Skip to main content

How to make the subject the centre of attention

Download project files to your computer from:


Find out how to use Lightroom’s Radial filter

Time needed: 10 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: Lightroom 5 or later

From adding vignettes and boosting colour, to adjusting the exposure and white balance, the Radial Filter is a selective tool that enables you to alter the tones in only parts of your image. The radial filter makes it easy to create a subtle, circular blend between the area that you want to be affected by the tonal changes, and the area that will remain unaffected.

It’s very useful for creating subtle vignettes that draw the eye towards your subject and away from distracting edge details, or for softening parts of an image you want to de-emphasize. In this tutorial we’ve used the tool for two very different tasks – make sure you have a go at both for the full lesson! In the first landscape image, you can drag a circle to darken down the corners of the frame and lead the eye towards the distant lighthouse. And for the portrait shot, we’ll show you how to add two circular adjustments – one to claw back blown-out detail in the arm, and the other to add contrast to the face. 


Discover Lightroom’s Radial Filter tool and edit images with subtlety


Bring the starting image into the Develop module and grab the Radial Filter tool from the toolbar at the top-right. This opens up a set of sliders below that can be used to dial in tonal changes for the tool. Set Exposure to -0.65, then drag a circle over the lighthouse to subtly darken the corners of the image.


If the circle isn’t perfectly positioned, drag the pin to move it. Hold down Shift for a perfect circle, and hold down Alt to make the start point the corner of the circle. If you want to snap the circle to the edges of the image for a vignette, hold down Cmd/Ctrl and double-click with the tool.


Drag a new circle over the face, then dial in Exposure -0.49, Highlights -19. This improves the elbow, but makes the hand too dark. Click Brush at the top-right, then go to the Brush settings below the tonal sliders and click Erase. Press O to toggle the mask overlay on, and paint to erase the mask over the hand.


Tick the Invert Mask checkbox – now any adjustments that you make will be applied inside of the circle


You can also make circular adjustments that affect the inside, rather than the outside, of the circle. Hold down Cmd/Ctrl+Alt, and drag the pin on the face to make a copy of the original circle. Check Invert Mask below the tonal sliders, double-click Effect to reset them, dial in Contrast +49 to add punch to the face.

James Paterson

The lead technique writer on PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine and our sister print publication Digital Camera, James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. Whether it's flash techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astro projects like photographing the Northern Lights or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. He's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom!