Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lightroom 3's Graduated Filter - Part I

Neutral density filters are a must for your camera bag.  Especially if you enjoy landscape photography (See post "Neutral Density Filters and Why You Need Them" for more info).

But there's a backup plan.  It's called the Graduated Filter tool in Adobe Lightroom 3.  If you're shooting in RAW, then there's a good chance you can pull off this correction in post processing.  I've even read other posts that go so far as to say "forget the filters... fix it in post".  You'll have to decide that one for yourself.

The Problem

There are many photography situations where you find yourself facing a tonal range that's beyond your camera's ability to record and that is probably never more true than with landscape photography.  There are a number of techniques at your disposal to combat the problem such as bracketing and then merging the images later, using a neutral density filter(s) while taking the shot to reduce the tonal range, or using the focus of our discussion today - Lightroom's Graduated Filter tool.

Here's an image I took last summer.  I exposed for foreground and, in fact, DID use a neutral density filter while taking the image to help darken the bright sky.  When I sat down to process the image afterwards, I decided that I could tone it down even further to help pull out a little more color.

Here's what I did.

  1. First, select the Graduated Filter tool from the local adjustments toolbar as show in the screen shot above.
  2. Second, click and drag your mouse from the very top center of the screen.  You will see 3 horizontal lines moving as you drag down.  The top line is the very upper bound of your adjustment.  The second line, which included the push pin as seen in the screen shot below, identifies the area where the adjustment will begin to gradually taper off (hence the name "Graduated Filter"), and the very bottom line marks the farthest reaches of the adjustment.  As you can see, I've positioned the middle line right on my horizon so that the area which I will most greatly impact, the sky, resides above that line.
  3. In order to darken the sky I have the choice of drawing down either the "Exposure" slider or the "Brightness" slider.  My preference is usually to use the "Brightness" slider because it focuses more on adjusting only the brightest areas.  Exposure on the other hand will impact everything within that upper area of the graduated filter.

In the Before/After comparison above, I've set the Brightness slider for the Graduated Filter to -50.  Because the Graduated Filter is a "local" adjustment tool, only that area between the upper and middle lines has been adjusted.

This scenario is likely to be your most frequent use of the Graduated Filter tool.  Next week we'll spend a little more time talking about how to revise existing adjustments made by the Graduated Filter tool or even adding additional adjustments by using the tool more than once on the same image.

Until next time, keep click'n.


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