The Graduated Filter tool is one of Lightroom’s most useful features. It can darken overexposed skies, working directly with the RAW data to recover blown highlights at the same time.
But it’s easy to overlook the Lightroom Graduated Filter Color effect. Normally, you might just darken the sky and stop there, but the small Color pop-up at the bottom of the Graduated Filter panel let you take it a whole step further by adding a new colour to the sky.
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I’m going to try it out on this picture of Paignton pier in Devon, which has a rather bright sky and an overall orange/yellow cast from the late afternoon sun. I want to try to introduce a much more interesting colour contrast while balancing up the tones in the sky and the foreground.
01 Add a graduated filter
You’ll find the Graduated Filter tool at the top of the tools panel on the right (1). Now I click on the image just above the horizon and drag downwards to create the filter effect. The centre of the graduated filter effect is marked by a pin (2) and a horizontal line passing through it to show the angle of the filter. You can drag on this line to change the angle, or hold down the shift key to constrain it to fixed angles.
Above and below this centre line are two more, marking the points where the graduated filter achieves its full effect and when it has none – the area in between these two outer lines is the distance over which the filter is faded in.
02 Reduce the exposure
The tools panel on the right shows the adjustments available for the graduated filter. I’m going to keep it simple by adjusting just the Exposure value, dragging the slider to the left until the sky has reached a suitable level of darkness.
03 Pick a colour
Now at the bottom of the tools panel for the graduated filter I click on the Color button. This pops open the ‘Select a Color’ window. I could manually select a colour using the eyedropper tool and the colour picker window, but I’m just going to click on the preset blue button just above.
I could stop here, but I think I might take it just a stage further…
04 Add another gradient
I’ve added a new gradient filter to the picture (click the ‘New’ button at the top of the gradient adjustment tools panel). This time, I’ve dragged upwards from a point on the horizon so that it’s the lower part of the picture that has the gradient effect applied.
I’ve increased the Exposure value slightly to lighten up the beach, then clicked on the Color button and this time chosen a pale yellow colour to warm up the tones in the shingle beach and the surf.
05 Create a preset
I quite like this effect and there’s a good chance I’ll want to use it again in the future, so I’m going to save it as a Preset. To do this, I click the ‘+’ button at the top right of the Presets panel in the left sidebar. This ‘New Develop Preset’ panel pops open, and I can choose the effects I want to save. In this instance, I simply need to check the Graduated Filters button.
This is now saved amongst my User Presets, ready to be re-used at any time in the future.
06 The finished image
This is much better than the original image. The bright sky has been toned down, and the addition of the blue colour has added a nice colour contrast to the image – at yet at the same time, the colours still look quite natural.
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