Lightroom: A Step-by-Step Guide to Targeted Adjustments (Part One)

By Shreyas Yadav | February 1, 2022

When I started editing images in Lightroom, I quickly learned how to make changes to my images, but never really understood how to adjust isolated parts of an image. I might have just wanted to retouch a bird in flight for example, or simply sharpen the eyes of a tiger. I didn’t know how to select only the deer in one of my images or adjust the grass color only. And I wasn’t sure how to remove a yellow or blue color cast in an image – the list goes on!

Sound familiar? Do you have trouble adjusting individual elements in your images? Well, this tutorial is for you. I’ll show you the exact steps I use to make targeted adjustments in Adobe Lightroom, and (hopefully) you can 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 changes everything in the frame, while a targeted adjustment (sometimes called a local adjustment) makes changes (such as dodge and burn, sharpness, saturation, and other variables) to a specific area.

My workflow is simple. After importing an image, I first make my overall adjustments – adjust white balance, set a black/white point, and adjust vibrance and saturation. Then I’ll focus on fixing small issues in the frame with a series of targeted tweaks. For these adjustments, I use a few tools, but I’ll focus on two in this tutorial. These are the Graduated filter and the Radial filter, which we’ll cover next week.

Then, for each of these tools, there are three types of beach masks. A range mask uses three types of masks (or methods) to make a selection. These are color, brightness and, more recently, depth.

With a color range mask, a selection is made in the image using the color as a reference. You select the range of colors, say reds, and only those colors will be targeted. With Brightness, the selection is based on lighting levels or brightness levels. This allows you, for example, to make a selection based on light intensity, such as light areas and dark areas.

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

As of this writing, this feature is only available with the latest camera phones, but it will become more common in the future. For the sake of brevity, I won’t cover using Depth in this tutorial, but there are plenty online about it if you want 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 you want to select by clicking and dragging the area you want to change (1) until you have covered it (2).

Next, check the Show selected mask overlay box at the bottom of the image which will display your selection in red. Once you are satisfied, uncheck this box.

2) The range mask

At the top of the Develop module, select the Range Mask option (1), then Color from the drop-down list (2). Pick the Color Range Picker Eyedropper Tool (3) and move it over the image. Click on the image color you want to target.

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

Then you can refine the color selection using the Amount slider (4). If you increase the amount, the range of colors widens, and if you decrease the amount slider, the range will narrow.

3) Make your adjustments

Once the selection is made, in the Mask > Modify panel, you can make any targeted adjustments you want just to the chosen colors in the image. In this example image of an egret, I made adjustments only to the green grass in the foreground, which I did with adjustments to whites (+11), blacks (-17) and saturation (+20).

Graduated Filter – Luminance Range Mask

Now that we’ve created a color range mask using the graduated filter, let’s try a luminance range mask.

1) Select the graduated filter tool

As 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 over the area to be selected (2). Check the “Show selected mask overlay” box at the bottom of the image. You will see the initial selection in red. Once you are satisfied, uncheck this box.

2) Select the brightness range mask

In the Range Mask option, select Brightness from the drop-down list (1). Now with the Luminance Range Selection Tool (2), click on the areas of luminosity you want to select and modify (3). I prefer a smaller area as it will help to accurately select a wide range of brightness.

Next, check the Show Luminance Mask option (4). Your image will change to black and white to make the luminance values ​​brighter, and the selected area will appear red (or a red colored mask).

There are two additional sliders in the brightness range mask (5). The Range slider helps refine the range of brightness, and Smoothness controls the gradient between the area selected by the mask and the unselected area.

3) Make your adjustments

With the selection made, in the Mask > Modify 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 sun exposure at the top of the image (+0.92).

Next week we’ll be exploring 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 over a decade, he has focused on what excites him the most: digital post-processing and photography mentorship. You can see more of his work and tutorials at

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