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Inside Lightroom 5
(Pt. 4): local adjustments

November 2013

With the Canon EOS 6D and the EOS 5D Mark III DSLRs now available with Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 5 photo editing software bundled in the box CPN is examining what Lightroom offers photographers. During a five-part CPN series of articles and video tutorials Richard Curtis (a Principal Solutions Consultant in Digital Imaging for Adobe UK) will explain the key features of Lightroom 5 to give you a good understanding of how to get the most out of working with the software. In Part 4 of this series Richard Curtis looks at all of the local adjustment options in Lightroom and, in a special video, he reveals how to edit elements of your pictures using local adjustments. Please click on the play button in the window above to watch the video...

The editing process so far

Over the past few articles in this series we have focused on the photographic workflow in Lightroom. Firstly we looked at importing and key-wording images into the Lightroom Catalog and then looked at selecting and ranking pictures for developing. The last article was about enhancing the picture in the Develop module using global adjustments. Global adjustments are great for working on enhancing the whole picture. However, sometimes we will need, or want, to enhance select parts of the picture...

Local adjustments

Local adjustments are applied to selective parts of an image by using a powerful range of tools and brushes. This tutorial will explain the local adjustment tools and give examples of how they can be used. In the global adjustments article we explained how Lightroom supports a non-destructive approach to picture editing; local adjustments are based on the same method except, rather than layers, they use the concept of masks and pins to apply the selective adjustments.

To find out more about the process and the available options for making local adjustments in Lightroom just click on the section headings below OR simply click on the play button in the film window at the top of this article to view the video tutorial on editing elements of your pictures using local adjustments in Lightroom.

Graduated Filter

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Graduated Filter of Lightroom.

In traditional photography the graduated filter is used to balance the exposure in the scene by placing it in front of the camera lens. It is often used in landscape photography, i.e. when the sky is too bright and foreground is too dark, the camera may not able to capture all of the tonal range, and over-expose the highlights or under-expose the shadows. This filter will allow you to protect the highlights and shadows to balance the exposure.

The Graduated Filter can be found fourth from the left in the tools and brushes collection underneath the histogram in Lightroom (in the picture, below right, the Graduated Filter is selected and is highlighted in the red box).

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Graduated Filter of Lightroom is selected and is shown here (fourth from left, highlighted in red box) underneath the histogram.

In the picture below the sky is quite bright and I would like to make it darker. The Graduated Filter can be used to alter any of the attributes that appear in box below it. In this case the exposure value will be used to darken the sky. Any of the attributes or combination of them can also be changed, i.e. highlights, shadows, clarity and even the colour.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The sky in this image is quite bright so the Graduated Filter of Lightroom can be used to alter it via Highlights, Shadows, Clarity or even Colour.

Operating the Graduated Filter

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Image showing the Graduated Filter pin of Lightroom – it is not fixed and can be moved into any position via your mouse or pen. The Exposure slider is highlighted in a blue box on the right hand side.

The Graduated Filter is placed on the picture by clicking on the image; a placeholder pin is automatically created for you. The Graduated Filter pin is not fixed; it can be dragged into another position using the mouse or pen. In the following example the mask pin is placed inside the horizon area (marked in red box in the image on the right), and the Graduated Filter (white lines on the image) is placed off-centre and rotated slightly. The Graduated Filter is rotated to make sure that the filter is not seen in the final finished picture.

Once the filter is in place, the Exposure slider is moved to the left and darkened. The Graduated Filter includes a feather so it can be blended into the scene.

The Graduated Filter can also removed from the picture, by selecting it and pressing the Delete key or by right clicking with the mouse on the pin and choosing Delete.

Cloning and Healing

Sometimes a picture contains issues that you may want to fix. These issues could range from dust spots to a piece of litter and will depend on the style and story that you may want to tell, or it may just have an impact on the picture in general. The Clone and Heal tool is used to fix parts of the picture by replacing the problem area with another part of the scene.

In the image example below there is some bracken within the grassy areas in the bottom right of the scene (marked in a yellow box in the image shown here), and we will use the Clone and Heal tool in Lightroom to fix it, or at least reduce the intensity of it and blend it into the scene.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

The Clone and Heal tool of Lightroom helps to fix parts of the picture by replacing the problem area with another part of the image. In this case the area marked in yellow will be worked on. The Clone and Heal slider tools are highlighted in the blue box.

Before the Clone or Heal operation takes place, it is good practice to work zoomed in, or in a close-up view mode. Working at 100% or greater will allow you to see the finest of details and make sure that the areas that are being cloned or healed are blended into the original scene, so that the viewer won’t be aware of the fix.

