Lightroom Local Adjustments – Radial Filter Versus the Adjustment Brush

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Adobe Lightroom is image editing software that allows you to edit and make color adjustments to your photos. Among many, the Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush are two very useful local adjustment tools in Lightroom.

But often people get confused between both of these tools and are not sure which one to use in which situation. So I thought I’d share a few tips on the basis of which you can easily figure out the importance of each respective tool.

Radial Filter Tool

This tool is a blessing for portrait, event, wedding, and wildlife photographers. The reason why I am pointing to these genres of photography is that such photos usually have a single subject in the frame which needs to be highlighted.

The Radial Filter allows you to select an area using an elliptical mask. Then the shape of the ellipse can be changed by dragging one of the points. Once the area is selected, you can make adjustments inside or outside the shape using the new Brush component depending on your requirements.

radial filter Lightroom local adjustments

Adjustment Brush Tool

The Adjustment Brush is like painting the image canvas with the required adjustments. You can use the mouse pointer, drag and select the area manually where you wish to make desired adjustments. You have the ability to increase or reduce the size of the brush to make a fine and precise selection.

 Lightroom local adjustments - adjustment brush

Radial Filter or Adjustment Brush? How to Decide?

As you saw in the example above, using the Radial Filter allows you to select a particular area using the elliptical mask whereas the Adjustment Brush allows you to manually select the area using the cursor.

As a photographer and a creative person, you have to first visualize the result you want to achieve for your picture. If you believe that using the Radial Filter would suffice for your editing needs, go ahead with it. But if you feel that you need more manual and precise control over the selection of the area where you need desired changes, go with the Adjustment Brush.

It may sound easy but it might be challenging in some situations, so let me help you with this by looking at two examples.

Example 1: When to use the Radial Filter

 Lightroom local adjustments - radial filter image of an Indian boy

In the image above, my intention was to make changes to the area around the face of the boy. Now as the shape of the face is defined, I can easily select the area using the elliptical shape of the Radial Filter tool. Later, if I feel that I need to change the shape of the selection I can easily do that by dragging the points or using the Brush feature.

It does not make any sense to use the Adjustment Brush in this particular scenario as I can save my time by simply using the Radial Filter.

Basically, you should use the Radial Filter when the shape of your subject is defined and you can easily make the selection using the ellipse. Weddings, portraits, wildlife, events, and sports are some of the genres of photography where you can use the Radial filter to make changes faster.

Example 2: When to use the Adjustment Brush Tool

 Lightroom local adjustments - landscape scene sky selected

In this particular image, I wanted to make exposure and highlight changes selectively in the sky region. As you can clearly see, the shape of the sky area in this photo is not defined therefore I can not use the Radial Filter. If I use the Radial Filter I would either select unwanted areas of the mountains or would miss out some parts of the sky.

But by using the Adjustment Tool I can manually select the area I want to make changes in and I was able to do that precisely. Though this approach is a bit time consuming as compared to the Radial Filter, but you surely get an accurate selection. Now whatever changes I make would perfectly be made only on the sky region.

Conclusion

So the conclusion is that you should be using the Adjustment Brush when the shape of the area that you wish to select is not well defined. Landscapes, Cityscapes, or any photo where the shape of the subject is very complex, the Adjustment Tool would give you much accurate selection than the Radial Filter.

If you want to read more about each of these tools check out these dPS articles:

Read more from our Post Production category

Kunal Malhotra is a photography enthusiast whose passion for photography started 6 years back during his college days. Kunal is also a photography blogger, based out of Delhi, India. He loves sharing his knowledge about photography with fellow aspiring photographers by writing regular posts on his blog. Some of his favorite genres of photography are product, street, fitness, and architecture.

  • Matthew McDermott

    Please don’t forget that LR also has a “brush” feature on the radial filter and the gradient filter that allows you to further modify the selected region. Once you have the Radial Filter selected click the Brush (it’s on the line with Mask: New | Edit | Brush) and then further refine where the filter is applied.

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