Using the Adjustment Brush in Adobe Camera Raw


A before and after using the Adjustment Brush on the buildings.

What is the Adjustment Brush?

The Adjustment Brush is an editing tool in Adobe Camera Raw (known simply as ACR). This tool is possibly the equivalent of the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop. So what is dodging and burning? To dodge is to lighten and to burn is to darken a specific area.

What does it do?

When you make your initial global adjustments of a RAW file in ACR, more than likely, you will need to make local adjustments too. This is where the Adjustment Brush is useful for making adjustments to specific areas of your photo.

Recently, I have found I am using this tool more and more. If I am out and about just shooting for my own library, I tend to take photos slightly underexposed. This way, I can recover a lot of detail in the post editing stage. This is useful if you don’t have time for metering the shot perfectly, especially in the case where skies are involved.

How does it work?

The Adjustment Brush isolates a specific area by masking it, similar to using layer masks in Photoshop. When you click on the Adjustment Brush icon, the right panel changes to the Adjustment Brush tab. The bottom sliders modify the size of the brush and you can also determine how much feather and density (flow) you wish to apply.

When you use the Adjustment Brush on a particular part of your image, a pin icon appears to determine where your adjustment has just been made.


The Adjustment Brush is located at the top left of the dialog box.


How the Adjustment Brush looks when in use and the Pin icon which determines where on the image the adjustment has been made.


These sliders adjust the size, feather and flow of the Adjustment Brush.

I do find using the Adjustment Brush a bit cumbersome. But this tool definitely has its merits. Like most of the editing tools in ACR, Photoshop, Lightroom, etc., there is simply no one-click button that magically does it all.

You may find with a bit of practice using the Adjustment Brush that it could speed up your editing workflow. Take for example this image that I shot of some blue containers on a pier. I made the basic adjustments in ACR. I then used the Adjustment Brush in several areas: to lighten the sky; to keep the highlights on the small white boat on the left from being blown out completely. I also used the Adjustment Brush on the wood section to give it more warmth.


Several areas where the Adjustment Brush has been used as shown by the Pin icon.

The Graduated Filter in conjunction with the Adjustment Brush is a great combination. It behaves in a similar way to a Graduated Neutral Density filter. I use this filter on skies, then use the Adjustment Brush to mask areas that I don’t want the Graduated Filter to effect.


  • Broad local adjustments lightened or darkened.
  • Speed up your editing workflow as you may not need further adjustments in Photoshop or Lightroom.
  • Works really well in conjunction with the Graduated Filter tool.


  • Cumbersome and sometimes awkward to use.
  • More refined detail is better done in Photoshop using layer masks where you have more control.


A fantastic feature in Photoshop CC is that Camera Raw is now a filter. However, if you are using previous versions such as CS5/6, a substitute workaround is before you open your image from within ACR to Photoshop, make sure you open it as a Smart Object. You can do this by holding the Shift key and the Open Image button changes to Open Object. Or you can have this option ticked in Workflow Options. This is a pop-up dialog box located by clicking on the link at the bottom of the ACR screen. That way you can go back into ACR by double clicking on the layer.


By using the Adjustment Brush on just the buildings, I was able to recover a lot of detail.

Read more from our Post Production category

Sarah Hipwell is an independent professional photographer based in Dublin. She specialises in high-quality corporate, stock and portraiture photography. Her background is in Design. She received her BA in Hons Design from the University of Ulster, Belfast. She has many years commercial design experience working as a designer and as a trainer for large multimedia companies. See more of her work at or at 500px.

  • Royi

    Can you create something like Fixel Detailizer 2 PS in ACR / Lightroom?

    Now I have to go into Photoshop to have this plug in effect.

  • Anubis

    Use this tool all the time. Invaluable, as you say.

  • Anubis

    Why would you have a plugin for a camera raw editor? Lol

  • Royi

    First, I wish Adobe allowed Plug In’s in ACR, it would be amazing.
    Second, I meant the same effect, like equalizer.

    See here:

  • Anubis

    If Adobe allowed it, then we wouldn’t have Lightroom or Photoshop.

    Secondly, it’s basically HDR – just do manual HDR.

  • Royi

    If it allowed on Lightroom it would allow on ACR. It’s the same engine.

    Fixel Detailizer 2 PS isn’t HDR, it is Equalizer for Detail Enhancement.
    Though it works on HDR images (Supports 32 Bit mode in Photoshop).

    You can sharpen details according to their size.
    It’s amazing, you should try it.

  • Anubis

    Just because they use the same engine doesn’t meant they are the same thing.

    Need for Speed and Battlefield use the same engine in the gaming world yet they’re two very different entities.

    Yet I can’t load my save game from one to the other and I definitely can’t use DLC!

    Why would I want to use ACR with a plugin when I’m a photoshop expert?

    The use of plugins, however good, is ruining the art of creativity and application.

  • Royi

    Everything, but brushes, is a Plug In in Photoshop.
    Like you have Denosing, Sharpening and other effect in ACR, I want to have better alternatives.

    For sharpening, nothing beats Fixel Detailizer 2 PS for me.
    I want it in my workflow in ACR.

  • Anubis

    lol tough.

  • linacostaa


    -> -> —> View IT here… <-<-


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