Lightroom can be put into 1:1 or 100% view by clicking on the 1:1 icon (marked in red box in the image). Once you select the Clone/Heal tool (marked in pink box in the image), the tool controls will be displayed (marked in blue box in the image).

The operational controls for the Clone/Heal tool are:

  • Size – this controls the size of the tool.
  • Feather – this controls the amount of softness on the edge of the tool.
  • Opacity – this shows how much of the picture under the new Clone/Heal section will be visible.

Operating the Clone/Heal Tool

Once the Clone/Heal tool is moved over the picture the brush will become visible.

The size and feather of the Clone/Heal tool are controlled using the Size, Feather or Opacity sliders, or by pressing the ‘[‘ key for decreasing the size and the ‘]’ key for increasing the size. Holding the SHIFT key at the same time as the square bracket key can change the feather amount.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Clone and Heal tool of Lightroom with two rings – the upper ring is where the area will be cloned and the lower ring is the destination of the cloned area.

To place a new Clone/Heal brush on the picture, make sure ‘New’ is selected in the tool panel and click on the picture. Lightroom will automatically try and find a replacement area. If the area that is selected is not suitable, press the '/' key and allow Lightroom to select a different patch source.

You may need to play with the brush size, its location, and the other attributes to cover the area that needs to be cloned/healed. Once the tool has been placed on the picture, two rings and an arrow will be shown for each Clone/Heal. The ring with the arrow pointing away from it is the new source patch and the other is the destination.

To achieve the best results, you may need to move both rings independently by using the mouse or pen so that you have the right destination and the new source will blend into the picture without it being visible. Also, don't forget you can change the Size, Opacity and Feather at any point in time to get achieve perfect results.

By default the Clone/Heal tool will create a circle for the path, but sometimes, the round brush is the wrong shape and what's really needed is a custom shape.

When you click on the picture to place the tool, don't take your finger off the right click button of the mouse or pen, but instead drag it, and a white shape will be drawn. Now you can manually draw the patch and create a custom shape for the repair.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the ‘Auto’ Tool Overlay option (highlighted in red box) in the Clone and Heal tool of Lightroom.

When you are altering the attributes of the tool, especially the Feather, you many want to see the effect on the picture while it is being changed. This can be difficult to see when the rings are always displayed and can be more challenging when more than one tool has been created in close proximity. To control the visibility of the Clone/Heal rings when they are not selected, review the ‘Tool Overlay’ option (marked in red box in the image on the right):

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Visualize Spots mode in the Clone and Heal tool of Lightroom.

  • ‘Always’ will show the Clone/Heal points at all times
  • ‘Auto’ will make sure the source is hidden and just the destination repair is shown when you hover over the picture. Once you leave the picture area, the tools will be hidden.

‘Auto’ is a good start for seeing the adjustments as they are being applied.

When repairing the picture, there can sometimes be other marks that are not always easy to find: i.e. dust spots, sensor smear, or maybe some items that are just difficult to spot. To resolve this, and make this type of repair much easier, you can turn on the ‘Visualize Spots’ mode; the picture will turn into a black and white mask, showing difficult-to-find issues. Clone and Heal repairs can also be applied in this mode.

Adjustment Brush

The Adjustment Brush is invaluable for selectively painting enhancements onto the picture. There are so many uses of this brush it will be challenging to talk about all of them all here and will, of course, depend on your creative vision. In this tutorial we will focus on three areas that will hopefully give you a good basis of how to use the tools:

  1. Add some depth into the shadows of the foreground.
  2. Change the colour of the person’s jacket.
  3. Change the brightness of the whites of a person’s eye, to add interest.

Adjustment Brush: add depth to foreground shadows

In this example we will add some depth to the shadows and increase the contrast in these specific areas. We will use the Adjustment Brush to paint a mask on the picture, but just in the areas of shadow in the foreground. The mask that we will create will be a percentage of the full strength of what is possible with masks in Lightroom.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image that will be worked on in Lightroom to add depth into the shadows in the foreground.

This approach will enable us to layer up any adjustments that we need to, and enable us to and keep control and work with precision. Once we have placed brush strokes on the image, we will then decrease the exposure in these areas only using the Exposure slider.

Select the Adjustment Brush, and note the Show Edit Pins is positioned to ‘Auto’. When the Show Edit Pins setting is set to ‘Auto’, Lightroom will make sure that each pin and its mask are only visible when selected, and the cursor is hovered within the image area. Once the mouse is moved outside of the image area, all pins will become hidden. When the ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ is set to on, the red mask will be displayed over any adjustments. This option is good for seeing where the adjustments will be made, as well as the strength of the current mask. The ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ can also be turned on/off by pressing the ‘O’ key.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the adjustment brush (in red box on right hand side), Show Edit Pins (in dark blue in the bottom left corner), and Show Selected Mask Overlay (in pink box at bottom left) options in Lightroom.

