The Graduated Filter in Lightroom is a great tool that is commonly used for boosting contrast and detail in skies. In this tutorial we’re going to look at how you can do exactly that, but the Graduated Filter is a versatile tool, and can be used for more than just skies, so will then take things a step further by adjusting other parts of the image.
Below is the final image we’re going to work towards, this was a shot I took in the beautiful Lake District in Northern England.
The original exposure
There was some blue sky behind the mountain, and nice patches of sunlight on the mountain itself, but the majority of the sky overhead and behind me was covered in cloud, thus resulting in a very flat shot, below is the original Raw file.
As you can see this is far too dull, but the shot still has good potential, so let’s see what we can do with it in Lightroom.
Basic Lightroom adjustments
Before we get to the Graduated Filter, this shot clearly needs some initial basic adjustments in Lightroom. Once the photo is in my Develop module (press D on your keyboard to get there after selecting your photo in the Library), I made the basic adjustments shown below.
You can see I’ve boosted saturation, contrast and clarity, and adjusted the black and white sliders to add more drama to the image.
These adjustments result in the shot you see below, the sky looks better, and there’s really nice detail and contrast on the mountain, which is my main focal point. The lower foreground is way too dark, but I’m not worried about that as I know I’m going to fix that soon.
Now we move onto the Graduated Filter, select this by clicking the icon shown below (or press M on your keyboard).
The adjustments sliders you see (above) for this filter will control the editing of our chosen area, but first we need to create our first selection to work with.
I’m going to work on the sky first, so I simply click at the top of the image and drag down, holding down the Shift key on your keyboard will ensure an absolutely straight line.
You can move the area by dragging the central pin, and adjust the selection area further by dragging the outside lines. Often you would reduce the exposure slider to darken the sky, but I didn’t need to in this case. Here I just added detail and darkened parts of the cloud to add a little more drama, you can see the exact settings I used above.
The next step is to lighten the lower foreground as that is way too dark. To do this I created a new Graduated Filter selection at the bottom (you can have as many selections as you wish per image).
This time I simply increased the exposure to lighten the foreground, take a look at the screenshot below, you can see the second smaller adjustment that I’ve made.
If you have multiple selections on screen and would like to work without them, simply press the H key on your keyboard to show/hide the controls.
Let’s have a look at our final shot again, a vast improvement on our washed-out original.
If you’re new to this software package, the Graduated Filter in Lightroom is one of the key selective adjustment skills to learn. It can quickly transform your images, and works particularly well with landscape photography.Back to Top