Today’s Question: When applying a graduated filter effect in Adobe Camera Raw [or Lightroom], is it possible to adjust how hard or soft a transition you want, just as you can choose in actual graduated filters between hard and soft graduated transitions?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes! The softness (or hardness) of the transition for a Graduated Filter adjustment is determined by the distance of the gradient you define. You can set the size when you initially drag on the image to create the gradient, or adjust the size of the gradient after it is defined to fine-tune.
More Detail: When applying a targeted adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom using the Graduated filter, there are two ingredients involved. The first is the gradient itself, which determines where the adjustment is visible. The second is the set of adjustments you apply for the Graduated Filter adjustment.
As noted in today’s question, the graduated neutral density filters that can be placed in front of the lens to “hold back” a bright sky and even out the overall exposure for the scene are available with transitions of various sizes. In effect, you can find graduated filters with a short versus a relatively long transition for the gradient on the filter itself.
Similarly, you can adjust the distance covered by the gradient for the Graduated Filter adjustment to control the size of the transition between the area of the photo receiving the full adjustment and the area of the image receiving no adjustment.
When you initially create a Graduated Filter adjustment, you can drag across the image to define the gradient. So, for example, you can drag from an area of the sky near the horizon down to an area just below the horizon to create an adjustment that will affect the sky and then transition smoothly to no adjustment for the foreground.
The distance you drag initially determines the size of the transition for the gradient. But you can also adjust the size after creating a gradient with the Graduated Filter. The two outer lines represent the distance of the gradient transition, while the middle line determines the angle of the gradient. So you can drag the outer lines in or out (closer to or farther from) the middle line to adjust the size of the gradient.
And, of course, you can then refine the adjustment controls to achieve the desired effect for your graduated adjustment. In other words, you can go back and forth between modifying the overall “shape” of the gradient and refining the adjustments to be applied, until you’ve achieved the desired result for the image.