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How to Brighten a Spot in Lightroom using Filters

How to use Filters in Lightroom

Traditional vs. Digital Post Processing

In recent years the advent of digital technology has meant that photography, as a vocation, has definitely become a lot more forgiving. There is a lot more that you can do now, with your RAW captures, than you could do with film about two-three decades back. Back then the most dominating medium was film.

People routinely used the technique of exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights. Plus they used variable contrast paper for a better control over the shadow and highlight details in the final print. Dodging and burning too were tools that were frequently used to brighten one spot in an image.

Cut to 2015 and post-processing diven by digital technology has completely overshadowed the physical darkroom.

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The digital darkroom has evolved in leaps and bounds in the last decade. There is a brave new world out there one that is fueled by the power of the computer’s processor and the masterclass post-processing software that are used on those computers. An average photographer can make even a poorly metered shot look beautiful when he is finally done processing it on his computer.

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Though I am not a big fan of this over-indulgence on post-processing tools, sometimes a bit of it is inevitable and necessary too. Things like white balance adjustment, exposure adjustment and noise reduction is somewhat unavoidable, especially with all the commercial ramifications of your work.

The good old dodging and burning techniques are is still in use today though they have leapfrogged from the physical darkroom to the digital one. Photographers have moved on to exposing for highlights and developing for shadows.

I like my post-processing to be as simple as possible. Call me old-fashioned or whatever but my idea is to get it as close to what I want in a camera.
That way I don’t have to sit in front of my computer and spend hours recovering an image from a bad exposure. Do you want to be a photographer? Spend more time shooting rather than post-processing.

Speaking of post-processing, my favorite tool is Adobe Lightroom. I sometimes do make edits in Adobe Camera RAW and it is quite good too. But Lightroom is more of an all-purpose tool for me which includes sorting, marking, culling and of course post-processing.

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How to do Small Local Adjustments in Lightroom

The Original Image

Since the title of this article is all about brightening one spot, we have set ourselves a limitation. We will only deal with those tools which lets us do small local adjustments. Local adjustments are referred to those changes which does not impact the entire image and are limited to specific area(s) only.

There are a number of tools in Lightroom that assists in recovering details from specific areas of any image. In this article I shall be using two such tools. These are the Radial Filter and the Graduated Filter.

The Graduated Filter & Radial Filter

The Radial Filter is a favorite of mine, simply because it allows me to select a small area and do micro adjustments such as exposure and contrast tweaking and not impact the rest of the image. This tool is ideal for landscape shots where you often have dappled lights. An entire landscape scene, especially on a cloudy day, will not be uniformly lit, requiring you to use a local adjustment tool like the Radial Filter.

On the other hand, the Graduated Filter makes changes to a broader area of the image, though, you can also make local adjustments with it. Just like a traditional Graduated Neutral Density filter (Grad ND), you can make a gradual change in exposure with this tool. But the beauty of Lightroom allows you to use this tool to make a whole lot of other changes as well.

In the image above, the dome of the Victoria Memorial (Kolkata) is backlit. The sky is too bright which makes matter worse. Though I could have exposed for the dark trees further into the scene, but doing so meant blowing out the sky. It is a tricky situation but I hope to salvage some details during post-processing.
I start off by making the usual tweaks – change the Camera Profile to Camera Standard. Then do the lens Profile Correction and Remove Chromatic Aberrations. Next, I scroll up all the way to Basic where I pull back the exposure to get some details from the sky. It was a cloudless afternoon so no clouds at all.

After minor exposure adjustments, CA removed and Lens profile correction

Even after all those tweaks, the exposure is still looking lopsided, because one section of the image where the sun is present is too bright, and the other sections of the image are too dark. I actually prefer to keep some of the Zone 0 (completely black) and Zone X (completely white) (I am referring to Ansel Adams and Fred Archer’s Zone System here) values because it helps in keeping the overall contrast of the image high. I like it that way.

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Using the Graduated Filter

I use the Graduated Filter next. I use this tool twice in this image. As can be seen in the screenshot below.

Using Graduated Filter in Lightroom

But even with the use of the Graduated Filter exposure is still not quite right. Next, I open up the Shadows to throw some light on to the foreground. If you notice carefully my foreground elements are the ones that are in focus here. You cannot have that in shadows.

A little bit of playing around with the Tone Curve follows. This is just to increase the contrast in the image. This is followed by adjustments in the individual color channels. If you look closely the dome of the Memorial is still irritatingly dark.

After adjustments using Graduated Filter

I don’t like that. I want the exposure in the dome to be a bit brighter, just so that we can have a better view of what it is.

Video Tip: The Graduated Filter in Lightroom

Using the Radial Filter to brighten one spot in an image

For this adjustment, I need the Radial Filter.
The Radial Filter is a really cool tool because it helps me do adjustments to really small areas which is not possible otherwise.
I select a tiny area that would just cover the dome and nothing else. This will not tinker with the rest of the image.

The Radial Filter

Ensure that you select ‘Invert Mask’ to make the changes within your selection. With the radial filter, as you can see, exposure is increased a tiny bit, that makes the dome appear in a better light.

The overall adjustments that you noticed in this post-processing workflow aren’t the only way to recover details from shadows. There are other ways as well. This is just one way, my way.
I’ll leave you with the final image here.

The Final Image

Like it? Hate it? Please feel free to share your thoughts.

Video Tip: How to use the Radial Filter (Radio Gradient)


  • Rajib is an avid travel photographer and an overall shutterbug. He loves to test and review new photography gear. He has been writing about cameras and lenses for over 10 years now. You can consider him as your "master guide" here at PhotoWorkout.

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