Graham Daly Photography

Award winning Fine Art, Landscape, Seascape & Nature photographer providing Photography Training Workshops, Photography Courses & Photo Tours throughout Ireland

Graham Daly Photography is an Award winning Fine Art, Landscape, Seascape & Nature photographer based in Ireland providing Photography Training & Workshops

Lightroom Tips & Tricks - Isolating Highlight Recovery using the Radial Filter

Want to know how to isolate effects such as Highlight Recovery in Lightroom to a specific portion of your image without affecting the other parts? Then check this blog out because I show you how to do exactly that using the Radial Filter.

Recovering Highlights - All a part of the Landscape Photography game!

Red arrow shows clipping of Highlights in the Histogram - Crudely drawn orange shape shows the area of the image where the burn highlights reside

As every photographer who has ever tried his or her hand at Landscape photography will tell you, recovering slightly blown or clipped highlights is all a part of the beautiful Landscape game.

Even though we (1) use filters such as Graduated Neutral Density Filters ( I use and always recommend Lee Filters ) while out in the field to balance the exposure levels between the sky and the foreground in order to retain the highlights in the brighter parts of the sky and (2) ever increasingly harness the greater levels of dynamic range that each new camera and camera sensor provides to us, we still always run into situations whereby we get back to our base of operations and the Digital Darkroom only to find out that our excellent RAW file has some burnt-out highlights and lost some detail in those brighter areas, as is normally evident by the clipping towards the right-hand side of your Histogram

 

When can you recover clipped highlights?

The answer to this question is unfortunately "it depends", which can be kind of frustrating, I know!

In reality you will ever only be able to recover lost highlights under the following conditions:

  1. The clipping is not too severe / too far right in the Histogram - The greater the clipping, the greater the chances of completely losing that detail
  2. When you reviewed RGB Histogram of the image on the back of your camera LCD, only the Red channel was showing clipping - clipping in the Red channel can usually be easily recovered but any clipping in the Green or Blue can often prove to be more difficult or not even possible
  3. You captured the image using the RAW file format - while shooting in JPEG saves on space, it really limits you with respect to post-processing your images (See my Blog Post RAW Processing - Turning good captures into great images for reasons why you should only use RAW!!)

Assuming that you have in fact ensured that all of the above points/criteria have been met, then don't worry too much because it is actually fairly quick and easy to recover these clipped highlights in Lightroom, once you know how!

How to recover clipped highlights using Adobe Lightroom?

There are in fact several really quick and easy methods of recovering highlights within your RAW images when processing them using Adobe Lightroom.

You can:

  1. Reduce the value in the Highlights Slider within the Basic Panel
  2. Reduce the value in the Highlights Slider within the Tone Curve
  3. Drop a Gradient Filter into the image so that it covers the section containing the impacted area
  4. Place a Radial Filter into the image over the impacted area
  5. Use a Local Adjustment Brush and paint over the impacted area

All methods are technically valid and all can and should work however all methods have their pros & cons and each method may or may not be suited to the exact problem or situation at hand.

Methods 1 & 2 will effectively apply what is known as a Global Adjustment to the image and means a change that will have an impact on the entire image. More often than not this is not really suitable or desirable as you really don't want to be removing/reducing the highlights throughout the complete but rather just from the area that contains the burnt-out or blown highlights.

Methods 3 through 5 will apply what is known as a Local Adjustment and that meaning that the changes are only applied to the area of the image where the adjustment layer is placed.

Gradient Filters are not always the best choice!

Method 3 is a great method and the perfect option for when you want to reduce the highlights across the entire sky portion of the image but not the rest of the image. This is what I do in nearly every image that I process anyway as I always like just bringing out an extra bit of detail within the sky and reducing the highlights allows me to do this, along with boosting the contrast, clarity and shadows a little.

But sometimes using a Gradient Filter is not the best or most suitable option because this tool will cause the changes to be applied to all areas that are within the confines of the Gradient Filter - for example see the image on the left which shows the areas that will be impacted by the Gradient Filter.

  • Small orange box shows that the Gradient Tool has been selected and place in the image
  • Blue box shows where the values of the Filter can be adjusted/modified
  • Red box shows that the "Show Selected Mask Overlay" has been checked and this is what the reddish tint/colored area of the image is
  • White box depicts the large portion of the sky where we do not want to reduce the highlights
  • Green Arrows show the actual landscape segments of the image that we do not want to reduce the highlights from

Granted that the in above example I dragged the Gradient Filter down from the top and that I could have alternatively dragged the filter in from the right hand side which would have caused a smaller portion of the image to be impacted but it would still cause the changes to affect parts of the foreground, landscape and sky that I did not want to reduce the highlights from.

