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Use Lightroom to Paint with Light

Our eyes are naturally drawn to the brightest part of an image. Knowing this, we can guide our viewer to focus on key elements of our photograph. This can be accomplished when we take the photo, or enhanced when we process the image. Either way, understanding the concept of how light draws a viewer in will help us develop better images.

Enhancing Directional Light

The subject, background and foreground were lit with one large light. This caused light to fall on unwanted areas, such as her foot and lower body. Using a light grid, flags or feathering the light would have solved the problem on set. A great lesson learned; but this is the image we have to work with. To enhance this image, we will use Lightroom’s Radial and Graduated filters to globally darken the image. Then we will use the adjustment brush to dodge and burn selective areas. Here’s how we can do it in 5 minutes or less.

Lightroom’s powerful light-painting tools

Step 1: Radial Filter

Let’s start with making a global change to the entire image using the Radial Filter. Draw an oval around the subject and apply a negative exposure value. Keep the feather option at 50. Click Brush to bring up the brush tool. Holding the Alt key [Win] or the Option key [Mac] will turn the brush tool into an eraser; allowing you to selectively paint out the effect. This is known as a local change where only a part of the image is affected.

Step 2: Graduated Filter

Select the Graduated Filter; click on the lower half of the image as you hold, click and drag the handles to her midsection. While the Graduated Filter is still active, apply a negative exposure value. This will darken the bottom of the image and gradually fade to her midsection.

Step 3: Dodge (lighten) with the Adjustment Brush

Up to this point we have made mostly global changes – changes that affect the entire image. Now it’s time to make selective or local changes. Using the Adjustment Brush, set a positive exposure value and paint around the subject’s face and upper body. This will make the area appear brighter, drawing the viewer to her face.

Step 4: Burn (darken) with Adjustment Brush

If the Adjustment Brush is still active, click new. Set a negative exposure value and paint in areas that appear too bright. This will help keep the focus on the model’s face.

As photographers, we strive hard to take a perfect image. The beauty of Lightroom is we can enhance an image and learn from our mistakes.

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