While the look that each creates can be very different, the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter in Lightroom 5 all share some common traits. The most obvious trait is that they all share a common set of tone, color, and detail controls for manipulating a specific region of pixels in the photo.
The big difference among them is that each of the three tools isolates (or masks) pixels in unique ways, and that’s really the trick to learning each and knowing which one to use in a particular situation, or whether to use all three! The Adjustment Brush (shortcut: K), shown in Figure 1, allows you to paint a mask over the areas you want to modify, which makes it great for applying changes to areas with random shapes or boundaries.
Figure 1 An example of an image with an Adjustment Brush mask applied and visible. For this tool, the mask denotes the area that will be modified.
The Graduated Filter (shortcut: M), shown in Figure 2, is meant to simulate the graduated filters we use with camera lenses, allowing us to make gradual, linear changes in tone or color (similar to a gradient effect in Photoshop). For example, if you have an uneven sky, you can use the Graduated filter to balance things out so the sky takes on a more natural appearance. (Our eyes automatically adjust for the differences in very bright or dark parts of the scene, but our cameras do not.)
Figure 2 The Graduated Filter in action.
The new Radial Filter (shortcut: Shift+M), shown in Figure 3, is similar in some respects to the Graduated Filter in that you create a geometric overlay that defines the boundaries of the changes you wish to make—except here, the intent is to create vignette-like effects. A common example is darkening the bright details the surround a subject, but that’s far from the only use, as we’ll see.
Figure 3 The new Radial Filter in Lightroom 5 allows simple creation of vignette-like effects using the full range of local adjustment controls.
Start with the Filters
There’s no concrete rule about which tool to use first, but when combining their effects, it’s usually best to leave the Adjustment Brush work for last. Brushed adjustments are the most precise, and you can create them already knowing what the combined effect of the two filters are, should there be some overlap. You can use stronger or more faintly applied adjustments as necessary, and in a precise way.
For this example, we will look at a small waterfall scene that needs certain details to be emphasized, while others would benefit from less emphasis. For example, as shown in Figure 4, the top and bottom of the frame should be darker than the central part of the scene (Graduated Filter), while the waterfall and leaves need their own local color treatments (Radial Filter), and some of the mossy rocks need their details handled differently than the surrounding pixels (Adjustment Brush).
Figure 4 The lighting and details in this shot can benefit from the Radial Filter and other local adjustments in Lightroom 5.