Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Getting to Know Lightroom's Adjustment Brush

A few weeks back we discovered how to apply Lightroom's "Graduated Filter" tool to help transition between two high contrast areas as well as draw out some additional detail from an area of highlights.  As you'll recall, after the two posts "Lightroom 3's Graduated Filter - Part I" and "Lightroom 3's Graduated Filter - Part II", we were able to process this original image...

into (still showing the edit pins) ...

Personally, I think that's a pretty big improvement to the original image, but there's still one more detail that isn't as it was when viewing the scene in person... the trees.  Again, a better approach to this shot would have been to bracket and then later merge the various exposures using an application such as HDRSoft's Photomatix Pro or Adobe Photoshop.  Coulda-shoulda-woulda... The fact of the matter is, I only have this one exposure to work with so the option is to fix it in post processing.  So, how do we fix the under exposed tree line on the horizon?  With the Adjustment Brush of course.

In this context, I'm going to use the Adjustment Brush to do exactly the same thing I used the Graduated Filter tool for, but with much more control over which part of the image the is impacted.  While it's possible to make your selection using a touch pad or mouse, it's MUCH easier if you invest in a tablet.  It doesn't have to be a large investment either to realize the benefits. I use a Wacom Bamboo Pen/Tablet.

In the above screen capture, I've zoomed in on the tree line and included the Adjustment Brush Panel.  The sliders are identical to those we used when reviewing the Graduated Filter tool.  The "Brush" section allows you to:
  1. Set the size of your brush (actually 2 different brushes when selecting between "A" and "B"),
  2. Set the hardness or softness of the edge (Feather) 
  3. Set how "thick" (Flow) you're applying the adjustment. 
  4. The "Auto Mask" option is handy when there is a distinct edge to the object you're trying to select, as in the case of our tree line.  When selected, Lightroom will do it's best not to color outside the lines. 
There is one more check box I find useful which isn't shown in this screen capture.  Right next to the area where we chose to "Show Edit Pins" in the previous Graduated Filter posts, there is a check box to "Show Selected Mask Overlay".  This will apply a solid color (red) over the area you've painted to help you identify what you have/have not selected.

Now that you understand the controls, the next step is to "paint" (or select) the area you want to adjust.  Simply select the brush tool, size appropriately and then click on the area to begin painting.  You will again notice an edit pin has been placed where you first applied the brush.  Continue painting until the entire area has been selected.  The following screen capture shows my selection with the "Show Selected Mask Overlay" applied to help identify the area selected.

Once I'm happy with the selection, I'll turn off the mask overlay and begin adjusting the sliders.  As long as your edit pin is selected (see the black inner circle above), your adjustments will only apply to your selection.  In this case, all I really need to do is pull the "Exposure" slider to the right to lighten up the tree line. 

Click for larger image

And there you have it!  A few Graduated Filter adjustments and one Adjustment Brush adjustment later and this relatively flat, overexposed image shows new promise.  Understanding these basic Adjustment Brush concepts coupled with a willingness to experiment can breathe new life into your images.

As a side note, the final image above, titled "Pink Elephants" is available for purchase in my fine art prints gallery.

Until next time, keep click'n.


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