Lightroom’s radial filter is a great masking tool that lets you add personal style to photos by creatively adjusting select areas in an image. In fact, this amazing tool can highlight subjects, change midday light to golden light, blur distracting elements, and so much more. In fact once you go beyond the basics of Lightroom’s radial filter, the creative possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Let me show you what I mean.
In this “Beyond the Basics of Lightroom’s Radial Filter” post, I demonstrate 7 creative ways to use the radial filter to transform dull or ordinary photographs into unique images that stand out from the crowd while simultaneously fixing problem areas. My 7 creative adjustments are grouped by function such as exposure, color, contrast, sharpening and more.
If you are not familiar with the radial filter, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to read my Introduction to Lightroom’s Radial Filter first. It will making following a few of my examples easier since I cover the basics of using the radial filter along with explaining how masking is applied to a photo.
1. Creative Exposure Adjustments with Lightroom’s Radial Filter
Let’s begin by looking at 3 different ways to use the radial filter to make exposure adjustments to targeted areas of an image.
Shine Some Light
In this first example, we are going to look at how to shine light on underexposed areas in a photo. The waterfall image below is underexposed, however, because of the bright spots in the leaves, I could not increase overall exposure. The solution was to shine some light on only the underexposed waterfall and surrounding rocks while leaving the foliage untouched.
Obviously the photo required additional adjustments that did not involve the radial filter to produce the final image.
Balance The Light
I am sure we have all taken photographs where the overall exposure was right but the brightest parts of the image still detracted from the main subject. That was definitely the case in the photo below of Sedona’s Courthouse Butte where a very bright cloud was pulling the viewers eye away from the Butte.
Applying a Linear Gradient was not the answer to fixing the problem since the brightest part of the cloud was not at the edge of the image. I needed a tool that would put the greatest darkening effect right over the problem area. So again, the Radial Filter, was my tool of choice.
Upon reviewing the above image with the filter applied, the image still needed a second adjustment to balance the light in the rocks with the clouds. This time an exposure adjustment impacting just the highlights filter was applied to the top portions of the rocks that resolved the lighting issue.
By the way, for illustrative purposes, I have also included a shot of my final image that contains globally applied vibrance, color calibration and texture adjustments beyond the scope of the radial filter post.
Turn The Lights On
The next creative radial filter use involves an exposure adjustment that simulates turning on lights. To accomplish this a small radial filter as applied to the lantern with mask feathering that extended down the wall just as a light would naturally do.
2. Blur Backgrounds with a Radial Filter by Reducing Clarity and Sharpness
Reduce Distracting Elements
The radial filter can also be used to partially blur portions of an image by lowering the contrast, clarity and/or sharpness in parts of an image. In the lotus photo below, I wanted to viewers eyes to focus on the seed pod at it’s center and to create a soft ethereal look in the pink petals.
A radial filter was applied to the seed pod, then inverted so that it only affected areas outside the pod. By the way you can invert a radial filter by hitting the apostrophe key. With the filter inverted, the following adjustments were applied to the pink petal area of the flower: contrast -72, clarity -60 and sharpness by -55.
Normally I recommend making smaller adjustments that the above amounts that I did for illustrative purposes. I also recommend making changes incrementally and adding additional masks as needed instead of making major changes on one mask.
Create Depth in an Photo
Depth of Field effects can be created in a number of different ways with the radial filter. In this example, however, we will focus on creating increased depth of field by reducing contrast, clarity and sharpening in the following image.
I photographed St. Elmo ghost town in Colorado from an angle to add some depth to the image. Upon review, the image still looked two dimensional and lacked the depth I was hoping to create. Therefore, I created perceived depth with a creative use of the radial filter by doing the following:
Note: I prefer to gradually make adjustments by applying multiple filters and slowly decreasing each filters coverage area so that each adjustment does not have strong transition lines.
3. Add Texture to Subjects
Texture is a relatively new Lightroom adjustment whose application impacts medium sized details in an image without affecting the fine details. Since my poor bison below looked dull and soft although he was perfectly sharp, I decided to try a radial filter texture adjustment to add some depth and pop to the image. The filter was only applied on the bison from the horns to the tip of the nose area. Take a look and let me know what you think of this effect.
Note: I chose texture as an adjustment over sharpening since sharpening tends to make an animals fur look coarse and bison fur is already coarse.
4. Radial Filter Temperature Adjustments
I must admit that there is rarely an image I process that I do not apply a targeted temperature change with the radial filter. In fact I am so addicted to this creative adjustment that I probably need therapy! Here are a couple of my favorite creative radial filter temperature adjustments.
