Using the Graduated Filter In Lightroom

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Gerry 5 Comments

Do you know what the Graduated Filter in Lightroom can do to an image?

This is important as knowing what you can do in post processing will give you more leeway out in the field when photographing wildlife.  Shooting for your processing does not mean you can fluff your shots out in the field and then try and fix it in Lightroom or Photoshop.  It means you understand the entire digital photographic workflow and that processing is just a tool – same as aperture or ISO – which you can use to create images.

Sometimes the dynamic range of scenes we shoot is just a bit much for our cameras to deal with and a common problem is getting blown out skies.  Skies where the details and colours we saw in the field just cannot be reproduced in camera due to a wide range of tones from dark to light.

Have a look at this image.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

I processed the image using the Basic Panel in Lightroom – all global adjustments – but the sky was just not what I remembered out in the field.  I exposed for the buffalo and the grass which means the sky was rendered a little bit too light.

By placing a graduated filter from the top down I was able to selectively drop the exposure on only the sky which gave me the ability to create an image which was exactly what I saw out in the field.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

Huge difference wouldn’t you agree?

The first Graduated Filter was placed from top to bottom, with a very narrow spread to isolate the adjustments around the horizon, and then duplicated- yes you can duplicate filters and brushes in Lightroom –  to get the exact look I saw out in the field.

I then added another Graduated Filter from bottom to top to touch up the exposure and colour of the water.

Why do this?  Because even if someone who is not photographically literate they will subconsciously feel that something is wrong with the image if you only darken the sky but leave the reflection untouched.  The adjustment to the water was a lot more subtle than then once in the sky but I felt was very necessary in order to get an image that looks natural and will not leave the viewer feeling that something is ‘off’ in the image.

Here is a side by side view of the results the Graduated Filter changes made to my buffalo image.

Gerry van der Walt - Wildlife Photography

If you use the Graduated Filter in Lightroom here are a few keyboard shortcuts that will help to speed up your workflow:

  • M – Open and closes the Graduated Filter
  • Shift – Holding shift while creating a new Graduated Filter will lock the filter to the closest 90 degree orientation
  • H – You can hide and show the pins and filter lines in order to get a nice clean view of the results you have created
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The Graduated Filter is just one of the special adjustments you can use in Lightroom and along with the Radial Filter and Special Adjustment Brush can be used to fine tune the look and feel of your images.

Would you like us to do a tutorial video on the Graduated Filter?  Let me know and also, if you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment below.

Until next time.

Gerry van der Walt

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Comments 5

  1. Donna Michiel

    Would love to see a tutorial on the graduated filter.. please!

    Thanks for all the posts, learn lots from them all the way from Canada!


  2. simon beevers

    Thanks Gerry, I think a video would be great. Always good to have both a write up and a video, each portrays slightly different things.

    Would be interested to know if, when taking the shot of the buffalo you took it with the intention of using the graduated filter later and if so, did you adjust your settings accordingly?

  3. Krijn Haus

    Thanks Gerry for all these informative tutorials and motivantional blogs.

    I was actually thinking the past week on how to go about in Lightroom to give the sky the punch back, like the day you took the photo.

    I have always been keen on photography but only recently taken it a bit more seriously what a big difference when you leave that spot in Live called Auto. With all the other functions taking photos is alot more fun.

    1. Post

      Thanks Krijn. Glad you are enjoying the posts. Good luck with your photography and let me know if I can assist with anything else or if there are specific tutorials you would like to see!

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