Redhead duck with Lightroom's radial filter visible

If you are looking for a quick way to make your images “pop” in Lightroom, I highly recommend giving Lightroom’s Radial Filter tool a try.  For me, it is the perfect tool for adding “pop” to almost any image. However, to achieve the best results with the radial filter, it is important to have an understanding of the filter.  So with a goal of creating a naturally looking “pop” in an image, lets’ explore the radial filter. 

Original Image

Below is an image of a redhead duck that has global adjustments applied.  Sadly, even though the image is properly exposed, bright areas in the water pull the viewer’s eye away from the duck. In particular the top left corner of the image is very distracting.  A standard vignette did not solve the problem so it’s now time to create a custom exposure vignette with the radial filter.  

A redhead duck swim in the waters of Lake Mead
Redhead duck swims in Lake Mead

How to apply a Radial Filter

Click on the tool in the develop panel to activate the radial filter.

Close up of the Radial Filter button in Lightroom

Draw the elliptical shape.

Redhead duck with Lightroom's radial filter visible

I drew a radial filter to darken the area outside the elliptical shape with a goal of allowing the duck to stand out a bit. 

Check the Mask Overlay

At the bottom of the image is a box to activate the Mask Overlay  which will show areas effected by the mask in red.  (Later I will cover more on the mask overlay.)

Refine the Elliptical Shape 

To change the shape simply click on any of the 4 dots and move them to modify the shape as needed.

Reposition Filter if Necessary

If you need to move the final shape simply click and drag the center button of the radial filter called an edit pin to reposition the mask. 

Select the Radial Filter adjustment options  

Once you are satisfied with your adjustment area, choose one or more of the radial tool adjustment options shown in the right panel.

As you can see from the above panel, the radial filter offers many of Lightroom’s global adjustments.

Make adjustments inside or outside the Radial Filter

To make adjustments to areas outside the shape, leave the Invert Mask box unchecked.  For adjustments  inside the shape, check the Invert Mask box at the very bottom of the adjustment panel.

Feather the Adjustment 

Deciding how much of a transition area, known as feathering, a particular adjustment will receive is one of the most important steps to properly applying the radial filter. However, the decision is not as straightforward as it may initially appear. Warning, I am going to spend time on this one!  Why?  Because the amount of feathering and where the feathering occur have significant impacts on what portions of the image will be impacted by radial filter adjustments.

Important feathering tips:

    • When the radial tool is in default mode, the feathering occurs outside the area receiving the adjustment.
    • When the radial tool is set to invert mask, the feathering occurring inside the adjustment area. (Paying attention to this difference will help you drawn the filter in the correct place).  
    • Once you have drawn your radial selection, be sure to always click on the Mask Overlay button at the bottom of the image to review the mask for any needed changes.

To illustrate just how important feathering is to the radial filter results, let’s go back and look at my initial redhead duck mask. By the way, I deliberately created a mask that would not produce my desired results so that I could demonstrate the impact of feathering selections on adjustments. 

Mask Errors

So let’s look at what was wrong with my first mask.  To recap, the areas I wanted to adjust were the edges of the image which were outside the elliptical shape -the default mode.

    • The goal was to darken the corners and draw the viewer’s eye to the duck.
    • Therefore the invert mask was left unchecked.  
    • I feathered the adjustment by 39.  

Again remember feathering occurs outside the area receiving the adjust when in default mode.  However looking closely at the below image see how the red extends into the body of the duck’s tail which I did not want to darken. In fact, I believe the default  feathering is 50 for this slider which would have extended the adjustment even further into the duck. Note that feathering of 39 is actual low and is best reserved for small adjustment amounts. 

Adjusting the Radial Filter

To edit the radial filter I simply clicked on the edit pin inside the mask. Once the filter was selected, I changed the feather amount to 13.  Now let’s look at a before and after comparison of the exact same mask with feathering reduced from 39 to 13.  

The first image shows the new feathered amount of 13 while the second image shows the feathered amount of 39.  

By reducing the feathering, my duck is now a bit brighter. However, I still did not have the results I was hoping for and felt more adjustments were needed. Although I could have darkened the outside water again, I did not want to create adjustment that would be obvious.  So, this time I added another radial filter that would brighten the areas around the head of the duck.

Add a new mask

To add a new mask, click on the new tab directly below the radial filter circle in the develop panel and start the above process again.

Invert Mask

My next step was to increase the exposure on the duck so I inverted the mask.  

The adjustment areas again are noted by the red overlay area.  All feathering now takes place inside the selection. So the first thing I did was review the masked area, adjust the feathering and apply my adjustments.  Another way to think about feathering is that it always occurs inside the elliptical areas regardless of if the adjustment occurs inside or outside the elliptical area. 

See I told you feathering was not very straightforward.  After review, I did slightly tweak my previous feathering and exposure adjustments.

I also added another filter at the top of the image to tone down the highlights in the water as the bright areas directly above the duck were still bothering me.

After all three radial filter adjustments were applied, I now felt like my duck “popped” without it being obvious that Mr. Redhead had been adjusted. My aim with processing is to always keep it looking as natural as possible unless I chose to produce a digitally altered image.  Then all bets are off.  

Now before I show you the before and after image of Mr. Redhead, I need to go over one final setting.

The See Edit Pins Setting

In the end it took three radial masks before I was satisfied with the duck. But what if I was still not satisfied and wanted to go back and review my mask adjustments. How would I find all my radial filter adjustments?  Thankfully, Lightroom has a “see edit pins” box in the bottom panel just below the image display.  Lightroom even offers four different options for viewing the pins.  See the black arrow below.

The options for showing the edit pins are: auto, always, selected and never. 

    • The never option will never show adjustments and is only a viable option if you no longer have a need to see the radial adjustments in the image.
    •  Selected -This option only shows the edit pin currently being worked which is great for images with multiple  adjustments.  Since they don’t show up, they pins can’t distract from the active adjustment.  
    • Always will show every adjustment and can get distracting if there are multiple adjustments in an image.   I have clicked the wrong edit pin button more than once!
    • Auto will switch the adjustments on and off based on what modifications are being done to the image.

There are times in a workflow when one option is the better choice than the others and I frequently switch between them.  It is wonderful to have the flexibility of  four options.

Below is an example of the Always option which shows all three radial filter pins.  The latest pin shows the elliptical shape while the previous two Radial Filters appear as  pins. Clicking any pin opens the filter for review and adjustments.

 Lastly, remember to check your viewing options if you can’t find your adjustments.

Final before and after of Mr. Redhead

Before:

A redhead duck swim in the waters of Lake Mead

After

In my final image, Mr Redhead’s eye and head are brighter and the bright areas in the above water are a bit darker.  All this was accomplished without having the duck look altered thanks to the Radial Filter.  

Lastly, I want to mention that there is also a brush option for editing the radial tool adjustments but will save that discussion for an advanced radial filter post. If you found this radial filter post helpful, you may want to check out :3 Great Tools in Lightroom

Well now that you know the basics for using Lightroom’s Radial Filter Tool,  I hope you enjoy this tool as much as I do!

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