The Graduated Filter in Lightroom is a very useful tool for balancing exposures. In this shot, taken in Hope Valley, there's not much definition to the sky and it looks a little bright so we'll demonstrate how applying a Graduated filter to it will improve the overall look of the shot.
Why Use A Graduated Filter?
If we didn't apply a Graduated Filter then the changes we make would be applied to the whole shot rather than just the sky area. Plus, the Graduated Filter will allow the effect to gradually decrease in strength as we approach the part of the shot that's more towards the correct exposure level.
You can also apply more than one Graduated Filter if necessary as well as adjust the ones you apply and this is something we'll cover further into the tutorial.
Selecting The Graduated Filter Tool
Once you have your image open in Lightroom click on the Graduated Filter icon (highlighted by a red circle in the image). This will open a tab which has various effects which can be altered.
You can make adjustments before you apply the Graduated Filter and see the changes take place as the gradient is applied or you can apply your Graduated Filter first then apply the effects after.
While the gradient is selected you can tweak and change the adjustment. You can tell if the gradient is selected as the grey pin will have a black circle in it.
Applying A Graduated Filter
With the tool selected you need to click and drag from the point where you want the gradient to begin and let the mouse button go once you've reached the point you want the gradient to end. As you do, three lines will appear across your image and the effect will gradually fade from the first to third line, where the effect will finish. Anything below this line won't be affected by the gradient however, anything above the top line will be changed. Also, the bigger the gap between each line, the softer the gradient will be.
You can adjust the size / height of the gradient by clicking on the top or bottom line and dragging them up or down. If you click and drag the middle line you'll keep the shape of the gradient you've created but its position will move. You need to make sure the hand icon is shown when you want to do this otherwise you won't be able to adjust the position / size of the gradient.
To ensure your gradient is straight when it's applied, hold down the Shift key on your PC's keyboard.
You also can change the orientation of the gradient by clicking and moving your mouse when the double-headed, corner arrow shape appears.
Exposure's probably the main effect you'll be changing but do try moving the other sliders to see what changes they make to your shot.
You can toggle the effect on and off by clicking the rectangular button that's half white and black.
Add Another Gradient
If you want to apply a second gradient you need to go to the top of the Gradient Filter tab and click New. If you don't, Edit will remain selected and the changes you make will also be applied to your original gradient (in our shot this would be applied to the sky).
If you do want to make an adjustment to the ground that you don't want to be applied to the sky, make sure you start your gradient at the bottom and drag up. If you don't, everything above the top line will be affected by the gradient so changes will be applied to your sky.
We pushed the exposure slider slightly to the right on our second gradient to add a little more brightness to the foreground. As you can see from the shot below, you can see two gradients have been created as two grey circles are on the shot. The active gradient has a black circle in it but if you decide you want to switch to another gradient, simply click the corresponding grey circle.
As our shot looks a little blue we will apply a third gradient that adds much-needed warmth to the image. To add warmth to a shot just pull the temperature slider to the right. To create a cooler effect just pull it the opposite way.
Delete / Undo
If you decide you no longer want a particular gradient to be applied just hit the Delete key on your keyboard to remove it. You can also undo previous steps by clicking Cntrl + Z or by opening your History tab and clicking on the stage you wish to return to.
Image After Gradients Applied
Do keep an eye out for noise appearing in shadows but this can easily be removed with the Noise Reduction feature, something we'll be covering in another tutorial.
You can also use the Adjustment Brush to make smaller adjustments to parts of the image and again, this is something we'll be looking at in an up-coming tutorial.
What Else Can Gradients Be Used For?
As well as giving sky more definition a gradient can be used to give your sunsets more punch, add mist to a landscape or decorate the sky with a rainbow.