When painting with the Adjustment Brush, the default setting is adding to the mask (this will be displayed as a + sign in the brush). However, you may also want to remove areas of the mask, this can be achieved by pressing the ‘ALT’ key at the same time as painting (this will be displayed as a – sign in the brush).

Multiple masks can also be created on an image to add different effects in different areas. To create a new mask, make sure that you click on the ‘New’ option on the attributes panel on the right hand side of the screen. To edit an existing mask, you click on its pin. Once you have clicked and selected a pin, a black mark will be displayed, indicating that it has been selected.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing painting masks in Lightroom. The light brown box in the bottom centre of picture indicates the selected pin – to edit an existing mask you just click on its pin.

Before you paint for the first time I would recommend turning on the Show Selected Mask Overlay by clicking the check box, or by pressing the ‘O’ key (this toggles the option on and off). This will show the mask as you paint.

Masks that are painting onto the picture do have properties (marked in yellow box in the image on the right). The strength of the mask is controlled by the flow attribute, the lower the flow the more control you will have when applying the effect (the idea of a low flow value is to enable a controlled build-up of the mask, as well as the effect that is being applied).

To darken the areas that we have created the mask for the Exposure will need to be decreased (moved to the left); this will effectively darken the shadows under the mask.

Adjustment Brush: change the colour of a person’s jacket

This part of the tutorial will use the Adjustment Brush to change the colour of the person’s jacket in the scene.

To work effectively on the picture with precision and focus on the jacket, Lightroom can be zoomed into the picture using the CMD (Mac)/CTRL (PC) and the + key (to zoom out, use the CMD (Mac)/CTRL (PC) and - key).

To create a new mask, ‘New’ is selected within the adjustment brush attribute panel, and pin is placed on the image (marked red in the image shown here), using a click with the mouse or pen. The flow of the mask is set to medium (marked yellow in the image), which allows the adjustment(s) to be accurately controlled.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing changing the colour of a jacket using the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom. The Color selector at the bottom of the adjustments panel (just above the yellow box on the right hand side of this image) allows you to alter colours.

The jacket has a clearly defined hard edge against its background, this contrast can be used to focus the painting and make sure the mask is within the jacket only. Making sure that the ‘Auto Mask’ feature on the adjustment brush properties is on (marked in the brown box in the image), will tell Lightroom to evaluate the contrast at the edges, and will try not to paint the mask outside of the jacket. If the brush does happen to paint the mask out of this area, pressing the ‘ALT’ key will turn the adjustment brush into a removal brush and will paint away the mask when applied (a – sign is displayed in the brush when this is enabled).

Adjustments to the jacket only can then be made, using the attributes in the Adjustment Brush panel. In the accompanying video with this article, the jacket is turned a different colour by using the colour selector (at the bottom of the attributes panel). A combination of other adjustments is also allowed, which can be used to create your vision.

Adjustment Brush: change the brightness of whites in eyes

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image to be worked on in Lightroom to adjust the brightness in the white areas of the eyes.

In this part of the tutorial we’ll focus on how to brighten the whites of the eyes. This is a useful technique to draw the viewer’s attention into the photograph.

As we did for changing the colour of a jacket earlier in this article the best practice for accurate and delicate work on eyes is to zoom into the picture using CMD (Mac)/CTRL (PC) and the + key (CMD (Mac)/CTRL (PC) and the – key is used to zoom out).

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image being worked on in Lightroom to adjust the brightness in the white areas of the eyes. Within the brush attributes panel (marked in pink box on the right hand side), the ‘Auto Mask’ is turned on (to select only the white part of the eye).

Once the image is of a comfortable size (in the image below, both eyes are visible, as well as areas around the eyes), this can be used to get feedback of the effect quickly. The operation to increase the brightness of the white part of the eye is the same as that for changing the colour of the jacket as outlined earlier. A new mask pin is placed on or near the eye, and the ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ is turned on. Within the brush attributes panel, the ‘Auto Mask’ is turned on (to select only the white part of the eye). These options enable an accurate mask to be painted, and to control the adjustment strength of the effects.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the final image in Lightroom after the adjustment of the brightness in the white areas of the eyes.

When the masks have been created, the 'O' key is pressed to turn of the ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’, and then the exposure value is increased (moved to the right) to brighten the masked areas.

