At a very broad level, we can say that most adjustments in Lightroom are local because they affect certain parts of the image. When you use a slider, say Highlights, you are affecting change only in those areas of the image that fit the tonal range for highlights. You control the amount, Lightroom controls the “local” areas to change. I will return to this kind of “local adjustment” in a minute, but this post is mainly about adjustments that apply to the areas you choose and in the amounts you specify.
Lightroom Local Adjustment Tools
Lightroom has had several local adjustment tools for quite some time. First, there were four tools: Spot Removal, Red-eye correction, Graduated Filter, and Brush. Then they introduced the Radial Filter, and in the latest version a new feature was added to both the gradient filters and the brush tool: the Range Mask (not to be confused with the Masked Ranger!) Although not as refined and as flexible as the layer masks in Photoshop, the range mask can be a very useful tool in applying local adjustments when using the gradient or the radial filters, or the brush tool.
Applying Local Adjustment Tools
Take the image below with quite faded sky and a brooding feeling over the parking lot. Had I exposed it to get more sky detail, I would have lost the details in the darker parts of the photograph. When looking at the images below, click to see them larger with captions as you follow the text.
You may try to adjust the sky by lowering the highlights, exposure, then brightening the shadows but remember those adjustments will apply to all similar tones in the image and quite possibly result in losing the mood of the location.
Another possibility is to use the HSL sliders to darken the blues and brighten the oranges and the reds but that too yields less than satisfying results as you see below.
In the above image, I lowered the luminance of blue and aqua channels to -36 and -25; increased the luminance of red, orange, and yellow to +60, +57, and +18. There is also minimal saturation adjustments on each of those channels as well. It is a little improvement over the original. Also, I do not have the option of removing selected areas from the applied adjustments.
Adjusting the Area of Coverage
A third option is to use one of the local adjustment tools and limit the adjustment to areas controlled by the Range Mask. You can use the brush tool and paint over the entire image but let me show you a neat trick that may come in handy in other situations too. I will use the graduated filter but apply it to affect the entire image evenly.
Click on the graduated filter tool and instead of dragging it towards the inside of the image, you will start a little outside the image and drag it outward. To constrain the movement to vertical or horizontal, hold the shift key while you click to start and continue to drag the filter. You do not need to drag too much because we are interested in the filter effect being applied to the entire image behind the starting point. This can be done on any of the edges but I chose the top edge closer to the sky as a reminder. Here is how you drag and set the filter:
- Click on the Graduated Filter tool
- Hold the Shift key down
- Click just outside the image and drag away from the image just a little
- You will see the entire image selected as indicated by the red overlay in the image
Note: You can draw the graduated filter starting somewhere in the middle, say above the roofline of the building in the middle, and draw it a short distance down, say below the chin of the woman in the mural. This will have the effect of excluding the parking lot and the lower parts of the image. After that, you can continue with the Range Mask and follow with the rest of the article.
Auto Masking Based on Color or Luminance
Until the latest Lightroom Classic CC, we would either carefully paint the sky area with the brush tool or do what we did here and erase the parts of the mask we do not want using the Graduated Filter Brush tool. Now, there is an easier way, Range Mask. Look just below the graduated toolset, you will see the range mask area. It is currently set to Off. Click on the drop-down and select Color since we want to pick areas that are of the sky color. Now, you can click on the eyedropper icon in the toolbox, move your cursor into the image, and draw a rectangle of the color you want to include in the mask. See the image below. If you want to add more color ranges, you can hold the Shift key down and draw another rectangle, up to a total of 4.
You will now see the sky being selected and most other parts of the image that do not meet the color selection being excluded. You may see some areas in the windows, some car bodies, and other areas that have the same color as the sky is included in the selection. It is possible to refine the selection using the slider in the Range Mask, move it to the left to be more selective, to the right to be more inclusive. I moved the slider to 35 to exclude parts of the clouds and a little more selective masking on the windows. After this, the adjustments you make to this graduated filter will apply only to the selected areas. I decided to slightly alter the color temperature to -57 making it a little bluer and lowering the exposure by -0.65. These were sufficient for the sky to make it look like what I saw when taking the photograph.
The buildings, the parking lot, and all the darker areas need another graduated filter and color selection. For that, I drew a new filter at the bottom, picked Color from the range mask, and drew a rectangle on the brick wall on the left. That picked what I wanted to change.
Once the buildings and the lower area are selected, I adjusted the rest as follows:
- Range Mask amount: 38
- Exposure: +0.56
- Clarity: 13
- Saturation: 19
- Sharpness: 35
Below are three images, the original, the image after the above adjustments, and one that I tried my best to adjust using Basic and HSL panels. You can see the difference local adjustments can make. By the way, the final image I obtained using local adjustment can further be refined if needed by using the HSL sliders and other adjustments.
Give this a try, and remember, you can use the graduated filters this way even with the earlier versions of Lightroom, either to refine the selection by erasing parts of it or globally applying some adjustments when the sliders max out in the standard toolboxes. It will not work for every image this well, keep that in mind. This is not a cure-all solution, but another tool in your toolbox.
One last point to keep in mind, the Range Mask has another option, Luminance which selects areas based on the chosen luminance range. It can be useful in some situations but here it would not have had the selectivity of the color-based masking.
Have fun! And, let me know how it works for you.