Adding Light to a Photo Using Adobe Lightroom

  • Thread starter LukeLewis
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May 7, 2021
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I’m always in awe with what can be done to an already fantastic looking photo to make it look so much better. Oftentimes, many people don’t really know how good something can look. I remember back in the day, before I took photography or photo editing seriously, I thought a picture was a picture. I though photographers took photos with their cameras, developed or downloaded those photos and passed them out to the world, as is. For years, I tried to duplicate what these types of people presented and for years, I failed.

Little did I know that these photographers and editors I’m referring to used programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Camera Raw to enhance their work. And even littler did I know was how easy it was to do that and how little they actually needed to do.

In today’s post, I’m going to talk about adding light to a photo using the Radial Filter in Adobe Lightroom. On this blog, I’ve talked about many different types of filters inside a few different applications. I’m not sure I’ve discussed this particular one yet though. This one’s important though because it behaves slightly differently than the others do, so please be sure to read below to see what I’m referring to. I’m also going to throw in some technical aspects of the sliders and features involved with this tool.

The Original Photo​

If you take a look at the photo below, I’m sure you’ll agree that, while it’s very good, it could use a little pizzazz. Not a lot, but a little. Take a look at what I’m talking about.


While I’m temped to go to town on this photo, I’m going to resist. I’d like to edit the entire thing to add some different lighting effects, contrast and depth, but today, all I’m going to focus on is lighting and fixing up one area in the region around the chicken’s head. Again, while this photo may look just fine now, it’ll look a lot better in a few minutes. Luckily, it’s already rather clear and high quality, so I don’t have to worry about those types of things.

Launching the Radial Filter Tool in Lightroom​

I’ve already got the photo imported and selected in Lightroom. I’m also in the Develop module. Take a look.


If I take a look over to the right, I’ll see a small circle in the toolbar under the histogram. That’s the Radial Filter tool. I’ll press that and find a bunch of sliders appear directly below it.


To start off, I’d like to think about what I want to do to this photo. I know that I want to add some exposure around the head, and then a hint of warmth and finally some contrast. Perhaps I’ll push a few more sliders after that, but this is a good start.

With this in mind, I’ll focus on the area in need of the greatest change. That’s exposure. So, I’ll click on the drop-down that’s to the right of the Effect heading, which will cause a menu to appear.


I’ll click Exposure in the menu, which will set all the sliders, except the Exposure one to zero. Regarding Exposure, that will just bump up a few notches.


Now, the reason I mention this drop-down is because it’s a heck of a lot easier to simply choose something from a menu than it is to reset each and every slider from a previous usage of this same tool. Lightroom has a tendency to remember settings used earlier and if you use multiple instances of this Radial Filter, you’ll be in for a lot of very unnecessary work. Remember, it’s better to use this menu to reset the sliders than it is to double-click each one to zero it out.

Applying the Radial Filter to the Image​

Okay, I’ve got the Radial Filter activated and the sliders in order. Now, I’m going to apply the radial itself to the image. Again, I want to encapsulate the area around the chicken’s head. To do this, all I need to do is to click and drag. To move the radial after it’s been drawn, I can just click inside the circle anywhere and drag to adjust its position.


Looking at the screenshot above, you might notice that I increased the Exposure setting to 100%. I did this for demonstration purposes so we can see what’s going on. What you may also notice is that the photo outside the radial had its exposure increased, not the area inside the radial like I wanted. This is one of the quirky little ways this tool behaves.

Inside of Adobe Lightroom, the Radial Filter is actually a mask. Because of this, it’s default state is to mask out any effect made by the sliders below the tool. Since this isn’t what I want, I’ll fix the situation by scrolling down to the bottom of the panel with the sliders in it and I’ll check the Invert Mask box (keyboard shortcut (apostrophe)).


As you can see, the effect has been reversed and I can now focus on completing this project.

Feathering the Radial​

While I’m down at the bottom of this panel, I’d like to show you two more features that will definitely need to be looked at. With every single application of the Radial Filter tool, the Feather option will have to be adjusted. The slider for this sits alone, right above the Invert Mask check box.


If I push the slider to the left, the edge of the adjustment inside of the radial will get harder and more distinct. If I push it to the right, it will get softer and less noticeable. In my case, since I really don’t want to notice the edges of my changes that much, I’ll push the slider a hint to the right until it reaches a value of 60.

Also, if I want to see a before and after view of what this tool has accomplished, I can click the small switch that’s located at the bottom left of the panel. This is the on/off switch for the Radial Filter tool. Basically, to see the before version, turn the switch to the Off position and to see the after version, turn it to the On position.


Completing the Adjustments​

At this point, I can go ahead and push the relevant sliders to finish adjusting the look of the photograph. To do this, I’ll scroll back up and get to work.


As it ends up, I did need to move a few additional sliders than I initially thought. I didn’t go nuts or anything, but I did what was necessary. I think the edits look pretty good. Check it out. I also went ahead and made a few adjustments in the Basic panel, just to liven things up.


And here’s a before and after shot. I’d say this looks pretty cool.


It’s almost as if the chicken or rooster, or whatever it is, is looking past a foggy window.


I know this wasn’t the most challenging project to complete, but I did want to take the time to explain a few areas that may trip some folks up. Once these areas are recognized, it’s smooth sailing. Anyway, I hope I clearly explained how to use the Radial Filter tool in Adobe Lightroom. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!