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How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1


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Lightroom’s Local Adjustment Brush is a powerful tool that creates the same spot editing power as layer masks – all without ever having to open Photoshop. 

lightroom-adjustment-brush-before-and-after11 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials

How to use the local adjustment brush in Lightroom

With Lightroom 4, you can adjust a wide range of common photo problems, from white balance to blown highlights and noise caused by high ISO photography.  The adjustment brush in Lightroom 2 and 3 is powerful too.  However, it can’t solve as many problems as the brushes in Lightroom 4 (white balance and noise reductions, in particular).

This adjustment brush can perfect a small area of your image as simply as choosing an effect and painting it on.  This two-part tutorial will give you ALL the information you need to use this tool to its full potential. You can use the adjustment independently or in conjunction with the Enlighten Lightroom Preset Brushes.  This will even give you the power to adjust the results of our presets after applying them.

Step 1.  Click on the adjustment brush icon to turn it on.

activate-lightroom-adjustment-brush1 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials

The Basic Panel will slide down, and the Adjustments Panel will appear.  When the panel opens, you will find the following adjustments available in Lightroom 4:

lightroom-adjustment-brush-panel-tour1 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials

 Here’s what each slider does:

  • Temp & Tint – white balance adjustments.
  • Exposure – increase to brighten, decrease to darken.
  • Contrast – increase (move to right) to add contrast.  Decrease to reduce contrast.
  • Highlights – move to right to brighten highlights, move to left to darken them (good for blown out areas).
  • Shadows – move to right to brighten shadows, move to left to darken them.
  • Clarity – increase (move to right) to add crispness, decrease to soften area.
  • Saturation – increase by sliding to the right.  Desaturate by sliding to the left.
  • Sharpness – paint on sharpness or blur.  Positive numbers increase sharpness.
  • Noise – move to right to decrease noise in an area.  Move to left to reduce global noise reduction – in other words, protect an area from the noise reduction you applied to the entire image in the Detail Panel below.
  • Moire – removes digital feedback created by small patterns.  Move slider to left to keep moire.
  • Defringe – remove chromatic aberration by moving to right.  Protect from improper chromatic aberration removal by moving to the left.
  • Color – apply a light color tint to an area.

Step 2.  Choose the settings that you would like to apply to a specific area.

Want to increase the exposure?  Move that slider to the right – it doesn’t matter how much, because you can adjust it after the fact.  Dial in as many adjustments as you’d like.  You can increase exposure and contrast at the same time, for example.

Step 3.  Configure your brush options.

  • Select its size first.  Yes, you can dial in a size in pixels using the brush size slider.   It’s much easier, however, to hover the brush over the area that you want to paint and use the ] key to make your brush larger and [ to make it smaller.  You can also use the scroll wheel on your mouse to change the brush’s size, if you have one.
  • Next, set the feathering amount.  Feathering controls how hard or soft the edges of your brush are.  A brush with 0 feathering is on the left side of this screen shot, and 100 feathering is on the right.  Softer feathers usually give more natural results.  When brushing with a feathered brush, your brush tip will have two circles – the space between the outer and inner circles is the area that will be feathered.lightroom-adjustment-brush-feathering1 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials


  • Now set the Flow of your brush.  Use Flow to reduce how much paint comes out of your brush with one stroke.  If you’ve chosen to increase exposure by 1 stop, for example, setting the flow to 50 will increase your exposure by 1/2 stop with the first stroke.  The second stroke will bring your total exposure to 1 stop.
  • AutoMask – turn on if you’d like the brush to read the edges of what you’re painting to prevent “painting outside the lines.”  This feature works very well – sometimes too well.  If you find that your coverage is spotty, like the photo below, you might need to turn off Auto Mask, especially if you aren’t near any important edges.lightroom-adjustment-brush-working-too-well1 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials
  • Density controls the total strength of the brush on any area.  For instance, if you want to use the same brush to increase exposure on a face by 1 stop but make sure that the hair’s exposure doesn’t increase by more than a half stop, adjust the Density to 50 after painting the face, but before the hair.  (I don’t use this one much, honestly.)

