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Working with the Lightroom 3 Adjustment Brush

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One of the most powerful raw workflow tools is the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 3 (and Adobe Camera Raw). It provides the ability to precisely modify one or more areas in your photo, without altering the rest of the shot. Dan Moughamian, author of Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques for Photoshop CS5, Lightroom 3, and Camera Raw 6, shows you how to get the most from this robust set of controls.
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One characteristic nearly all raw workflows share is that most of the controls available create global edits or corrections. In other words, they affect the entire photograph (or one specific element like a particular color, throughout the entire photograph). It’s also no secret that one of Photoshop’s greatest virtues is the ability to precisely target specific regions of an image when applying edits, so why not do that with our raw workflows? The Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 3 allows us to do exactly that when perfecting exposure, contrast, color, and details.

Located in the Develop Module, the Adjustment Brush can be accessed by pressing the K key or clicking on the paintbrush icon just beneath the Histogram panel. When you do, a range of brush controls, masking options and editing options appear beneath the icon (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The Adjustment Brush offers a high degree of control over your edits by offering brush customization options and several controls for modifying contrast, color, and detail.

The idea is to paint a special mask over the areas you wish to modify (conceptually, we tend to think of an area that has been “masked” as being protected from change, so this process may seem a little counter-intuitive at first). Once the masking process is complete, you can begin to alter the different settings available, such as Exposure, Saturation, and Sharpness. Let’s take a closer look.

Brush Options

Once you’ve opened the controls and move the cursor over the document preview, the cursor will change, displaying a small silver “pin” in the center, which provides a reference point for each new mask you create, an inner circle, and an outer circle. The diameter of the inner circle represents the Size of your masking brush, and the distance between the inner and outer circles represents the Feather amount (Figure 2). Standard Photoshop brush shortcuts apply:

  • Right bracket (]) to increase brush size
  • Left bracket ([) to decrease brush size
  • Shift-right bracket or Shift-left bracket to increase or decrease the feather value

Figure 2 The Adjustment Brush cursor has three components: a pin to mark the spot where you begin painting each mask, the inner circle (Size), and the outer circle (Feather).

Additionally, there are settings for Flow and Density (just like a regular Photoshop brush), which—in effect—allow you to control the opacity of the mask. For the Adjustment Brush’s mask, 100% Density means the maximum amount of change will be made to the preview and final. There are also two “live presets” you can use to define the above-noted brush settings (A [vb] B). Click the letter A to activate that preset, and then change its settings. When you want to use the other brush settings, just click B and follow the same process. The settings for each preset are “sticky,” until you change them again.

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