How to Use Lightroom’s Graduated Filter to Improve Landscapes

Lightroom’s graduated filter is an extremely powerful tool when used with purpose. For landscape photographers there are several different things that you can accomplish with the graduated filter, and in this article we’ll look at four specific uses.

1. Replicate the Effect of a Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Graduated neutral density filters can be used to balance the exposure in situations where you have very dark and light areas in the same scene (for example, dark shadows below the horizon and a bright sky above the horizon). While using a graduated neutral density filter can be very effective, there may be times when you don’t have one with you or times when you would rather get by without one. Lightroom’s graduated filter will allow you to replicate the effect by selectively adjusting exposure.

Let’s take a look at an example. With this photo I would like to use the graduated filter in Lightroom to lighten the foreground by increasing exposure.

lightroom landscape tools

Example Image

Now, I’ll select the graduated filter tool with the keyboard shortcut “M” and add the filter so any settings that are changed will impact the bottom part of the photo.

graduated filters

Lightroom’s Graduated Filter

In this case I want to drastically lighten the foreground so I will change the exposure to +3.00.

exposure controls in lightroom

Increase Exposure

And after that change the photo looks like this.

using graduated filter in lightroom

Foreground is Lightened

So the graduated filter lightened the foreground without impacting the sky.

2. Boost Blue Skies

Improving the sky is one of the best ways to get the most out of your landscape photos. If the sky is a dull blue you can add some color with the help of the graduated filter.

boosting skies with lightroom

Example Image

I’ll add the graduated filter and get it lined up on the horizon.

enhance skies in landscape photography

Graduated Filter on Horizon

And then I’ll change the settings as shown below. Adding the blue color and bumping up the saturation will make the biggest impact, but I’ll also decrease the exposure a little, and add some contrast and clarity and bring down the highlights a little.

highlights

Settings to Enhance the Sky

And with those changes the photo looks like this.

enhancing landscape photos with graduated filter

Boosted Sky

3. Enhance Sunrises and Sunsets

Another great use for the graduated filter is to enhance the sky in a sunrise or sunset shot. Let’s take a look at this example.

enhance sunrises

Example Image

I will add a graduated filter at the horizon to impact the sky.

landscape photography sunrise enhancements

Graduate Filter for Sunrises and Sunsets

And then I’ll change the settings as shown below. This will add a purple color to the sky, increase saturation and contrast, decrease the exposure, and bring down the highlights a little.

lightroom tools for better sunset photos

Settings to Enhance Sunsets and Sunrises

And after those changes the photo looks like this.

lightroom graduated filter saturation

Enhanced Sunrises and Sunsets

4. Blur

There may be times when you find it helpful to use the graduated filter to apply blur selectively. I like to do this sometimes with photos of water, such as lakes.

With the photo below I would like to soften the water by bringing down the exposure and using negative clarity and sharpness to blur it a little.

lightroom blur

Example Image

I’ll add the graduated filter and situate it so the changes will impact the bottom part of the photo.

blurring using a graduated filter in lightroom

Graduated Filter for Blur

And then I’ll drop the exposure to -0.80 and reduce the clarity and sharpness each to -50.

blur graduated filter

Settings for Blur

And after those changes the photo looks like this.

graduated filter for blurring parts of image

Blur

These are just four examples of how you can use the graduated filter with your own landscapes and nature shots. The more comfortable you get with the tool the more ways it can be used.

About the Author:
Marc Andre is the editor Loaded Landscapes, a blog that focuses on landscape and nature photography.

For Further Help Processing Landscapes:

Landscape Legend is the most comprehensive suite of Lightroom presets created specifically for processing landscape and nature photos. The suite includes 4 parts: one-click presets for instant results, stackable workflow presets for ultimate customization and unlimited possibilities, graduated filter presets, and adjustment brush presets for working with fine details.

Found here: The Landscape Legend Lightroom Presets

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3 responses to “How to Use Lightroom’s Graduated Filter to Improve Landscapes”

  1. richard cooper says:

    similar results can be done in photoshop elements 14.

  2. This is a very useful article and tutorial. Thank you.

  3. debbie says:

    Could you explain the placement of the graduated filter. I see the bullet is at the starting point but I had been taught to drag the filter covering the entire area to be altered and it doesn’t seem that it is the case in your examples. Thank you.

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