How to Use the Radial Gradient in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How to Use the Radial Gradient in Lightroom Classic

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The Radial Gradient is one of eleven masking tools found in Lightroom Classic. Now that Adobe has added the Masks panel and new masking tools you’re probably using the Radial Gradient less. But it’s still a useful tool, so lets take a look at some of the ways you can use it.

1. Radial Gradients for advanced vignetting

Before Adobe added the Radial Gradient all the way back in Lightroom 5, the easiest way to darken the edges of the image was to use the Post-Crop Vignetting tool. The idea is to gently guide the viewer’s eye towards the center of the image. It’s a subtle but effective technique inherited from the black and white darkroom.

The problem is that the effect is centered. That’s great if your subject’s in the middle of the frame, but not so good if it isn’t. 

Here’s an example. This is the starting point, a close-up photo of a dandelion. 

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

This is what happens if you use Post-Crop Vignetting to darken the edges. It pushes the eye towards the center of the frame, not the dandelion.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

The alternative is to use a Radial Gradient. 

How to use the Radial Gradient 

1. Start by zeroing any Post-Crop Vignetting by setting Amount to zero. Then click the Masking icon under the histogram. 

The Masks panel opens either next to the right-hand panels, or under the Histogram, depending on how you’ve configured it. These screenshots show it under the Histogram as that’s how I prefer to use it.

If the photo has no masks, you’ll see something like this.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

2. Click the Radial Gradient icon (marked above). Hold the left mouse button down and drag the mouse to place a Radial Gradient around the subject. 

You can draw a circle or an oval anywhere in the frame and rotate it to match the shape of your subject (look for the double-arrow icon when you hover over the white circles at the compass points). Click and drag the center pin to move the Radial Gradient around, or one of the outer pins to resize the mask.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

3. Check the Invert box near the Feather slider. Alternatively, click the three dot icon next to the mask and select Invert mask from the menu. This applies the effect outside the circle rather than inside it (the default setting).

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

4. Press the O key on the keyboard to show the mask overlay. Adjust the Radial Gradient so it looks something like the one below, leaving a blank area around your subject so you get a natural looking vignette.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

Tip: Press Cmd + ‘-‘ (Mac) or Ctrl + ‘-‘ (PC) to zoom out and give yourself space to adjust the Radial Gradient.

5. The gap between the inner and outer circles indicates the amount of feathering. You can adjust it using Feather slider. Move it right to increase the amount of feathering, or left to decrease it. You can also click and drag the red dot on the inner circle to adjust it.

Another way to see the area affected by the Radial Gradient is to set the Exposure slider to -4.0. 

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

6. Reset the Exposure slider to zero and gradually move it left to subtly darken the edges of the frame. Feel free to adjust the size of the Radial Gradient to get the effect you want. Here’s the result with this photo.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

2. Radial Gradients for adding Clarity or Texture

The Radial Gradient is also ideal for adding Clarity or Texture to parts of the image to bring out textural detail. You can do the same with the Adjustment Brush, or with Select Object, but the Radial Gradient is ideal for applying a feathered effect to a circular or oval subject like the dandelion.

1. Click the Create New Mask button and add another Radial Gradient. Position it to cover the subject, in this case the dandelion.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

2. Push the Clarity or Texture sliders (or both) to the right, to increase the contrast and texture. The best setting depends on the subject itself plus your personal taste. You may need to increase Exposure a little as well as adding Clarity tends to make the image darker. 

Here are before and after photos showing the result of these local adjustments on the photo.

Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic
Radial Gradient Lightroom Classic

These are subtle but important touches that help you get the best out of your photos. Don’t forget that you have all the sliders in the Radial Gradient panel available for your experimentation. Spend some time having a play with them and think about how you can use them to make your photos better.

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