For some years now landscape photographers have relied on graduated neutral density filters to control exposure where bright skies would otherwise dominate an image…or where the sky would go white because of overexposure when the image was properly exposed for the landmass.
With Lightroom 2.0, Adobe introduced a Graduated Filter effect as part of the local adjustments panel (along with some other retouching tools, including the Adjustments Brush). I have been experimenting with the Graduated Filter effect recently. Let me walk you through editing a sample, seen above, selected not because it is a great photo, to to show off the GF effects.
(Disclaimer: I am by no means a Lightroom expert. I am just learning as I go along. What I share here is just my first fumblings with this effect. I am sure there is a lot more to learn.)
As I have come to expect from Lightroom, the GF tool is amazingly powerful. When you first drop the panel down you see a menu of -/+ selections for Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, and Sharpness…plus a little color box. You can create a GF to apply any of these effects to the image by selecting the -/+ for that effect, or by picking the effect from the drop-down menu at the top.
Or, to apply multiple effects to the same area, you can click the little switch icon next to the drop-down menu on the right.
This opens a series of effect sliders, one for each effect in the list. This is, in my opinion, the most powerful way to use the GF effect, and the most intuitive.
To create a filter you just place the mouse over one edge of the image, left click and drag the filter down (across or up) the image. As it expands you will see that there is a dark circle roughly in the center of your covered area, and a white line at either border. The white line where you started dragging is the beginning (darkest) area of the filter, and the white line at the other edge is roughly where the filter effect fades to nothing. The dot at the center is, well, the center of the effect. You will quickly realize that the filter can have any orientation to the image. It can be horizontal, vertical, or any degree of diagonal, just as you drag it out. The black center indicator is always there unless you hide it. It turns white when the filter is not selected (for editing).
Once the filter is in place, you can make adjustments using the effects sliders. For this image I reduced the exposure to darken the sky significantly (for added drama). I also boosted the saturation and contrast to deepen the detail in the clouds, and added some clarity for the same reason. Clarity when applied to clouds seems to bring out the transparancy of the more subtle regions of the cloud mass. You can, of course (this is Lightroom) see the changes applied in real time, as you make them, without any worry about the original. Any change is reversible simply by resetting the slider, or you can remove all effects by clicking the reset button at the bottom of the panel, or, if you need another option, you can select the center dot of the filter and press the Del key to get rid of the whole thing.
The combined effects yielded this preview.
An improvement, I think, but we can do more.
Applying a second GF, this time dragging up from the bottom, and angling the whole filter slightly, I again adjusted exposure, this time bringing it up slightly to pick up the details in the foreground. I also added good deal of saturation and contrast to make the yellows of the rabbit brush pop, and some extra clarity for detail.
It is important to realize that these adjustments take only seconds, and that you can see what you are doing in real time. You simply move the slider until the effected area of the image looks the way you want it to. Too much? Move the slider back.
This is the preview of what the second GF did.
Much improved! (IMHO). Note that the edges of the filter indicated by the white lines are not exact: generally the outer edge in particular, will cover the whole width of the image, even if, as in this case, it appears that a corner is cut off due to the angle of the filter.
The image is almost there. For final changes, I dropped back out of the GF panel, and made a set of global changes, using the Recovery, Fill Light, and Black-point sliders, and the Presence panel, as well as the Sharpen landscape preset.
Recovery pulled the sky back further, adding detail to the highlights. Fill Light brought up the foreground without lightening the sky. Sliding the Black-point to the right intensified the colors further. Clarity made the details really pop, and Vibrance pulled the yellows up even further without oversaturating them. Finally, I cropped out a bit of the heavy black clouds at the top for balance.
And here is the final image. Original first, for comparison, then the Lr version. Time invested: less than 3 minutes start to finish.
Still not a great image, but much more satisfying than the original, and, considering the dull day, and the inability of the sensor to do it justice, much closer to what I actually saw…maybe even a little better than I saw in real time…but I will never tell!