Lightroom is a powerful photo editing and image cataloging program that was first introduced in 2007. Since its introduction, Lightroom has continuously added new features and tools, especially to its Develop Module. One of my favorite editing tools, Lightroom’s Radial Filter, was added a number of years ago, and is one of Lightroom’s best editing tools.
The Radial Filter is designed to target specific areas in an image for adjustments that one would not want to make to the entire image. It is easy to use but without understanding how the radial filter masking is applied, the filter could do more harm that good to a photo. In this post, I will not only show you how to use the filter but also how to create good masks that make your photos pop.
So if you ready to take your photos to the next level and have them stand out from the pack, lets get started learning about the Radial Filter.
Where is the Radial Filter in Lightroom?
The Lightroom Radial Filter is a circular tool located in a tab towards the top of the Develop Module as shown below:
Radial Gradient Mask Adjustments
The following Lightroom adjustments can be applied with the Lightroom Radial Filter including altering exposure, sharpening, blurring backgrounds, adding catch light to eyes, changing temperatures in certain parts of an image, applying creative vignettes, and everything listed in the table below.
These adjustments can be applied either inside or outside the circle area.
As you can see from the above panel, the radial filter offers many of Lightroom’s global adjustments but not all of them. For instance, Vibrance is only available as a global adjustment in Lightroom’s basic panel.
The best way to illustrate how this filter applies adjustments to specific areas is to edit an image.
Photo Prior to Radial Filter Adjustment
Below is an image of a redhead duck with a few lighting issues that made the image less than wonderful. In particular, although the image was properly exposed, some bright areas in the water pulled the viewer’s eye away from the duck. Also the lighting on the duck was not ideal.
How to Apply A Radial Filter
Create a radial mask –Click inside an image.
Draw the circle to the size and shape you need- The area inside the circle area will receive the adjustments when Lightroom Radial Filter is in the default mode.
Alter the filter’s shape or size – Drag the edges in or out from any of the dots on the image. Note, you must click on one of the dots to change the filter’s size.
To have adjustments occur outside the filter’s masked area- Hit the apostrophe key and the mask with invert. There is also a box at the top of the filter panel to check to invert it.
Reposition the Filter –The entire mask can be moved around by clicking the center dot in the radial filter.
My first adjustment to this redhead duck was to lighten the duck and the areas closest to the duck by increasing expose, particularly in the shadows. Looking at the below mask note that the inside circle is where the full effect of any adjustments occurred while the outside circle is where all feathering for the adjustments occurred. (By the way the black area in the top right corner is part of a lightroom panel from the screen shot and not part of the image)
With a second mask below, set to invert, the areas outside the circle were darken.The areas between the two circles received a graduated (filtered) darkening effect and the areas inside the inner circle were not impacted by the exposure adjustments.
Inverted Radial Filter
Lastly, a final mask was applied to the duck’s head and eye area where I increased exposure slightly and also added warmth by adjusting the temperature sliders along with a little increase in clarity.
Lastly a global adjustment was made to the entire image where I increased the blue channel saturation in the Development Module Calibration section by 7. I did this adjustment to fix the dull water and to provide some separation between the duck and the water
All adjustments were done in small increments to keep the final image looking as natural as possible.
Mask Overlay Settings for the Radial Filter
Now that we have covered how to apply a radial filter mask, let’s look at how to see the Mask Overlays when using the Lightroom Radial Filter. By the way, the best advice I can give everyone when applying Radial Filters is to alway review the masking areas.
At the bottom of the image when the radial filter is being used, there is a box to activate the Mask Overlay.
See Radial Filter Edit Pins Setting
There are times in a workflow when one option is the better choice than the others and I frequently switch between them.
The color of a mask can also be changed from red as shown below:
How to View Radial Filter Mask Areas
Now that we know how to change the viewing setting for the mask overlay, let’s take a look at how the Radial Gradient Mask appears on an image in its default mode as well as in its inverted mode.
Radial Mask Area
The red indicates where adjustments impact areas in the photo. For example in the above image, the head of the duck receives the full impact of an adjustment. The areas in the outside circle will receive a graduated impact of the adjustment with the strongest adjustment occurring next to the inside circle. The outside areas will not be impacted.
Inverted Radial Mask Areas
In the below image, the red areas again show where adjustments will occur. In this case, the full adjustment occurs outside the circle area while some adjustments impact areas inside the mask.
A common mistake people make when applying an inverted radial filter mask, is failing to understand that feathering for any adjustments occurs inside the radial circle and not outside the circle. In particular, a mask to darken the corners of an image set to a high level of feathering will effect a large portion of the photo the falls in the outside circle.
If the mask is impacting too large of an area, the feathering can be reduced but remember, the transition lines between adjusted and not adjusted areas will be more obvious with less feathering.
Radial Filter Feathering
There are two ways to feather a radial filter:
1. Click on the dot in the inside circle and drag it in or out as needed.
2 In the top panel of the radial filter there is a slider where the amount of feathering can be increase or decreased as needed.
How to Add or Subtract from a Radial Mask
The Radial Filter is circular (elliptical) in shape. There may be times when areas targeted for adjustment do not work with one circular shape. Thankfully Lightroom offers options to connect additional masks or remove areas from the circle as shown below:
Notice in the tool bar on the right it now shows “Mask 2” with two Radial Gradients below it. You can also see the two mask overlays indicted by dots on the color overlay box to the left.
To create these two linked masks, I simply clicked on the add button at the bottom of the first mask and then drew a second mask. Now all my adjustments will impact both masks saving me time from having to apply adjustments twice.
Final Thoughts on Lightroom’s Radial Filter
Lightroom’s radial filter is an essential editing tool for making adjustments to select portions of an image. The adjustments are not simply limited to exposure but also include a wide range of options that can make your images pop along with letting you add your own creative style to a photograph.
The key to successfully using this filter is to understand how it works and in what situations it should be used.
I hope the information contained in this “Introduction to Lightroom’s Radial Filter” will set you on a path to your own creative image editing journey with the Radial Filter. Trust me, it gets addictive. Once you have practiced using this this filter, I suggest you take a few minutes to also read: Beyond the Basic Lightroom’s Radial Filter and also 3 Great Tools in Lightroom.
Thanks for joining me on this Learn Photography Post and I hope you enjoy using the Radial Filter tool as much as I do!