Post-processing with the Graduated Filter Tool

Post-processing with the Graduated Filter Tool

Estimated reading time: 14 minutes

A practical example

Last month we had a look at what settings the Graduated Filter Tool in Adobe ® Lightroom offers. Now it is time to explore how to use it when we are post-processing a photograph.

Example of using the Graduated Filter

Enough of the theory. Let’s look at some practical examples on how to use and adjust the Graduated Filter Tool.

The following is the photo we are going to adjust now.

Photo prior to applying a Graduated Filter
Photo prior to applying a Graduated Filter

Filter Placement

Since the eye is drawn to a picture’s bright areas, you will be looking predominantly at the sky instead of the village, even though the river offers a nice leading line.

To correct that, we will be adding a Graduated Filter on the sky to darken it.

Photo with the applied Graduated Filter, adjusting the exposure by -0.3 EV

As you can see in the figure above, I started the Filter on the top edge of the photograph and dragged it down until it almost hit the rooftops. If you now turn on the Overlay, you will discover that this Filter only affects the darker part of the cloud.

Photo with the Graduated Filter Overlay
Photo with the Graduated Filter Overlay

Since I want to darken the brighter clouds at least partially, I will now move the Filter’s top line farther down toward the image’s center. This movement will increase the Filter’s effect in the top section, but it will also prolong the Graduation area. (No, you won’t get any certificates when you are doing this 😉 )

To stay in control of where the Filter affects your image, you can keep the Overlay turned on.

Overlay for the moved Graduated Filter
Overlay for the moved Graduated Filter

Now that I am satisfied with my Filter’s position, I turn off the Overlay by pressing the -key and make adjustments to the Filter’s settings in the menu on the right side of Adobe ® Lightroom’s Develop Module.

Filter Settings for the Sky

The eye is drawn to the brighter parts of an image; therefore, I want to darken the sky with the Filter we just created.
Since the Graduated Filter offers no settings to control its effect, as the Brush Tool did with its Flow and Density Settings, I have to carefully choose my settings and adjust the sliders in smaller increments.
First, I take the Exposure down to -0.6 EV.

Exposure changed by -0.6 EV
Exposure changed by -0.6 EV

The result, as shown above, is not yet so convincing. I am thinking of adjusting the Highlights and Shadows as well. I am moving the Sliders to the left until I realize that I have gone too far. From that point, I move the sliders back to the right side until I get to the point where it all adds up.

Effect of the Grad Filter set to: Highlights -41, Shadows -17, Exposure -0.6
Effect of the Grad Filter set to: Highlights -41, Shadows -17, Exposure -0.6

However, I think a slight hint of a blue tint could work fine for the clouds with this particular image. I will not use the Temperature and Tint sliders to achieve this, but the Color selector at the bottom of the settings menu.

Color Finder of the Graduated Filter Settings
Color Finder of the Graduated Filter Settings

To select the Hue, I am moving the little square in the Color finder window until I find a tone that seems fitting. Once I have found something, I am adjusting the Saturation slider in the bottom right so that the new tone does not overpower my image. The values I choose here seem fitting to my photo, but you might need a different Hue and Saturation for your own.

You can see the result of all these settings in the figure below.

Image after using a Graduated Filter for the sky
Image after using a Graduated Filter for the sky

Adjusting the River with a Graduated Filter

Something still seems to be off with the image. The reflection of the sky in the river is brighter than the sky itself. This feature is something that would not happen in nature. Instead of brightening the sky’s Graduated Filter until the difference would not be this obvious, I add a second Graduated Filter to the river.

To create a new Graduated Filter, you can either click on the Done button of the first Filter and then open the Graduated Filter Tool again or click the “New”-button in the Settings panel’s Mask section. – I have circled the second option red in the figure below.

New Option circled in the Graduated Filter's Settings
New Option circled in the Graduated Filter’s Settings

Since the Filter’s darkest part is at its starting line, I create the new one dragging it from the image’s bottom toward its center.

Second Filter in full size
Second Filter in full size

Now, I will make some adjustments to darken the Exposure slightly and darken both the Highlights and Shadows slightly.
However, I am not entirely satisfied with the results shown below.

Two Graduated Filters applied
Two Graduated Filters applied

As you can see, the Filter only affects the already darker part of the river. However, I would also like to darken the brighter parts of the river a little bit. Therefore, I am now moving the bottom line of my Filter farther toward my image’s center.

What if the Filter covers areas you don’t want to edit

From other times that I have used the Graduated Filter before, I know that it might affect areas where I would like to keep the original. So I am activating the Graduated Filter’s Overlay by hitting the -key to see exactly where the Filter makes an impact.

Overlay for the moved Filter
Overlay for the moved Filter

I am lucky this time; my riverside is unaffected by the Filter. Otherwise, I would now have used the Graduated Filter’s Brush tool (Mask – Brush) and activated an Erase Brush to remove the Graduated Filter from some parts of my photograph. If these areas are restricted to some luminance values or specific colors, I could have used the Range Mask of the Graduated Filter. These tools work in the same way as we’ve seen when we explored the Adjustment Brush Tool, here and here.

Final Results

Have a look at the effect of this in the following image.

Final photograph with two Graduated Filters applied
Final photograph with two Graduated Filters applied

I hope this article has helped you gain more knowledge about using the Graduated Filter Tool and its use. Next time we will explore the Radial Filter.



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.

THIS BLOG ARTICLE “Welcome to September 2021″ IS NOT AUTHORIZED, ENDORSED OR SPONSORED BY ADOBE SYSTEMS INCORPORATED, PUBLISHER OF ADOBE ® LIGHTROOM

All photos taken by Lille Ulven Photography/Wiebke Schröder.

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