DevelopLightroom Tips

How to use the Radial Filter to enhance portraits



 Update: I didn’t realize there was a color cast… thanks for the heads up. I am red-green colorblind (Now don’t you feel bad :P) and so I have now converted the images to Black and White which won’t affect the tip, but should make the images easier to handle. I usually have my wife or kids color check things for me… but I forgot to this time. :D 

“When should I use the Radial Filter?”

The answer is as varied as the images you take, but I thought I would give you a tip into how I like to use it to help add punch and drama to a portrait.

The image below is imported into Lightroom with no presets added.

This next image is what it looks like imported with my “Import Sauce” preset from my post last Wednesday. See the difference, if applied during import I am ahead of the game.

import sauce basic settings

Import sauce basic setting

Now the overall image may be just a bit hot in terms of exposure, but I want to add more shadows to shape the image using the Radial Filter and her face is going to be the brightest area, so I like where it is. My first filter is applied as if I am adding a controllable vignette to darken the area around her focusing on her face. I add to that by dropping the Clarity and Sharpness to soften the outer areas as well.

radial tip 1st settings

Notice Sharpness and Clarity are negative to soften the background area

Don’t just think of using the tool for light, but also as a great Shadow tool… darken her upper torso but leave her face alone to give the look as if there is a soft light focusing on her face. With any tool, ask yourself is it faster and more effective to add or subtract from the scene. Since we started with a bright image it makes sense to add shadows… if we start with a dark image we would probably want to add light and highlights. Since you can invert the mask, sometimes you will want to brighten up the face by inverting the mask and increasing the exposure, or as in this case focus on the surrounding areas with the regular mask.

radial tip 2nd settings

Just a little darkening of everything but the face

The final touch I add is using a Radial Filter on each eye to increase the Clarity, Saturation and Sharpness… It helps that she has large round pupils… so I make it easy on myself. I am always looking for the fastest way and if I don’t have to paint I go that route. This is especially true if you are using a mouse or touch pad… radial filters are easier to be precise.

radial tip 3rd settings

Eye tweak settings… flavor to taste

Finally, I want just a touch more vignette to really add drama… no painting, no big fuss… just a couple Radial Filters and finishing touches and I am done in seconds.

When to use Radial Filters? When it is faster and more effective… just need to be creative and understand how it works to get the most out of it.

If you will think of them as lights/shadows and circles of magical editing power, you may come to love them and use them as much as I do. I hope that will give you some ideas of how to play with them more. Have fun!



  1. Keith R. Starkey 4 March, 2015 at 15:59 Reply

    Sneaky and useful tip using the Radial filter to do a quickie on the eyes. That’s cool!

  2. Leslie 17 February, 2015 at 11:49 Reply

    I cannot find the preset for Import Sauce. Is there a download as in other presets? I looked back at “last week’s” post and could only find the preset for spotlight. I like this filter – thank you for showing it to me.


  3. Peter 5 February, 2015 at 16:41 Reply

    Weird. In the email alerting me to the blog post, the images are in colour, but on Chrome, Opera and Firefox browser all the images are in black and white…?

  4. Matt 4 February, 2015 at 10:20 Reply

    Very good review of the radial filter Pete. Got to agree with Ads though, the green tinted skin in the final screams for further fixing.

    • Pete Collins 4 February, 2015 at 10:22 Reply

      This is where being Red-green colorblind doesn’t help… I can’t see the tinting… I will have to do my usual and get someone to come color check it for me… thanks for the heads up. 😀

  5. Jackie 4 February, 2015 at 07:53 Reply

    I can’t figure out why that cooled her down exactly. I love the radial filter and use it quite often but I’m usually inverting the mask and brightening the face or the eyes. By careful placement and use of multiple radial filters you can really sculpt the light.

    • Pete Collins 4 February, 2015 at 10:44 Reply

      Jackie, I am not sure about the cooling… but then again, I was obviously having color issues… so I may have inadvertently goobed it up. I love using the radial filters to re-sculpt the light and most of the time I also tend to invert it to spot adjust.

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