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WHY THE RADIAL GRADIENT IS THE MOST POWERFUL TOOL IN LIGHTROOM

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The Radial Gradient has several functions and uses in Lightroom Classic and Lightroom. Once you know how to use it, it will become your best friend when it comes to transforming your photos into fine-art pieces. I’ll show you just a few ways you can use the Radial Gradient, but keep in mind that the possibilities are endless! 

A QUICK TOUR OF RADIAL GRADIENTS 

Here’s some basic information about the Radial Gradient and how to use it. 

  1. THE INVERT FUNCTION 

It’s important to know that, by default, the settings for a Radial Gradient affect the inside of your circle, but you can invert it so it affects the outside. You’ll find the Invert checkbox at the top right of the panel for the Radial Gradient settings. So make sure to select Invert if you want to create the effects outside the circle. 

  1. THE FEATHER SLIDER 

Feathering is key when it comes to making your Radial Gradient edits look more natural. You’ll find the Feather slider near the top of the settings panel for the Radial Gradient. The closer you set your Feather to 0, you’ll start to see a defined edge around your edits, which will most likely be noticeable and unnatural; the closer you set your Feather to 100, the more graduated the change, so it will look more natural. There may be times, however, when you may want or need a very defined Radial Gradient for a project, so don’t ignore 0 altogether. 

  1. COLOR OVERLAY MODE 

This is a great tool that shows you where your Radial Gradient is affecting the image. The Show Overlay checkbox is at the bottom left of the Masks panel (if you have the Masks panel collapsed, you can still see the checkbox). By default, when you turn the overlay on, it displays in red. If you prefer to see the mask in a different color, click on the color swatch to the right of the Show Overlay checkbox and you can select any color, as well as change its Opacity. I like to use the color overlay because it gives me an idea of what area is being affected and what the settings are doing in that area, while I can still see and appreciate the rest of the unaffected parts of the photo. 

  1. SHOW EDIT PINS 

Just below your image on the left, you’ll find a Show Edit Pins drop-down menu. These options determine when or if the edit pins for your Radial Gradients are visible. For example, if you select the first option, Auto, you’ll only see the outline of your Radial Gradient, plus any other edit pins, when you move your mouse over the image; but when you move it out of the photo, all the pins disappear, and you only see the result of your Radial Gradient. Here are what the other three options do: 

  • Always keeps the pins visible at all times no matter the location of your cursor. 
  • Selected only shows the currently active Radial Gradient; if you have more than one Radial Gradient, the pins for those gradients will not be visible. 
  • Never will never show you the pins. 

Tip: The little red dot below an active pin controls the Feather amount. Just click-and-drag that dot to change the Feather directly inside the Radial Gradient. 

PUTTING THE RADIAL GRADIENT TO USE 

Now let’s move on to the various ways that you can retouch your photos using the Radial Gradient. 

  1. DODGE AND BURN 

In this photo, we’ll boost the exposure (dodge) on parts of the big chunk of ice on the right. The idea is to complexify the light, so we’ll first create a small Radial Gradient on the right side of the ice, and add light by increasing the Exposure to 0.54. Then, we’ll Right-click on the edit pin, choose Duplicate, and move the duplicate so we have Radial Gradients on each side of the ice cube. As a side note, the smaller your circle, the stronger the effect will appear. 

You can also dodge and burn the overall image to make it more interesting. Here, we’ll add more touches of light by duplicating the Radial Gradient several times and moving them to different areas of the photo. 

  1. MAKING YOUR PHOTO POP 

To revive the sunset and make it pop more in this image, we’re going to draw a large Radial Gradient over the sky around the sun and set the Tint to 36 and Temp to 30. 

  1. DAYTIME TO NIGHTTIME 

Here’s another thing you can achieve with a Radial Gradient: You can use it to help you transform a daylight photo into a nighttime shot. In this example, we re-created the glow of the street lights at night by using multiple Radial Gradients and boosting their Exposure. This is a whole other subject, but I wanted to show you what was possible. 

  1. BLACK AND WHITE 

Radial Gradients come in handy for black-and-white photos too. You can start by dodging and burning, boosting or decreasing the Exposure, respectively. Duplicate the pins, move them to the parts of the photo where you want to dodge or burn, and then change the Exposure value for each circle as needed. 

  1. TAILORMADE RADIAL GRADIENT 

You can use the Brush tool to add to or erase parts of the effect. You just need to select the Radial Gradient you want to correct in the Masks panel to reveal the Add and Subtract buttons. To erase part of an effect, click on the Subtract button, select Brush, and then turn on Show Overlay so you can see what you’re erasing. Now just paint to erase the part of the effect that you don’t want. (Note: This is for the latest version of lightroom; in previous versions, you can pick the Brush within the Radial Gradient settings panel and select Erase to do the same.) 

Here’s the final result. 

Hopefully, you’ve learned how you can fine-tune your images by using Radial Gradients. Now, have fun and create your own fine-art photos!

ALL IMAGES BY SERGE RAMELLI