Step 4.  Start brushing.  Click and drag over the areas of your photo that you want to adjust.  If your effect is subtle and you’re not sure whether you painted the right area, type O to display a red overlay over the areas you’ve painted.  After you finish laying the brush stroke, type O again to turn off the Red Overlay.  Need to erase something?  Click on the word erase, configure your settings just like you configured the brush, and erase the areas you shouldn’t have painted – your brush will have a “-” in the center to indicate that you are in erase mode.  Click on A to return to your paintbrush.

Step 5.  Adjust Your Edits.  Let’s say you increased both Exposure and Contrast with this brushstoke.  You can go back and tweak those two sliders.  Add even more exposure and reduce contrast.  Or, increase Clarity to add it to the adjustment.  You can use any available local sliders to adjust this brushstroke.

The screen shot below shows one step of my edit on the image from the before and after above.  My goal was to lighten and bring out detail from the shadows of her hair.  The red overlay shows you where I painted, my slider settings are on the right, and my brush options below that.  I used two brush strokes to build up coverage gradually.


lightroom-adjustment-brush-example1 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials
This photo shows you a zoomed in before and after of the edit above only.  Curious about the other settings I used?  I completed this edit using MCP’s Enlighten for Lightroom 4.

I used:

  • lighten 2/3 stop
  • soft & bright
  • blue: pop
  • blue: deepen
  • soften skin brush
  • crisp brush




before-and-after-brush11 How to Use The Local Adjustment Brush In Lightroom: Part 1 Lightroom Presets Lightroom Tutorials

These are the basics of your first edit with Lightroom’s adjustment brush.  Come back for our next installment to learn about:

  • Multiple brush edits on one photo
  • Memorizing brush options
  • Memorizing brush settings
  • Using local adjustment presets (including those from MCP Enlighten!)


No Comments

  1. Terri on April 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for sharing this tutorial! I am so hesitate to start using lightroom. I keep putting it off to work with what I know and is safe, but this really inspires me to give it a try. Thank you so much!

  2. Bela de Melo on April 26, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    Hi Jodi. I’m new at Lightroom and enjoy your articles, thank you. On this particular article I admittedly do not see the difference between photo 1 and 2 other than that the skin seems to be more smooth. The hair “adjustment” – sorry but I don’t get it. Am I missing the point?

    • Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions on April 26, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      There were a number of subtle changes made via brushes to specific parts of the image. They were not global edits but small touchups using the local adjustment brushes.

      • Bela de Melo on April 26, 2013 at 2:33 pm

        Oh I see, so one would adjust only ever so slightly or as heavily as one wants, right? So it a matter of personal taste… Ok I think I get it. Thank you.

  3. angel on May 18, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Hi there. I’ve been using LR4 now for about 6 months and for some reason my adj brush panel doesn’t seem to be showing all my local adjustment options. Naming a couple, shadows and highlights are not available to me. I’ve checked the effects but they never appear as I switch to exposure or any other setting. So any temperature options are also not available to me. I’ve done many tutorials online to learn the program and feel like I might be overlooking a small detail. I’d appreciate any help! Here is a shot of my brush menu as it always seems to be. I know before I’d seen those other local adjustment options but now they’re gone. Maybe I hit some unknown short cut?

    • erin on May 21, 2013 at 9:19 am

      Hi Angel, click on the exclamation point at the bottom right hand corner of your workspace and update to the new process version.

  4. Valencia on December 12, 2013 at 12:25 am

    When I press O, the red mask showed. When I press O again then the blue mask showed. It’s weird. It doesn’t want to go away. Please help.

  5. Karsten on January 27, 2015 at 2:52 am

    When making adjustments with multiple brushes, I would like to be able to chech the effect of one/each individual brush, preferably using a keyboard shortcut, rather that turning all brushes on/off. Is there a way to do that? BR Karsten

    • Erin Peloquin on January 27, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Hi Karsten. As far as I know, LR does’t provide us a way to turn off one brush at a time. You can always delete a brush and then use the History panel to undo the delete.

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