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Understanding the Radial Filter in Lightroom

One of the most useful features in Lightroom is one that tends to get overlooked, or at least under-utilized. The Radial Filter, introduced in Lightroom 5, is an incredibly powerful image adjustment tool that can be used to enhance your photos in many ways. From creating vignettes, to enhancing colors, to adjusting the exposure, and white balance, this humble little icon sitting on the right-hand side of the Develop module can unlock a variety of creative possibilities and bring new life to not only your photos, but your photography as a whole.


Before you start using the Radial Filter, it’s important to understand just what it does. Similar to the Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter, you can use the Radial Filter to add one or more specific adjustments to a select area of a photograph, and edit your changes dynamically after they have been implemented. But while the Graduated Filter adds a gradual adjustment in a linear fashion, the Radial Filter adds a similar adjustment in a circular pattern. For example, here’s a picture of a bicycle handle before adding a radial filter (see above image).

It’s a decent image, but I’d really like to draw the viewer’s eye directly to the yellow handle by adding a Radial Filter. In this image below the filter has been applied a bit too extreme, but I wanted to give you a clear idea of what exactly this tool does.


By adding a Radial Filter adjustment and decreasing the exposure, I created a vignette effect to highlight the bicycle handle.

Notice how the effect is centered on the hand grip and gradually fades from light to dark. Various parameters can be adjusted as well, such as the degree to which the filter darkens or lightens the image, how gradually it fades, and even whether to use a custom color for the filter itself. Radial Filter adjustments, like most edits done in post-processing, are better if the effect is subtle and understated. As you can see in the following example, the filter can be rotated to better match your creative vision for the shot.


In this image the effect is subtle, but you can see how such flexibility would come in handy in other situations as well. By matching the rotation and size of the radial filter to the bicycle handle, I was able to create the exact type of adjustment that the picture needed.

One of the best things about the Radial Filter, though, is that it is not limited to just making things brighter or darker. Lightroom gives you over a dozen parameters to adjust such as White Balance, Tint, Saturation, and even whether to invert the filter so the effects are applied on the inside of the circle, instead of on the outside.


There are several built-in presets as well, so if you’re not quite sure where to start you can pick one of them and use it. You can also create your own presets for repeating a particular effect in the future.radial-filter-panel-presets

Finally, the flexibility of the Radial Filter can hardly be overstated. You are free to edit your adjustments at any time, and once you apply a filter to your image you can go back and change it as much as you like. You can use multiple filters on a single image too, giving you complete creative control over your photos.

For an example of how the filters can be used to adjust color and not just create a vignette, here’s a photo of a girl holding a teddy bear without any radial filter adjustments.


The original image, without any adjustments applied.

I was fairly pleased with the original, but wanted to isolate her face and focus the viewer’s attention on her, so I used two Radial Filters: one to increase the saturation and shadows on her face, and another one to de-saturate the entire rest of the photo.

I intentionally went a bit overboard with the changes here, and as with most adjustments a more balanced and subtle approach is probably best, but I wanted to give a clear illustration of how this works so you can start to see the usefulness of the Radial Filter in your own work.


Adding two different Radial Filters had a dramatic impact on the image as a whole.

At this point you might be wondering why you would use the Radial Filter, when some of these adjustments can be implemented using the Adjustment Brush tool. The key to remember is that the Radial Filter is graduated, meaning its effects are implemented in terms of increasing value–less at the edge, and more at the center. You can also control how gradual the filter actually works each time you use it, which is a bit different than the brush tool. While the latter does have a feather parameter to give you some control over how gradually a brush adjustment is implemented, it’s not well suited for adjustments that need to change in value over a wide area of the photo. That’s where the Radial Filter really shines.

Regardless of how you choose to implement it, the Radial Filter can be a powerful addition to your photo editing workflow and if you have never looked into it I would encourage you to do so.

What are your favorite uses for the Radial Filter? Do you have any other tips to share? Post them in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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