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The Graduated Filter tool in Lightroom 4 allows you to apply edits across an even gradient. In this article I will explain 4 ways to use the Graduated Filter tool to enhance your photos.
1. Changing exposure on one side of the frame
In my own workflow, I use the Graduated Filter to change exposure more than for any other purpose. In Lr4 with the 2012 Process, you can control overall exposure, or target just the shadows or highlights. For this image of some sailboarders on a beach in Kamakura, Japan, I added a Graduated Filter to increase the exposure on the left side of the photo by about half of a stop.
2. Reducing atmospheric haze
Another good use for the Graduated Filter is in reducing haze in the distance for landscapes and cityscapes. I’ve found that increasing contrast, clarity, and sharpness across a vertical gradient can help reduce haze. Here, a Graduated Filter helps make the best of this image, shot on a particularly hazy day from the Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo.
3. Selectively Adjusting White Balance
Using the Temp and Tint controls in the Graduated Filter settings, you can adjust white balance across a gradient. This is an image of morning dew on rice plants in Takasaki, Japan. I used two Graduated Filters to separately enhance the sun flare and the rice grass.
4. Customizing a vignette effect
This technique builds on #1 above, because we are actually manipulating exposure. But I mention it separately because it’s a combination of two Lightroom effects. In some portraits, I like to use a subtle vignette to draw the eye to the subject. But the standard post-crop vignette is not effective at drawing the eye toward one side of the frame.
In these cases you can use a Graduated Filter to selectively modify the vignette, as in the natural light portrait below. A strong vignette darkens the outside of the frame, while an exposure gradient lightens the right side of the frame over the model’s face. This has the effect of pulling the viewer’s eye to the subject’s face.
I hope this article has been interesting and informative, and has given you a few ideas about how to use the Graduated Filter tool to enhance your images. I appreciate feedback, please comment below or feel free to connect with me through Facebook or Google+. I’ll do my best to answer questions and reply to comments.