Understanding the Radial Filter in Lightroom

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 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.

  • captnpetee

    Is there an equivalent tool in Photoshop CS5? Later?

  • No you need to make adjustment layers and mask them in PS – that’s the only way know of doing the same thing.

  • Great article and glad to see the Radial filter get some recognition. I never understood how to use it until I was watched a video from Darlene some time ago. It has helped me in many many ways and I am still trying to perfect it! I was able to give full attention to the subject of this image because of it!


  • Andrea

    Nice article!

    Where can I find the presets you posted as a screenshot in the article? Thanks!

  • Hi Andrea. In the sliders panel of the Radial Filter (as well as the Gradient Tool and the Brush Tool) just right to “Effect:” you’ll find “Saturation” (Or another preset) and an up & down arrow. Clic on it and you’ll find all the buit-in presets.

  • Hoping this helps !!

  • Sorry I did not read far enough into your question, as far as the presets go… after you click on the tool you will have another panel come up most likely set to EXPOSURE… if you are to click on the exposure section then the presets of what you are trying to control are available. I tried to screen shot it but every time I clicked on the function, it made the preset options disappear. (after paying around with the function you would have the ability to create presets as well, like he has listed in… Dodge, burn, iris enhance, skin smoothing, ect…)

  • ok, I was very darn determined!!! Here is the best I can do to show… Hope it is what you are looking for!

  • Andrea

    Got it! Thank you so much for your willpower 🙂

  • Brian

    Thanks for doing this. I also didn’t know about the RF presets!

  • Nobby Clarke

    Dropped the exposure to darken the background a fraction then used the radial filter to highlight the beak of both the mom and chick feeding as well as the chick behind the mom’s head

  • Greta article!

  • I used the radial filter to brighten the water in the foreground, the light on the rocks on the left and the light in the right side of the image where the sun sets


  • Beautiful image, and nice use of the filter !!

  • Thanks Patrick!

  • Raden Adams

    perfect example of how to use the filter to enhance an already terrific photo.

  • Thanks a lot!

  • Oh that’s a wonderful example of how to use it! Nice!

  • Thanks!

  • Patrick, thanks for sharing those screenshots! I should have had more clear instructions in the article, and I appreciate you posting those 🙂

  • Very useful tips!

  • Igor Mateshev

    My way of using radial filter – saturation.

  • omid bakhshi

    thanks for your usefull tips
    ??? ???????

  • Brad D

    Love using the radial filter. I used it here to brighten a few things up just a tad … the green growth in the background and the rocks in the foreground. Before and After pics ….

  • smegman

    Nice, it really brings out the detail.

  • Thank you very much Simon, more than glad to share 🙂 I enjoyed this article too!!

  • Michelle Pitts

    I actually just started fooling around with the radial filter recently and I’ve been surprised at what it can do. In this one, I had snapped the photo with my DoF too high, so the fact that mama was a muddy mess was too apparent. Using the filter, I was able to de emphasize her rear and sharpen up her face.

  • There’s no equivalent in CS5 per se, but if you have CS5 you have Adobe Camera Raw, and you have the equivalent there,

  • A couple of handy tips to add:

    1) Clicking dragging on the border of the ellipse will rotate it.
    2) If you click on one of the handles and drag it will move both sides equally. If you only want to move one, hold down the Alt/Opt key.
    3) Hold Ctrl/Cmd and double-click to create an ellipse that fills the image frame.
    4) If you want two highlight areas (using the bicycle handle above as example), create the first effect as shown. Either duplicate the filter and move it to a new location, or create a new filter – but, check the Invert Mask box and move the slider to the opposite side. For example, if you create a vignette effect by setting exposure to -1 stop, set the effect for the second filter to +1 stop. The remainder of the frame will be darkened but you’ll have two highlight areas.
    5) Don’t be afraid to use the radial filter in conjunction with the Graduated filter and brush tools. For example, use the Graduated filter to blur the entire frame (set Sharpness below -50 to create a Gaussian blur), then use the radial filter to sharpen an area by using the Invert Mask and setting Sharpness to +50 to counter the blur.
    6) Remember that the Feather slider can make the transition more or less noticeable. Push it all the way to the top then pull it back, or vice versa.


    P.S. For a list of over 200 sites with LR tips, tutorials and videos (including this one), try http://bit.ly/LRTips

  • ipaco
  • ipaco
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