How to use Radial Filters in Lightroom

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How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

The Radial Filter, like the Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush, is a tool for making selections so that you can apply local adjustments to your photos.

It was introduced in Lightroom 5, making it a relatively new addition to the Develop module. If you have an earlier version of Lightroom you can carry out the same adjustments by using the Adjustment Brush to paint in the area that you want to apply the local adjustment to.

The benefit of the Radial Filter is that it is quicker to use. The local adjustment is applied evenly, avoiding the patchy effect that can occur when you paint in large areas with the Adjustment Brush. If you are using an earlier version of Lightroom, the Radial Filter alone is a compelling reason to upgrade (there are others, outlined in my article What’s New in Lightroom 5).

Here are some applications for the Radial Filter:

1. Radial filters for advanced post-crop vignetting

Before Lightroom 5, the easiest way to darken the edges of the image was to use the Post-Crop Vignetting tool. The idea is to gently guide the viewer’s eye towards the centre of the image. It’s a subtle but effective technique inherited from the black and white darkroom.

The biggest weakness of Post-Crop Vignetting is that the effect is centred. You can’t move it. But if your subject is off-centre, you probably want to move the vignetting effect. The Radial Filter gives you the ability to do that.

Here’s an example. This is the starting point, a close-up photo of a bird taken in a Shanghai market:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

This is what happens if you use Post-Crop Vignetting to darken the edges. The bird is off-centre, and you can’t do much without affecting the head of the bird:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

The alternative is to use a Radial filter. Start by clicking the Radial Filter icon (circled below) underneath the Histogram (if required, double click the word Effect to zero the sliders):

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

Draw a circle or oval around the main subject with the Radial Filter. You can place it anywhere within the frame and rotate it to match the shape of your subject (look for the double-arrow icon when you hover over the white squares at the compass points of the Radial Filter):

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

Set the Exposure slider to -4.0. This shows you the area affected by the Radial Filter. Adjust the size of the Radial Filter and the Feather setting (if required) so that the subject itself isn’t affected:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

Reset the Exposure slider to zero and gradually move it left to subtly darken the edges of the frame. Here’s the result with this photo, compared with the Post-Crop Vignetting tool used earlier:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

2. Radial filters for adding Clarity

The Radial Filter is also ideal for adding Clarity or Contrast to parts of the image to bring out textural detail and attract the viewer’s eye.

This goes back to the theory of visual mass – that certain visual elements pull the eye more than others. The viewer’s eye goes to sharp areas before unsharp or out of focus ones. The wide aperture already exploits that, and we can emphasise it by adding Clarity to the bird to bring out the detail and texture of its feathers.

Add another Radial Filter, and tick the Invert Mask box in the Radial Filter panel to apply the effect to the inside of the Radial Filter:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

Push the Clarity slider to the right, to increase the texture. The best setting depends on the subject itself plus your personal taste. You may need to increase Exposure a little as well as adding Clarity tends to make the image darker. Here’s the comparison:

How to use the Radial Filter in Lightroom

These are subtle but important touches that help you get the best out of your photos. Don’t forget that you have all the sliders in the Radial Filter panel available for your experimentation. Spend some time having a play with them and think about how you can use them to make your photos better.

Further reading

These articles will help you use Lightroom better:

Organising Photo Files for Lightroom

How to Use Graduated Filters in Lightroom

Imitating Instagram Filters in Lightroom

Lightroom or Photoshop?

Create Your Own Photography Website with Koken

What’s New in Lightroom 5

The Mastering Lightroom ebooks

Mastering Lightroom ebooksMastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module  shows you how to use the Library Module to import, organise and search your images. This important task lays the foundation for the work you do in Lightroom. Mastering the Library module and learning to use Collections to organise and sort your photos ultimately saves you time, which you can spend either in the Develop module or with your camera.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Two – The Develop Module explains how to use the tools in the Develop module to get the most out of your Raw files. It builds on the lessons learnt in Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module and shows you how to use Lightroom’s powerful features to creatively process your images. You’ll be amazed how easy Lightroom is to use once you’re familiar with it and just how much it speeds up your workflow compared to other applications.

Note: Both ebooks are written for Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 5.



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