Lightroom In-Depth: Graduated Filter


One of the newly added features in Lightroom 2 is graduated filters.

Graduated filters provides the capability to perform smooth graduated transition to Exposure, Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, Clarity, Sharpness or Color to either the entire photograph or part of it. The concept is similar to the one provided by optical graduated filters (e.g. Graduated neutral density filter). As usual Lightroom, the feature is non-destructive and leaves the original photograph intact.


Figure 1 – How to reach Graduated filter

Graduated filter can be used by launching to develop module (Figure 1, blue) and either clicking on the graduated filter icon (Figure 1, red) or pressing the M key.

Figure 2 – Creating graduated filter

A new window will appear (Figure 2, green) showing graduated filter parameters. Basic guidelines:

  • Define the effect you would like to create together with the estimated amount (Figure 2, blue).
  • Drag the filter across the photograph.
  • Modify filter positioning by:
    • Dragging filter marker (Figure 2, red) to reposition the filter.
    • Move the line crossing the graduated filter marker to rotate.
    • Moving the two lines parallel to the filter marker to scale.
  • Fine-tune the amount (Figure 2, blue) to reach the desired result.

For later modification of the gradient filter you would need to click on the gradient filter icon (Figure 1) and following it click on the appropriate filter marker (e.g. figure 2, red).


Single Filter <-> Multiple Effects

Figure 3 – Show effects buttons

Clicking on the top right filter toggle (Figure 3, green) extends filter capabilities to modify more than one effect.

By clicking on filter toggle again, a new effect named ‘Custom’ is created. Custom effect represents the group of effects. Changing amount will change the underlying effects relatively to their original values.


In order to straighten a filter simply hold the SHIFT key while moving one of the filter lines.

Before & After

In order to view before & after the filter modification, simply click on the bottom left toggle (Figure 3, yellow).


Lightroom supports the capability to save graduated filters as presets so they can be easily reused in the future. Preset feature will be covered in a dedicated post in few days, so stay tuned!


Figure 4 – Example photograph before adding Graduated Filter

In the above screenshot you can see a sunset photograph in which the upper part is overly bright.

Figure 5 – Example photograph with Graduated Filter

By adding a graduated filter we gain control over the sky exposure and saturation.
In the above example the sky exposure is gradually under-exposed in 4 F/Stops and saturation is boosted by 76 percent.
See the final photograph as published.