How To Isolate A Subject With The Radial Filter Tool In Adobe Lightroom
May 6, 2014
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One way to isolate and call attention to your subject is to apply a graduated exposure reduction around it. In earlier versions of Lightroom, that was usually done by applying a Post-Crop Vignette.

Adobe Lightroom 5 Radial Filter Graduated Exposure Reduction To Isolate Subject

Lightroom Fanatic – Post-Crop Vignette

The problem with the vignette is that, unless your subject is centered in the frame, it doesn’t truly isolate your subject. The image below is an exaggerated vignette to illustrate the point.

Exaggerated Post-Crop Vignette

Lightroom Fanatic – Exaggerated Post-Crop Vignette

If I crop in a bit more, I can get closer to having the vignette do what I want, but there is still extra areas on the left and right that I’d really like to bring in to get more of a circular spotlight.

Exaggerated Post-Crop Vignette

Lightroom Fanatic – Crop With Vignette

I could crop my image square, which would give me a more circular vignette around my subject, but who really wants to have a bunch of square images? Not me!

Square Crop With Vignette

Lightroom Fanatic – Square Crop With Vignette

With the introduction of the radial filter in Lightroom 5, I can now apply a circular filter around my subject to get the same effect but in a way that lets me better isolate my subject, and in this tutorial, that’s what I’m going to show you how to do!

I started by select the radial filter by clicking on the icon or using the shortcut Shift-M. In the effect tab, I reduced my exposure down to -4 to better demonstrate the effect. When I hovered my mouse of my image, my mouse pointer turned in to a crosshair. I moved my mouse to the center of where I want my circle to be and then I clicked and dragged outward, creating a circle of light around my subject while the rest of the image had the exposure reduced by 4 stops.

Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction

Lightroom Fanatic – Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction

Obviously, this isn’t the look I was going for. I wanted a gradual change in exposure from my subject and getting darker out to the edges and this is an abrupt change in exposure. That’s where the Feather slider comes in. I had my feather set to 0 so that I could see the bounds of my circle, but now I’m ready to apply the graduated part of the graduated filter.

Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction and Feathering

Lightroom Fanatic – Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction and Feathering

Notice that feathering goes in from the circle, not out. Everything outside the line will have the exposure reduced by 4 stops, and the feathering brings the effect gradually to the inside of the circle. To compensate, I dragged out my circle a bit more because I wanted to make sure that my subject was highlighted and that there was enough space between the circle to have the feathering look natural and less obvious. 

Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction and Feathering

Lightroom Fanatic – Radial Filter With Exposure Reduction and Feathering

Finally, I brought the exposure in the effect up to around -1.75 and this is the end result!

Adobe Lightroom 5 Radial Filter Graduated Exposure Reduction To Isolate Subject

Lightroom Fanatic – My Little Superhero

The radial filter was one of those blatantly obvious things missing from Lightroom, so I was relieved when it was finally added to Lightroom 5. Of course, the same technique can be used to add a blur by reducing sharpness instead of exposure, or you can use a combination of both to really isolate your subject.

How do you use the radial filter?

 

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