Red arrow shows clipping of Highlights in the Histogram - Crudely drawn orange shape shows the area of the image where the burn highlights reside

As seen from the image towards the start of this blog, the only portion of the image that I actually want to reduce the highlights from, are the areas located directly above and below the landscape segment on the right-hand side of the image, as indicated by the crudely drawn orange not quite a rectangle, square or circle shaped thingy!

In this particular instance, the only real suitable options are that of method 4 and 5.

The same end result can be achieved using either of these methods but for the purpose of this tutorial, I am going to show you method 4 which involves the use of the much loved Radial Filter.

 

How to isolate Highlight Recovery to just a specific portion of the image using the Radial Filter

Step 1: To configure and activate the Radial Filter:

  1. Go to the Panel that is located below the Histogram and above the Basic Panel
  2. Click on the 2nd Icon from the right, as indicated with the orange box in the graphic (the one that looks like a circle with a dot in the center)
  3. Ensure New is Highlighted - as indicated by the green box
  4. Adjust the settings/values as desired, as indicated by the blue box (these can always be further modified at any time)
  5. Enable the Invert Mask checkbox - as indicated by the pink box
 

Step 2: Place the Radial Filter:

  1. Once the Radial Filter has been selected, use your mouse to drag the filter into place over the desired portion of the image
     
  2. Adjust the positioning and size of the filter as needed
     
  3. Ensure that the "Show Selected Mask Overlay" checkbox is enabled - as indicated by the orange box
     
  4. The red overlay displays what segments/parts of the image will be impacted by the Radial Filter



    NOTE: As you can see from the graphic, the Radial Filter has in fact covered some of the Landscape segment where we do not want the highlights to be reduced/recovered.



     
  5. The Orange Arrows indicate the areas of the image that we want impacted by the Filter and thus we want to keep that part of the Filter active
     
  6. The Green Arrows indicate the areas of the image that we do not want the Filter to impact

     

Step 3: Use the Erase Brush within the Radial Filter to remove the adjustments from the unwanted areas:

  1. With the Radial Filter still active (highlighted by the Pink sqaure), click on "Brush" as indicated by the Orange rectangle and then click on the Erase button as highlighted by the Blue rectangle
     
  2. Adjust the Size, Feather and Flow options as desired
     
  3. Ensure that the "Show Selected Mask Overlay" checkbox is enabled - as indicated by the white box
     
  4. Using the Erase brush, paint over the specific sections of the masked area that was created by the Radial Filter where you do not want the effects to remain - indicated by the Green Arrow
     
  5. As you paint over the masked portion, you will notice the red overlay mask disappearing and the effects of the Radial Filter are no longer impacting that section of the image
     
  6.  The Yellow Arrows indicate segments of the Radial Filter overlay mask that will need a bit more finesse when erasing due to their proximity to the surrounding portions of the Radial Filter overlay mask that you actually want to remain in effect (as highlighted by the Black Arrows)
     
  7. Zoom in closer to the desired portions of the image by holding by pressing the Space Bar on your keyboard and then continue to paint over the mask overlay until there is a smooth/seamless blend between the areas that you want to Radial Filter to remain active and the areas where you desire the effects to be removed from.
 
IsolatingHighlightRecoveryUsingRadialFilter4
 
 
 
 
 

The Finished Product - A job Well Done!

By using the Radial Filter and the flexibility of the Erase/Masking features that it offers, you can see how we were able to successfully target and isolate Highlight Recovery to a specific part of the image.

The graphic below shows you the before and after versions of the RAW file.

  • The Green Arrows indicate the area of the original image where the Highlights were clipped/burnt-out
  • The Orange Arrows indicate the same area of the image after the High-light Recovery Radial Filter with the Erase Mask was applied

You can quickly see in the "After" version of the image where we recovered the lost highlights and details while retaining the exposure levels on the landscape portion.

The Green Arrows indicate the area of the original image where the Highlights were clipped/burnt-out
The Orange Arrows indicate the same area of the image after the High-light Recovery Radial Filter with the Erase Mask was applied

Of course this Radial Filter methodology can be used for so many other effects and desired intentions whereby you want to make an isolated local adjustment change, such as:

  • Increasing / Reducing Shadows
  • Increasing / Reducing Contrast
  • Dodging & Burning
  • Selective Sharpening or Noise Reduction
  • Selective Color Temp/Tint adjustments
  • And so on.....
 

Outro - Another Lightroom Trick in the Utility Belt....

Hopefully this article helped you understanding the power and awesomeness of Adobe Lightroom and provided you with another useful Trick to store away in your Image Processing Utility Belt...just like Batman :-).

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Award winning Fine Art, Landscape, Seascape & Nature photographer providing Photography Training Workshops, Photography Courses & Photo Tours throughout Ireland