In the latest of our Adobe Lightroom tutorials we show you how to lift lifeless skies and reveal hidden detail with a step-by-step tutorial on how to use Adobe Lightroom’s Graduated Filter.
One of the biggest challenges in landscape photography is to balance exposure across land and sky. Skies are typically much brighter than land, so if you expose for the land the sky will look too bright, and if you expose for the sky the land will be too dark.
A lens-mounted graduated filter will solve the problem. Another option is to expose for the land, then bring back detail in the sky later.
As long as you shoot in raw format, skies that initially look dull and flat may be hiding much more detail than you think. The trick is knowing how to tease it out. This is where Lightroom’s Graduated Filter comes in. We’ll use it here to darken the sky and emphasise the clouds.
Of course, grads only work in straight lines, so anything jutting into the sky will be darkened too. We’ll compensate by lightening the castle with the Adjustment Brush.
So, start up Adobe Lightroom and give that lifeless landscape a dramatic makeover!
How to use Adobe Lightroom’s Graduated Filter
01 Improve the land
Go to Lightroom’s Library Module. Click Import, navigate to your start image using the Source Panel, and hit Import. Go to the Develop Module. To improve the tones in our landscape, in the Basic Panel we set Exposure +1.10, Contrast +57, Highlights -40, Shadows +45, Whites -41, Blacks +22, Clarity +27.
02 Darken the sky
Grab the Graduated Filter tool. Drag a line from the top window of the castle to the base of the wall. Hold Shift while you drag to snap the lines to horizontal. Go to the sliders at the top-right. We set Temp -13 to add blue and Exposure -1.80 to darken. Set Clarity +52 to enhance cloud detail.
03 Add more grads
Drag another line from the top of the frame to the castle to add a second gradient. We set Tint -19 to cool down the top of the frame. The bottom-left corner is a little distracting, so darken it to draw the eye towards the castle – drag a third grad in from the corner and set Exposure -0.50.
04 Paint a mask
In our image the top of the castle and hills are too dark, so we fixed them with the Adjustment Brush. Grab it from the Toolbar, check ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ and zoom in close to the castle. Check ‘Auto-Mask’ (beneath the sliders), then paint over the parapets and the hilltops to create a mask.
05 Lighten the castle
We need our mask to gradually fade off in the same way as the graduated filter, so we check Erase then set Size 22 for a large soft brush. Gently erase the lower part of the mask so that it’s more graduated. Next uncheck ‘Show Selected Mask Overlay’ and set Exposure +1.35, Temp +17.
06 Extra punch
Click ‘New’, then set Contrast +26, Clarity +34 and paint a second mask over the clouds to boost detail. Scroll down to the Tone Curve Panel. Plot an S-shape curve by dragging one point up near the top of the curve line and a second down near the bottom to give the image extra punch.
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