In Adobe Camera Raw, the Graduated Filter is a tool that’s widely used. I ‘d be hard pressed to find a professionally taken landscape photo on the internet today what wasn’t enhanced in some way with this tool. Making sunsets more vivid and beaches stand out more – the Graduated Filter is where it’s at.
Just as luck would have it, I’ve already written a few posts that talk about the different types of filter tools that are available in Camera Raw. To review those articles, take a look below.
In today’s post, I’d like to take things one step further. I’d like to go over how to apply a gradient with the Graduated Filter tool in Camera Raw and then how to remove, or brush away, some of that gradient. As you can imagine, not every case of creating a gradient will be perfect (for example, on a flat beach sunset). In some cases, objects will be in the way that you don’t want to be effected. In these type of situations, it’s important to have an understanding of another tool at your disposal – the Brush tool. Now, this Brush tool isn’t the Adjustment Brush that we’re all so familiar with. It’s the one hiding away in the Graduated Filter panel. I’ll go over all of this below.
My goal today is to mess with the sky in this image a bit. Right now, while it looks sort of okay, it’s still dull. I want to make it come alive. To accomplish this, I’ll need to reduce its temperature, increase the contrast, clarity and saturation. Again, I only want to do this to the sky area, not the rest of the photo.
Using the Graduated Filter Tool
To start things off, I’ll launch the photo into Camera Raw. Then, I’ll click on the Graduated Filter tool button up in the top toolbar.
Next, I’ll create the gradient by initially clicking right above the top edge of the grass and then pulling down to right below the top edge of the grass. This will create a gradient that has a concentrated transition, as opposed to one that’s long and drawn out (more smooth).
After that, I’ll zero out all the slider settings by clicking on the Reset Local Correction Settings menu item in the Graduated Filter panel.
Finally, I’ll make my adjustments. As I’m doing this, I’m not going to concern myself with what anything in the photo looks like besides the sky. I’ll deal with any lingering unwanted effects in the next section, which is actually the point of this post.
Here are the changes I made to the sliders. Nothing crazy, but the sky does look more fierce now.
Brushing Away the Extra
As you may have guessed, since I only wanted to apply the changes to the sky, I’ve got some residual effects that are covering the tree at the center of the photo as well as the trees in the background – and even in the field. You may not be able to notice this right now, but when I click in the Mask checkbox that’s located at the bottom of the Graduated Filter panel, things become much more clear.
In the screenshot above, I tried to sneak both part of the photo and the checkbox in. As you can see, instead of the actual enhancements of the gradient showing, now a foggy overlay shows. This isn’t permanent. It’s merely an option to more clearly define where the gradient has been created.
Okay, now I need to get rid of the extra gradient I don’t want. To accomplish this, I’m going to go back to the top of the Graduated Filter panel and click on Brush. This is a really great tool that allows you to either add to or subtract adjustment from a gradient.
If you look at the screenshot above, I want you to focus on a few things. We’ve been over most of them in the past. The first is brush Size. This one’s easy. Press the [ key on your keyboard to shrink the size and the ] key on your keyboard to grow it.
Next is the brush Feather. This is simply how soft the edges of the brush are going to be. A higher number is softer and a lower number is harder. After that is brush Flow. Think of Flow as sort of opacity, but repeatable. If I add or erase something once at 50% flow and then do it again, my changes are cumulative.
Now, we’ve been through all those before. What I really want to pay attention to today are two things. First, the two small buttons that are situated right above the Size slider. One says to Add more adjustment and the other says to Remove whatever adjustment has already been made, according to how the following sliders are set.
The second thing I think is important here is the small checkbox below the sliders that says Auto Mask. This Auto Mask is critical to using the brush in situations like the one I have here. Basically, it confines the brush strokes to areas of similar color. So, if I have a blue sky and green trees that meet that sky and I use the brush to remove some adjustment, Camera Raw will automatically attempt to stay inside the lines, as opposed to just erasing everything I touch. It takes some getting used to, but once you familiarize yourself with this small feature, I think you’ll be using it all the time.
Next up is setting my sliders. I’ll do that and then go ahead and start erasing the foggy overlay that’s covering the areas it shouldn’t be.
In this next screenshot, I’m going to give you a small example of how the Auto Mask feature works. When I began brushing away the adjustment a few seconds ago, I tried to stay as close to the top of the tree line as I could. I’ll admit, I went over a tad. Because I had the Auto Mask feature enabled though, my brush didn’t remove any adjustment above the tips of the trees. Camera Raw saw the contrast between the trees and the sky and compensated for it. This is what I was talking about when I said this tool would help in situations like mine today. The edge is fine and I would never be able to erase all those crevices by hand.
Now, I’ll go ahead and erase the rest.
I’ll tell you, it’s remarkable how accurate that Auto Mask is. It hugs those lines like it’s nobody’s business.
To continue on, I’ll uncheck the Mask box that’s down at the bottom of the same panel to remove the foggy overlay and see what the image looks like with my final adjustments.
I’d say that looks pretty good. The best part is, I can now create another gradient by using the Graduated Filter tool again. This time though, I’d cover the bottom half of the photo to liven up the field and the trees. Since this is only a tutorial, I’ll skip that part.
That’s really all I have for this post. I wanted to introduce you to the Brush tool that’s hidden away in the Graduated Filter panel as well as demonstrate the importance of the Auto Mask feature. Hopefully, I did that. If you have any questions or concerns, please leave them in the comment section below. As always, thanks for reading!
PS – Okay fine. I dabbled a little and adjusted the grass. Enjoy!