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Using the Graduated Filter tool

When shooting landscapes, you may have run into this common predicament: You set the proper exposure for the foreground, and the sky winds up being overexposed. To solve this problem on site, you can reduce the light on the upper part of the lens with a graduated neutral-density filter. To darken a sky in a photo that is shot without such a filter (Plan B!), you can use the Graduated Filter tool in Camera Raw.

With this tool, you create an overlay to define the area to be edited, then you apply the adjustment via any of a dozen sliders. The slider options are the same as for the Adjustment Brush tool.

To adjust an area of a photo using the Graduated Filter tool:

  1. After adjusting your photo via the Basic and Tone Curve tabs, A choose the Graduated Filter tool c0086-01.jpg (G). The sliders for the tool display in the right panel.

    Click to view larger image

    A Despite our applying Basic and Tone Curve adjustments, the sky in this photo looks overexposed (washed out).

  2. Click the + or – button for any slider to “zero out” all the sliders except the one you click.
  3. Shift-drag over an area in the photo to define the area where the filter edits will be applied, beginning from the location where you want the strongest adjustment. The filter will be applied fully at the green dashed border of the overlay, gradually diminishing to nil at the red dashed border.
  4. Do either or both of the following:

    Use the Temperature and/or Tint slider to make the filtered area warmer or cooler.

    Use the sliders to adjust such characteristics as the exposure, sharpness, or noise in the filtered area (A–C, next page).


    Click to view larger image

    A After zeroing out the sliders for the Graduated Filter tool, we Shift-dragged downward in the photo (as shown by the arrow above), then chose slider settings to darken the exposure within the overlay area.


    Click to view larger image

    B To add more blue to the upper area of sky, we lowered the Temperature value.


    Click to view larger image

    C In the final image, the adjustment is strongest in the sky, fading to nil in the upper part of the ground.

  5. To redisplay the main tabs, press H (for the Hand tool).

    • At any time, you can lengthen or shorten the filter overlay by Shift-dragging the green or red dot. To reposition the whole overlay, drag the line that connects the two dots.
    • To apply a separate filter to another area of the photo, click New, then repeat steps 2–4.
    • If you want to draw an overlay on a diagonal, don’t hold down Shift while dragging.
    • To hide the filter overlay, uncheck Show Overlay or press V. To remove a filter overlay, click one of its dots or the line that connects them, then press Backspace/Delete.
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