Lightroom: A step-by-step guide to targeted adjustments (Part one)

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Back when I first started editing images in Lightroom, I quickly worked out how to make changes to my images, but I never really understood how to adjust isolated parts of an image. I might have wanted to just edit a bird in flight for example, or just sharpen the eyes of a tiger. I had no idea how to select just the deer in one of my images or adjust the colour of only the grass. And I was clueless about how to remove a yellow or blue colour cast in an image too – the list went on!

Does this sound familiar to you? Are you struggling to adjust individual elements within your images? Well, this tutorial is for you. I’m going to show you the exact steps I use to make targeted adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, and (hopefully) you’ll be able to do the same with your images.

What is a targeted adjustment?

Let’s start with the basics. A global adjustment is an adjustment to an image that makes changes to everything in the frame, while a targeted adjustment (sometimes called a local adjustment) makes changes (such as dodging and burning, sharpness, saturation, and other variables) to a specific area.

My workflow is simple. After I import an image, I first make my global adjustments – I adjust white balance, set a black/white point, and adjusting vibrance and saturation. Then, I’ll focus on correcting smaller issues within the frame with a series of targeted adjustments. For these adjustments, there are a few tools I use, but I’ll focus on two in this tutorial. They are the Graduated filter and the Radial filter, which we'll look at next week. 

Then, for each of these tools, there are three types of Range masks. A Range mask uses three types of masks (or methods) to make a selection. They are Color, Luminosity, and more recently, Depth.

With a Color range mask, a selection is made within the image using colour as a reference. You select the colour range, say reds, and only those colours will be targeted. With Luminosity, the selection is made based on light levels or luminosity levels. This allows you to, for example, make a selection based on the intensity of the light, such as bright areas and dark areas.

Finally, with a Depth range mask, you can select an area based on depth data contained in the image. This will only work if depth map data is included in your photo.

At the time of writing, this feature is only available with the latest camera phones, but it will become more common in future. For brevity, I won’t go into using Depth in this tutorial, but there’s plenty online about it if you’d like to explore it further.

Graduated filter – Color Range Mask

1) Select the filter

First, start by selecting the Graduated Filter tool (Keyboard Shortcut: M), located at the top of the Basic panel. Make the initial selection on the area to be selected by clicking and dragging over the area you’d like to edit (1) until you have it covered (2).

Next, check the Show selected mask overlay checkbox at the bottom of the image which will show your selection in a red colour. Once you’re happy, uncheck that checkbox.

2) The range mask

At the top of the Develop module, select the Range mask option (1), and then Color from the drop-down (2). Pick the Color range selection eyedropper tool (3) and move it across to the image. Click the colour in the image you want to target.

You can also select multiple colours by either clicking and dragging on different colours in the image or pressing the Shift key and clicking on the colours you want to select. I recommend selecting multiple colours with the Shift key option, as it helps to choose the area precisely.

Next, you can fine-tune the colour selection by using the Amount slider (4). If you increase the Amount, the colour range will broaden, and if you reduce the amount slider, the range will narrow.

3) Make your adjustments

Once the selection is made, on the Mask > Edit panel, you can make any targeted adjustments you like just to the chosen colours in the image. In this example image of an egret, I made adjustments only to the green grass in the foreground, which I made with tweaks to the Whites (+11), Blacks (-17) and Saturation (+20).

Graduated filter – Luminance Range Mask

Now that we’ve done a Color range mask using the Graduated Filter, let’s try a Luminance range mask.

1) Select the graduated filter tool

Like with the Color mask above, first select the Graduated filter tool located at the top of the Basic panel (1) and make the initial selection on the area to be selected (2). Check the ‘Show selected mask overlay’ checkbox at the bottom of the image. You will see the initial selection in red. Once you’re happy, uncheck that checkbox.

2) Select the luminosity range mask

In the Range mask option, select Luminosity from the drop-down (1). Now, with the Luminance range selection tool (2), click on the areas of luminosity which you want to select and edit (3). I prefer a smaller area as it will help to select a wide range of Luminosity precisely.

Then, check the Show Luminance mask option (4). Your image will turn to black and white to make the luminance values clearer and the selected area will appear as a red colour (or a red colour mask).

There are two additional sliders in the Luminosity range mask (5). The Range slider helps to fine-tune the Luminosity range, and Smoothness controls the gradient between the area selected by the mask and the non-selected area.

3) Make your adjustments

Once the selection is made, on the Mask > Edit panel, you can now make targeted adjustments to the particular luminance values you like. For this image, the adjustments allowed me to subtly tweak just the exposure of the sun at the top of the image (+0.92).

Next week, we'll explore the Radial Filter Tool - watch this space. 

About the author: Shreyas is an Adventure explorer, Nature and Wildlife Photographer. After photographing in different parts of India for more than a decade, he has focussed on what he is most passionate about: Digital Post Processing and Photography Mentoring. You can see more of his work and tutorials at

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