Change the Time of Day
I was driving in rural Idaho on my way to run an errand when I encountered this barn. There was just one problem, it was the middle of the day and the light was terrible. The entire image looked flat and boring which is as expected at midday.
I had to get creative if I wanted to keep this image so I added a radial filter with a temperature adjustment of 20 to add some warmth. Now the image appears to be shot in the morning or later afternoon hours instead of at high noon. The barn photo is not perfect but certainly more interesting and is now a keeper.
In the next image, I was at Biscuit Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park when I spotted this old bison in beautiful golden light from the setting sun. By the time I went back to my car to grab my 500mm lens and return, the light was gone. I took the shot anyway and hoped for the best. That obviously did not work so I again had to creatively add some golden light that simulated a setting sun to the photo.
In this case, a radial filter was placed from the bison’s head to the lower right corner of the photo and carefully feathered to limit its impact on the background trees. If you are wondering why I didn’t just adjust the temperature of the entire image; it was because I wanted to retail the cool feeling of dusk in the background.
Cool Down An Area In Photo
As photographers, it is a common practice to darkening the corners of an image with a vignette to help keep a viewers eye in the image. However, when corners already contain areas of pure black like this image did, there are more creative ways to accomplish keeping a viewers eye in the image including temperature adjustments.
In the photo below, the rocks at the left corner of the image were competing with the mountain reflection and center rocks. They contained areas of pure black already so I did not want make any addition decreases in exposure. Instead I used a radial filter to increase the blue colors in the rocks.
Don’t overlook the impact of using a radial filter temperature adjustment to cool down areas in an image. The effect can be subtle but effective. In this image cooling the temperature in the trees and rocks on the left side of the image helped focus the viewers eye and actually enhanced a S curve already in the image.
5. Hue Adjustments with the Radial Filter
Lightroom has offered ways to adjust the hue in an image for a long time but it was not until recently that Lightroom offered a way to change the hue of a particular color for one part of the image without impacting the entire image. Since this post is about creative adjustments with the radial filter, we will focus on hue changes using the radial filter. I do, however, believe Hue adjustments are best applied with the brush tool in most situations.
Now let’s change the color of the church door which just did not match the surrounding stones. Note: if I had used the HSL panel to change the hue of the door, the color would have changed throughout the entire image and altered the color of the stones. This was definitely not something I wanted to do.
Note: When making changes to Hue using any of Lightroom’s masking options, you will have a choice to limit the range of hue changes by clicking the box, Limit Fine Adjustment as seen on the right. In this case, I left the box unchecked since I wanted to make a fairly significant change to the hue.
6. Apply Orton Effect
The Orton Effect is an creative editing technique that results in a dreamy or mysterious glowing landscape photos. I find this effect especially useful for softening the look of tree limbs as well as improving the look of areas with high levels of contrast.
The Orton Effect works best on images when applied in Photoshop but many photographers are not comfortable using Photoshop. So, today I am offering a simpler Lightroom version of the Orton Effect that is applied with a radial filter mask coupled with a luminance range mask. The luminance range mask is necessary since we only want to apply this type of adjustment to the brightest parts of the image.
Let’s look at a before and after photo from the Smoky Mountains then I will share the steps I used to create this effect.
Steps to apply Orton Effect in Lightroom
Here is the same Orton technique applied to a different image. The only difference in the image below from the above mask steps is that I also increased the color temperature by 7.
7. Add Fog to an Image with Dehaze and Clarity
In my last creative Radial Filter tip, we are going to add a bit of fog to a marsh. To add fog, I placed the following filter over the marsh as shown below and decreased the Dehaze by about 45 and Clarity by about 35.
The amount of decrease in Dehaze and Clarity will vary greatly depending on your image however, try to keep the adjustment as subtle as possible. Also be sure to feather the radial filter by at least 70 so that the fog looks as natural as possible. Fog does not have hard edges in real life and neither should it in an image.
Final Thoughts on Getting Creative with Lightroom’s Radial Filter
I hope this post has provided you with new ideas for creative uses for the radial filter. Once you go beyond the basics of Lightroom’s radial filter uses, the possibilities are endless. This is particularly true when you also add color range and luminous masking options to a radial filter mask.
My challenge to each of you is to find creative ways to deploy the powerful capabilities of Lightroom’s radial filter to your workflow. Also remember to keep edits subtle when adding any creative style to your photos.
I look forward to seeing what uses you come up with on your photos so please be sure to leave a comment. As always, thanks for following this blog and please comment and share if you find this content helpful.