Create perfect exposures
James Paterson gets to grips with the Graduated Filter tool and shows how to enhance landscape scenes within seconds
Add a virtual grad to tease out extra detail and intensity
Of all the tools available in Photoshop’s Camera Raw plug-in – or indeed in the entirety of Photoshop – the Graduated Filter is one of the most useful, especially when it comes to tweaking your landscape photographs.
The tool allows you to make a linear adjustment over part of your photo, producing a transitional blend of tones. Anywhere beyond the first point that is typically defined will be entirely affected by the tonal settings that you input, with a gradual fall-off. This is entirely determined by the length of the line that you drag.
As such, it enables you to carefully create possible enhancements to key areas of your photos. It’s effective for balancing a scene in which one part might be darker or brighter than another.
With landscapes, this can occur when we include sky and land, as skies tend to be brighter. Achieving such a balance would involve a lens-mounted graduated neutral density filter to limit some of the light from the sky. This is an appropriate option for many scenes, but the Graduated Filter tool in Camera Raw offers more controls.
Not only can we hold back exposure, we can also boost contrast and detail, which is ideal for boosting flat, featureless skies like the one we start with here. What’s more, we retain a fine degree of control over what is affected by the grad; once applied, we can go on to target specific portions of the sky, either by freehand brushing or by using intelligent tools like Range Masking. Let’s take a look at some of the features of this tool…