4 Uses for Lightroom's Graduated Filter Tool

4 Uses for Lightroom’s Graduated Filter Tool


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.

Sunset in Kamakura Japan

I used a Graduated Filter to adjust exposure on the left side of this photo. Read on to see how.

Adding a Graduated Filter to a Photo

Graduated Filter Controls

  1. Click the Graduated Filter tool, or use keyboard shortcut ‘M’
  2. Dial in the desired settings (exposure, color temperature, etc)
  3. Drag your mouse across the image, starting at the point where you want the filter to be the strongest. An easy way to remember this is that you start dragging your mouse from the area of the photo that you want to change. Create as large a gradient as you need to make the transition subtle.
  4. Adjust the size, position, and angle of the gradient, as well as its settings until you get the result you need.

4 Uses for the Graduated Filter Tool

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.

Graduated Filter used to change exposure

I used a graduated filter to increase the exposure on the left side of the image.

Graduated filter to change exposure

This Graduated Filter increases the exposure on the left side of the image by about 1/2 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.

Graduated filter used to reduce haze

I used a Graduated Filter to reduce some of the haze and produce a final image with more detail.

Graduated filter to help remove haze

This Graduated Filter helps reduce the haze in the air.

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.

Graduated Filter used to selectively change white balance

I used two Graduated Filters to separately emphasize the yellow and green tones.

Graduated Filter to adjust white balance

This Graduated Filter enhances the yellow and pink in the sunrise

Graduated Filter to adjust white balance

This Graduated Filter makes the grass more green.

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.

Graduated filter combined with a vignette

I used a Graduated Filter to remove the vignetting on the right side of the frame

This Graduated Filter counters the vignetting on the right side

This Graduated Filter counters the vignetting on the right side

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.

Read more from our Post Production category

Jason Weddington is passionate photographer and the creator of PhotoQueue.com, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

Some Older Comments

  • pablo July 30, 2013 06:37 am

    thanks for inspiration

  • Benn July 3, 2013 12:05 pm

    A really handy tool this one with lots of uses! good write up:)

  • Hailey Swanson June 23, 2013 08:35 am

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  • shane February 18, 2013 05:51 pm

    lovely little article :) really appreciate the way you give a variety of practical examples. the third one, in particular, i will be using a lot!!

  • George Suresh February 12, 2013 08:25 pm


    A diverse use of graduating filters displayed there. Thanks for this insightful tute!

    George S.

  • Saresa January 26, 2013 02:16 am

    Awesome article!! I have a few photos with haze problems I will have a second look at when I get home.

  • K.A. Gilligan January 25, 2013 03:04 pm

    Great tips on reducing haze. Thank you. Kevin. www.photosbykag.com

  • Steve January 24, 2013 07:38 am

    Genius use with the haze. I take a lot of aerial photos and this might just be the perfect use of the tool for me!

  • Dave January 24, 2013 05:25 am

    You can say what you want about the vignetting on the model image, but my eyes still stay at the left of the frame :)

    But seriously... awesome tip, thanks! and I love the rice plant picture!!

  • Joe Elliott January 19, 2013 09:29 am

    Great images here, I really need to use lightroom more, I will try this on my next landscape shoot, cheers :)

  • Nicole January 19, 2013 03:11 am

    Hey Jason!

    A very interesting article. It seems like a useful tool for handling light spill and much more. And great example to illustrate your points. My personal favourite would be the very first one with the surfers and the sunset backdrop. I didn't notice the change at first but as I started reading your write up, I began to see and pick up in the subsequent images. It's great to have extra control on your finished product.

    Thanks for sharing this tip. I'll add it to my "post-production" toolkit.


  • Elizabeth January 18, 2013 11:50 am

    Thank you for this. I especially liked the tip about reducing the haze. I can now go back to some of my cityscape images, and improve them.

  • Jason Weddington January 18, 2013 05:10 am

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the comment, hope this helps! Fog on the water can be a nice atmospheric effect too though. I went sailing on the Chesapeake by with my brother back in Nov and got some great sailing images; I love shooting on the water!


  • Frank Villafane January 18, 2013 04:49 am


    This tutorial is just what the doctor ordered! I was in Baltimore's Inner Harbor last weekend and the place was enshrouded in fog. In spite of that, I took many images knowing full well what I would be dealing with. I can't wait to try this technique to reduce some of the haze. Thanks for a great article...

    Frank V.