When applying any adjustments, it’s worthwhile previewing in the zoomed in mode, as well as zoomed out mode to see the effect that has been applied and to make sure that the creative vision is achieved. If not, the adjustments may need to be modified until the creative vision is reached.

Notice the whites of the lady's eyes have been increased to add more visual attention for the viewer.

Crop Tool

The next example is to apply a crop to the scene. The Crop tool of Lightroom is a great way to adjust the composition of the picture and change the story that is being told. When cropping pictures you have a couple of options to consider. One of these options is the aspect ratio. The aspect ratio refers to the width and height of the image. As a starting point this ratio is determined by the camera but, of course, this can be changed using the Crop tool.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Crop tool (highlighted in yellow box) in use in Lightroom. The crop-bounding box is highlighted in red and in the Tool box (highlighted in light brown box) the Crop tool is locked. The aspect ratios 2x3, 5x7 and 4x5 are shown in the image.

The classic 35mm photography term is an aspect ratio and actually refers to an image being a ratio of 3 to 2. i.e. if the long side of a picture is 300 pixels, then the short edge will be 200 pixels. There are other ratios that are used in photography; some examples of these are 5x7, 4x5 or 10x8. The Crop tool can be configured to keep to an aspect, and can be overlaid onto the picture from the menu tool bar: Tools / Crop Guide Overlay / Aspect Ratios.

When the Crop tool is selected, the bounding box will appear around the image. The Crop tool can be modified by grabbing the corners or the middle of each edge of the crop box and then moving the crop-bounding box. You may notice that sometimes when the crop-bounding box is reduced in size, it will keep locked to a specific aspect ratio. This is due to the lock icon being set to ‘locked’. The lock can be released at any time and will disable the aspect ratio lock, the crop bounding box will then be allow to move freely.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the image in Lightroom after it has been angled (via the Ruler/Angle tool highlighted in the red box on the right hand side) and rotated to alter the straightness of the horizon.

You can also modify the locked aspect ratio by editing the ‘Aspect’ within the attributes panel. When this is modified, the physical size/shape of the crop bounding box will be changed, and allow re-positioning of the image.

A custom crop can be manually created by selecting the two rulers next to the aspect ratios, and then drawing over the picture with the mouse or pen.

The Ruler tool allows the image to be straightened, if required. To operate this tool, select the Ruler and draw a straight-line on the image. In this example it will be drawn across the natural horizon. Once the Ruler has been applied, the image will rotate and be straightened.

Radial Filter

The Radial Filter can be used to apply an ellipse-shaped mask anywhere in the picture. One example of this is to focus the viewer’s attention on a certain part of the scene or keep the viewer in the picture and not drift out.

One of the traditional darkroom techniques was to add darkness or burn the edges of an image (derived from the centre of the photograph). This effect would be used to keep the viewer in the picture for a longer time. The ‘Post Crop Vignette’ (available under the Effects panel in Lightroom) is used to create this effect.

The Post Crop Vignette is very useful. However, sometimes an option to draw the same effect anywhere in the picture can be useful. In this example it will be used to focus the attention on the person running thought the scene.

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the effects on an image using the Radial Filter in Lightroom. In this case the Radial Filter has been used in a circular way.

The Radial Filter is available with the other tools and has the same adjustments. When this filter is added to the picture, the pin for the shape will be displayed.

The default shape of the Radial Filter is an ellipse, but it can be changed by dragging the shape’s handles (on the left or right hand side or on the top and bottom). The tool also has blending properties so it can be faded into the picture and will be more difficult to see on the final image. You can see in the picture that the exposure has been applied to outside of the Radial Filter, as well as a slight yellow tone.

Red-Eye Reduction Tool

© Richard Curtis/Adobe

Screen showing the Red-Eye Reduction Tool in Lightroom.

To use the Red-Eye Reduction tool, click the Red-Eye Reduction option (third from the left in the brushes and tools bar under the histogram) and find an area of the scene that needs to fixed (i.e. a human eye and not an animal), and click it. Lightroom will fix the red-eye and remove it from the picture.

I hope that this article has given you a good overview of the local adjustment tools that are available inside Lightroom, and that it helps you to create superb images using this very powerful RAW image editor.

Biography: Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis is a Principal Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK with a focus on Digital Imaging. Richard is the UK contact for Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Imaging workflows around the Creative Cloud. He is a keen technologist and has been a keen photographer for over 20 years, with a focus on travel and portrait photography.


Image showing the Graduated Filter pin of Lightroom – it is not fixed and can be moved into any position via your mouse or pen. The Exposure slider is highlighted in a blue box on the right hand side.