How to Use the Adjustment Brush Tool

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Even though the Adjustment Brush tool isn’t new in Lightroom, you still might be surprised by all the different ways it can be used and all the advantages of using a brush to edit your images. This is now part of my daily workflow and I hope it will become part of yours! 

To show you all the different ways that you can use the Adjustment Brush, I’ll use this photo taken in Iceland. 

First, let’s do a basic retouch just to get a better idea of what we’re working with. We’ll add some Contrast (+26), open up the Shadows (+100), bring down the Highlights (–100), and set the Whites (+54) and Blacks (–44). 


After you click on the Adjustment Brush below the Histogram (or press the letter K on your keyboard) to make it active, you can double-click on the word “Effect” within the Adjustment Brush panel and it will set all the sliders to zero. In the Brush settings at the bottom of the panel, set the Flow and Density to a maximum of 80 to keep your edits looking natural. The Feather slider is key, because the more feather you apply, the more gradual and pleasing your brush edits will appear, so you can set it all the way up to 100. Now we’ll add some Exposure and paint over the parts of the photo that we want to highlight by bringing light back into the photo. 


This is a cool trick to add fog to your sunrise shots or other dramatic images. First, we need to click the word “New” at the top of the panel to create a new instance of the brush; otherwise, when we change the settings in the panel, it will affect our dodge-and-burn strokes from above. 

To create the effect, lower the Clarity (–64) and Dehaze (–38) and boost the Exposure a bit (0.66). Paint the fog where you want it in the photo, but don’t overdo it. If you need to erase a part of the brush, press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key and your brush becomes an eraser. 


Another great way to use the brush is to enhance snow. There’s some snow on the mountains in our image, so we’ll add a new brush, boost the Exposure a lot (2.73), and add some Clarity (33). To make sure it only affects the snow and not the mountains, after painting in the effect, we’ll click on the Range Mask drop-down menu, select Luminance, and set the Range slider to 65/100. This “melts” the snow effect in our photo. 


While technically not the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter has a brush that behaves much like the Adjustment Brush. You can use the Graduated Filter (M) in many ways, but I find it practical when it comes to “closing down” my photos and adding some drama. The Graduated Filter can also affect elements that you don’t want affected, such as the mountains in this example. 

We dropped a Graduated Filter at the top of the image with an Exposure of –1.25 to darken the sky. To remove the effect from the mountains, we selected the Brush option at the top right of the Graduated Filter panel and, while holding the Option (PC: Alt) key for Erase mode, we painted over the mountains to remove the Graduated Filter from them. 


Sometimes when you use the Adjustment Brush, you want to be precise and not affect all the elements around the area where you’re painting. In this example, we want to brighten the water but not the sand. With a new brush, and the Exposure boosted to 1.61, we turned on Auto Mask before painting. That way, only the center of the brush will affect the subject; the effect won’t go beyond wherever Lightroom detects an “edge” outside the center of your brush. 

After fine-tuning the adjustments, here’s what the final image looks like. 

There you go! That’s the top five uses of the Adjustment Brush for me in Lightroom 2021. I hope you learned something new and that you’ll get a lot of use out of your brushes!