Brush and Gradient Challenges

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Today’s Question: Often, I use the Graduated Filter in Lightroom [Classic CC] to bring out some color and definition in the sky. I use a lot of brush strokes to erase the filter effects from the non-sky areas of the photo. Occasionally, after I have been working a while, I notice that I made an error erasing too much of the filter effects and have erased a bit of the sky instead. If you try to unerase this area, you get an patch that does not match the surrounding area because the Graduated Filter graduates the effect while the unerase applies the effect full-force. Is there any way to correct a mistake along the filtered area where you have accidentally erased part of the sky?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The best solution in this type of situation is to reduce the value for the Flow slider when working with the Brush feature in conjunction with the Graduated Filter or the Radial Filter in Lightroom. This will enable you to paint at a reduced opacity as you blend the adjustment back into an area of the photo. The only other solution would be to undo enough steps in History to get back to the point before the unintended erasing was done.

More Detail: When you make use of the Brush feature with the Graduated Filter or the Radial Filter in Lightroom’s Develop module, you are essentially creating two separate layer masks that work in conjunction with each other. One mask is in the form of a gradient (or ellipse), and the other is a free-form mask you can modify by painting.

Because of this behavior, it can be challenging to produce a good effect when you need to modify either mask. For example, if you attempt to move a gradient mask after you have already used the Brush feature to modify the targeted adjustment, the two masks will no longer align with each other in the same way. In addition, as noted in today’s question, if you use the Erase feature for the Brush option with the Graduated Filter (or Radial Filter), it can be difficult to get a good result when painting a portion of the adjustment back into the image.

For example, in a relatively low-opacity area of the gradient created with the Graduated Filter, if you paint with a full opacity to add back the adjustment effect you will have an obvious brush stroke that has a stronger adjustment than the surrounding gradient effect.

You can overcome this issue by using a low setting for the Flow slider when using the “A” or “B” brush option. You may need to use a very low value (around 10 or less) for areas of the gradient that are of particularly low opacity. You can then paint repeatedly over the same area to build up the effect.

Of course, getting a result that blends in well can still be a bit challenging. It can take some practice and careful effort to achieve a good result, but that is often preferable to going back far enough in History to start over from before making an adjustment you aren’t happy with.