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Editing Tips

6 Tips for Using Lightroom’s Graduated Filter

graduated filter Lightroom

What is the Lightroom Graduated Filter

Are you getting the most out of the graduated filter tool in Lightroom? What the heck is a graduated filter anyway?

In this tutorial, I will explain what the Lightroom graduated filter is and give you 6 simple tips that will allow you to take FULL advantage of the Graduated Filter tool.

Graduated filters are similar to brushes in that they are local adjustments. However, they differ in that brushes are consistent over the area you use them on, whereas the effect from graduated filters is STRONGEST AT THE EDGE WHERE YOU START THEM AND THEN GRADUALLY TAPERS OFF, giving your image a very real but subtle change.

You can do many things with graduated filters, including:

  • Brightening the background when flash was used and caused a very dark background.
  • Darkening the foreground overly brightened by a flash.
  • Subtly lighten an image from one side, giving the effect of sunlight filtering in.
  • Make skies bluer (as long as they have some color; all white/gray skies cannot be made blue).
  • Adding haze.
  • Warming or cooling an image.

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6 Tips for Using Lightroom’s Graduated Filter

1. Graduated Filter Shortcut

The keyboard shortcut for getting to the graduated filter is M. Tapping the “M” key will open up the graduated filter dialog box.  It looks similar to the basic panel (with lots of sliders – many having the same names), so don’t let that confuse you. You will actually be using a graduated filter.

using graduated filter in lightroom

2. Why Use a Graduated Filter?

Graduated filters are most commonly used to darken or make a sky more blue or to darken or lighten the edges of a photo. I use graduated filters any time I want to make an adjustment to a large portion of my photo and at the same time the adjustment goes all the way to the edge of the photo.

Graduated filters work great for adding color, saturation, or a bit of darkness to a sky.  They work great when I need a more custom vignette than I can get in Lightroom’s Effects panel. They also work great for darkening distracting bright areas around the edge of a photo.

how to use graduated filter lightroom

3. How to Place and Rotate a Graduated Filter

Graduated filters are really easy to use. It’s pretty much just “click and drag.”  “Click” where you want the effect to start and “drag” until you want the effect to stop. (TIP: If you want the graduated filter to drag in a perfectly straight line, hold down the “Shift” key while dragging).

If you want to rotate the graduated filter adjustment you’ve just added, place your cursor over the center line of the graduated filter. A rotation icon will appear that will allow you to rotate the filter. (TIP: Don’t try to rotate the filter while your cursor is close to the pin as it is very hard to control the rotation).

lightroom graduated filter tutorial

4. Add and Delete Graduated Filters

Pressing the “New” option at the top of the graduated filter panel adds a new pin. Pins are the white dots that appear on your image once you have placed a graduated filter. These dots or pins will have a black circle in the center when they are selected.  To delete a graduated filter, make sure the pin marking it is selected and then hit the delete key.

lightroom graduated filter mask

5. When Can I Make Graduated Filter Adjustments

The changes that you make with graduated filters can be changed whenever you want and refined over and over. For example, they can be changed two years from now (or at any point) when you decide the original adjustment was a little heavy-handed or you might realize the effect needs to be a bit stronger. These filter adjustments can be fixed at any time!

graduated filter lightroom

6. Graduated Filter Presets

If you find yourself using the same settings over and over, you can save them as a preset and save yourself a lot of time. The presets you save will be available the next time you use the graduated filter and whenever you use the brush tool.

lightroom graduated filter presets

If you are more of a visual learner, this video will show you more about editing with graduated filters:

Editing with Graduated Filters – Video Tutorial



Graduated filters are a powerful Lightroom tool. They are non-destructive and also give you the ability to layer effects. THAT’S RIGHT. You can use more than one graduated filter – even in the same area!

I hope this tutorial helps you get the most out of the Graduated Filter Tool in Lightroom!

Do you have any questions or comments about the Lightroom Graduated Filter?  Leave us a comment below – we would LOVE to hear from you!  And PLEASE SHARE this post using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!

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