I would love it if there was a fourth way of adjusting the target color by dialing in RGB or CMYK values…so if someone at Adobe reads this, maybe this could be a future option?

Anyhow, I dragged the Slider until I found a color for my petals that I liked.

Hue Slider adjustment for the Adjustment Brush
Hue Adjustment to the selection made by the Adjustment Brush

However, if you look carefully at the image above, you will spot the areas where I marked the background, but you will also spot that the pollen’s color has changed to something not very natural looking. Let’s address this next.

Adjusting the Selection’s Mask

There are two ways of adjusting where your mask affects your image after you drew the first one. For some occasions, you will be perfectly fine using an Erase brush, especially when the difference in the color is as big as here between the flower’s petals and the background.

However, using this way to address the pollen in the image – and not only those on the pollen stands but the few on the flower’s petals – is a recipe for ending up in the mental ward. We don’t want that.

Instead, we will introduce the Range Mask and, more specifically, the Color Range Mask.

Using a Color Range Mask

I mentioned it in the introduction article to Local Adjustment Tools. There are three different types of Range Masks. A Depth Range Mask, which currently only works with HEIC files, a Color Range Mask, and a Luminance Range Mask. We’ll look into the Luminance Range Mask when we look at some examples for Dodging and Burning.

Notice, however, that you cannot combine different types of Range Masks with one Adjustment Brush.

Range Mask Selection Dropdown
Range Mask Selection Dropdown

For now, we use the Color Range Mask to ensure that our selection is only on the flower’s petals. As we do not want to select the background or pollen. So choose “Color” from the Range Mask dropdown.

Notice that the Range Mask only addresses the color/luminance/depth values within a selection. The Range Mask does not handle the purple flower in the background that I did not brush over.

Selecting the Color Range Mask opens the Range Mask Settings like in the figure below. This even comes with a short explanation of how to use this tool.

Color Range Mask Settings Panel
Color Range Settings

Using the Color Range Mask for our flower photo

I am using that little eye-dropper tool, to take color samples of the areas I want to address. This tool is also known as Range Mask Selector. Since my purple flower has some purple shades, I press the <Shift>-Key on my keyboard while clicking on new color samples. This way, I can add not just one specific color but multiple ones. I could even pick some shade from a green area if I wanted to affect that as well.

Adjustment Brush Overlay with the Range Mask Selection and its effect
Overlay with the Range Mask Selection

As you can see in the figure above, Adobe ® Lightroom removed the background and pollen selection while the flower’s petals are still selected.

However, you still might want to fine-tune the results a little bit. If – like for my flower – your subject is not mono-colored in a single hue, the Amount slider can help you pick just that color range you want to address.

To address only very close hues to those you have selected, move the Amount slider to the left (toward a value of 0). If you want to use it a little more generous, move the Amount slider to the right instead.

In our example, if we were to move the Amount slider to the left to a value of 13, we would keep some of the original purples around the pollen stands.

Result of the color change if we restrict the Range Mask
Result with a restricted Range Mask applied

However, in my case, I would rather have all purple converted to pink. So I am leaving the Amount Slider in its initial position to get the result I am after.

Final Result of using the Brush Tool to change the color of the flower's petals
Final Result of the color change

Now, that looks a lot more natural than with the pollen’s color change, don’t you agree?

All trademarks and copyrighted items mentioned are the property of their respective owners.

I am in no way affiliated with any of the products used in this post-processing process. I do not receive any kind of compensation for this article, it was neither offered or asked for.


All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography/Wiebke Schröder.

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