A: It’s backwards!

In my opinion, the Lightroom 5 Radial Filter is the most useful of all the Local Adjustment tools. As you can see in the example slide show at the end of my post, it can work like a little spotlight, highlighting areas here and there – faces, objects, whatever. Or you can create an off-centered vignette, which you cannot do using Lightroom’s Effects Panel. I could go on about the different ways you can use it, but I’d rather tell you how to use the tool and leave the creativity up to you.

Unlike the Main Adjustment Panels (Basic, Tone Curve, HSL, Luminance, etc.) where the adjustments you make are applied to your entire image, Local Adjustments apply adjustments to the areas of the image where you paint or draw. These tools – the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, Red Eye Correction and Spot Removal – all have one attribute in common: the adjustments are always applied to the inside of where you have drawn. Now, if you’ve tried to use the Lightroom 5 Radial Filter (not included in any earlier versions of LR!) and can’t figure out how it works, here’s the reason why: It’s backwards. Especially if you’ve used the other Local Adjustment Tools, you have grown to expect certain results. But it doesn’t work that way with the Radial Filter.

No, it’s not that the software guys at Adobe got it wrong; it’s just that they designed the Radial Filter tool as a Mask and were thoughtful enough to include a way to invert the Mask.

Mask? We all know that a mask hides something. Like if you wanted to hide your face like the Lone Ranger, you’d wear a black mask to cover part of your face (but we know he wasn’t really fooling anybody).

Lightroom 5 Radial Filter

Lightroom 5 Radial Filter Panel

Here’s how the Radial Filter works:

When you select the Radial Filter icon from the Local Adjustment Toolbar and click and drag to draw an ellipse, the changes you make with the adjustment sliders appear outside the ellipse you’ve drawn and the changes inside the ellipse are hidden (masked). That is, unless you check the Invert Mask checkbox first! Only then will the adjustments be visible inside the ellipse. Nearly all of my students have had this experience. And that’s because masking can be a hard to understand, abstract concept unless you are experienced in Photoshop masking or have an expert background in special types of photographic printing.

Lightroom 5 Radial Filter

This illustrated animation shows a blank image with no Radial Filter applied, then I drew an ellipse with Invert Mask checked (so adjustments are only visible inside the ellipse) and adjusted the feathering effect to 0, 50 and 100. Notice that at 100, the effects of the adjustments are very subtle. Subtle is good.

And, while I’m at it, just above Invert Mask there is a Slider named Feather that adjusts from 100% to 0%. It applies varying degrees of graduated masking in the center your ellipse, or if you don’t check the Invert Mask checkbox, outside the center.

The softness of the Feather setting will determine, in part, how natural your final image looks. Play with this slider and you’ll see what I mean. Local adjustments require a gentle approach, and as with all of Lightroom’s Adjustment settings, practice will lead you to achieving “honest” results that appear natural and not noticeably manipulated. And this is absolutely a lot easier to accomplish in Lightroom than in Photoshop.

And here are a few fun final tips on adjusting the shape of the Radial Filter to make your work more accurate:

  • To make a perfect circle – hold down the Shift key while drawing your ellipse
  • To change two sides of the shape and size of your ellipse – Drag any anchor point (those little squares around the perimeter of your ellipse)
  • To proportionately change the size of the entire ellipse – Hold down the Shift key and drag any anchor point
  • To adjust the size from three sides – Hold down the Shift Key with the Option key (ALT on PC) and drag any anchor point
  • To adjust only one side of the ellipse – hold down the Option key (ALT on PC) while dragging any anchor point
  • And, don’t forget you can also rotate your ellipse! But I think you can figure that one out.