The Luminar Adjustable Gradient filter is a great tool for all kinds of photography, but for landscapes in particular. It tackles that thorny old problem of bright skies and dark ground and the brightness difference between them.
You can fix this at the shooting stage by using a graduated filter on the front of the lens, but this takes a little longer to set up, and once you done it you’re committed – you can’t change the strength of the filter or its vertical position in the frame.
The advantage of applying a graduated filter digitally is that you get control over both of these things, and more. You do, however, need a starting image which has detail in both the sky and the ground. If parts of the sky are blown out to a blank white, there’s nothing that this filter or any other can do (though sometimes you can pull back a little highlight detail in a RAW file).
So our starting image is a good example. It has got detail in both the sky and the ground, but at the moment there’s a big difference in brightness and the picture looks pretty flat.
Step 01: Add the Adjustable Gradient filter
We don’t want to get caught up in any complications with presets and workspaces, so we’ve started by selecting Clear from the Workspace menu. Next, we click the Add Filter button and choose Adjustable Gradient from the top of the menu. This will be the only active filter for our photo, so it’s going to be a lot easier to see what’s going on.
Step 02: Adjust the Bottom
The Adjustable Gradient filter splits the image into two halves – top and bottom – with a set of adjustment controls for each. Let’s start by adjusting the bottom part of the picture, since this looks pretty dark right now. We can increase the Exposure setting to 100 right away – the exposure adjustments in this filter are pretty conservative. Adding a some Vibrance and a little Contrast give the sandy beach and that fleeting patch of sunlight near the dunes a bit more prominence.
Step 03: Adjust the gradient position
At the default settings, though, it’s a little hard to see where the gradient starts to take effect, so here’s a little trick for getting the positioning exactly where you want it. First, drag the Blend slider in the Orientation section back to zero. This gives the gradient effect a hard transition which you can easily see. Now you can use the Shift slider to move it up and down the image – for this shot, I think it needs to be just above the horizon.
Step 04: Adjust the Blend
When you’re happy with the position of the gradient, you can increase the Blend value again to smooth out the transition. Smaller values give you a very short transition zone which can work for level horizons with careful positioning, but in general it’s better to go for a softer Blend and a more natural transition.
Step 05: Adjust the Top
The sky is pretty dark and dramatic already because that’s how the camera’s exposure was set up. However, we’ll still give it a couple of tweaks to show how the controls work. A modest reduction with the Exposure slider makes the sky just that little bit darker, a boost with the Contrast slider makes the lighting look more dramatic and increasing the Warmth gives it a slightly stormier look.
The finished picture has a lot more drama and depth. It’s maybe a bit on the dark side, but could be easily fixed by adding the Brightness/Contrast filter, and if you use the Adjustable Gradient filter on a scene with a tall building or mountain sticking up into the sky, you can use the Luminar masking tools to remove the filter from those areas for a more natural appearance.