Use The Graduated Neutral Density Filter In Adobe Photoshop Or Lightroom

Many controls in Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom affect a photo globally
Many controls in Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom affect a photo globally. Yet, quite often, local changes are necessary when all you want to do is darken or lighten certain areas in a picture. The same holds true for color changes. If you use the Graduated Neutral Density filter found in either of the above programs, local changes can be applied.

This original capture was made in Monument Valley at sunrise during a severe windstorm. As a result, lots of dust and sand appears in the lower part of the photo. The sky needs darkening, and the conditions provided little sunrise color. I chose to use the Graduated Filter in Adobe Camera RAW to darken the sky and add a bit of warmth to the scene. The GND tool is highlighted with a red square in the accompanying photo.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Graduated Neutral Density Filter

Once you click on the tool’s icon, you’ll be brought to the GND interface. The top two sliders deal with color, the next section controls exposure, then comes the lens correction section and it all ends with a single area that allows you to impact the color of the filter.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

To add the GND effect, be sure the radial button for NEW is enabled, and simply drag the filter over the area you want to darken. Once applied, all of the sliders can be adjusted in real time, so you can see the effect of all the changes as they’re made. The first correction I applied was to darken the top of the sky. To accomplish this, I moved the EXPOSURE and HIGHLIGHTS sliders to the left. The effect is immediately visible, so you can tweak the look you want in real time.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Graduated Neutral Density Filter

The overall color was bland, so I moved both the temperature and tint sliders to the right to add yellow and magenta to the image. I also clicked the rectangle in the COLOR section at the bottom of the interface to bring up the color picker. As evidenced by the red rectangle, I chose a strong warm color to further add some warmth to the filter.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Graduated Neutral Density Filter
Graduated Neutral Density Filter

A great aspect of the GND filter is you’re not restricted to just one modification. The sky area above the sun was still too bright, so I added an additional filter to tone down the very top part of the sky. In order to accomplish this, be sure to click the NEW radial button. This allows you to create a new filter on top of the one you already added. As evidenced in the final image, the top of the sky was darkened further.

Graduated Neutral Density Filter

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2 Comments

    I use this filter all the time with pale blue skies. Unfortunately your final result is very unnatural and looks like someone held up a yellow filter over the top of the lens.If the effect were brought down toward the bottom of the mitten where the ground ends I think the effect would be much more realistic. I would also reduce the final intensity of the color and stick more closely to the initial usage. [IMO]

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