Introduction to the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom 4

Many of us who jumped on the Lightroom bandwagon at the beginning quickly learned that about 70%-80% of our work could now been done easier and faster in Lightroom than it could in Photoshop. We only needed Photoshop when we needed to manipulate pixels beyond simple cloning and healing tools. Adobe listened and with Lightroom 2.0 they gave us the Local Adjustment Tool. Over time, the local adjustment brush has grown in features and functionality. The Local Adjustment Tool is basically a masking paintbrush that allows you to apply different effects such as:

  • Color Temperature
  • Coolor Tint
  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Clarity
  • Saturation
  • Sharpness
  • Noise
  • Moire
  • Defringe
  • Color

Acting like a paintbrush, you can now make adjustments to discrete areas of your image which would have required going into Photoshop before. With the new tool, most photographers will be able to do close to 90% (or much more in many cases) of their work in Lightroom.

Using the Adjustment Tool

Once you are in the Develop module, the adjustment tool is in the upper right hand corner and looks somewhat like a paintbrush surrounded by a circle of dots. Once you select the brush, you will get the adjustment brush control panel.  After you choose which effect you want to use you can then adjust the amount of effect you want.

You can now begin painting the effect directly onto the image.  As you paint the effect will happen in real time showing you exactly what you are getting.  Unlike painting tools in Photoshop,  Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush does not support pressure sensitive drawing tools like tablets so you have to adjust the brush’s size, amount of feathering, the flow (how thick each stroke will apply), and density (the maximum “thickness” of the effect). For drawing close to edges, an Auto Mask toggle will try to keep you from drawing outside the lines.

The Adjustment Tool in Practical Use

While there are many different effects, for most of my work I rarely use more than exposure, saturation, and soften skin. I find these main three effects help me to do things like brighten eyes, remove unwanted shadows, bring more color into lips and irises, and smooth out the skin for a much more attractive look.

Before Editing

After Editing

In the example images of Jessica I used the healing tool to remove a few blemishes, I then used the adjustment tool to bump the exposure of the eyes, increase the saturation of the lips, smooth the skin, and reduce the exposure where the hair was blown out.

Making the most of the adjustment tool

There are a few tips that will make using the adjustment tools significantly more pleasant for those who don’t have massive supercomputers to run it on.

First off, do not turn on the auto mask feature until after you have already roughed out all of your painting. If you have auto mask turned on it will put a big resource load on your system from that point on whenever you have the adjustment tool active, save it for the fine detail work if needed. If you have a powerful system, this may not be an issue for you.

The way I like to use the adjustment tool is to first hit the H key to hide the starting point marker, and then hit the O key to switch to mask overlay mode, this will help you to see where you are painting and the intensity of the mask. If you draw outside your intended area, you can hold down the Alt key (option on the Mac) and erase areas where you don’t want the effect to occur.

Overlay Mode

Advanced features of the adjustment brush

At the bottom of the adjustment tool panel is settings that control how the brush behaves. You have access to three brush settings per adjustment, Brush A, Brush B, and the Erase brush. The main brush A is set to have some feathering to give a soft edge to your effect. Brush B is set by default to have zero feathering for fast edits of large areas. The Erase brush is used to remove the effects from an area. By using these different brushes effectively you can whip through your edits much faster.  The main setting for the brush that you will change the most is the Size of the brush, this can be changed easily with the mouse wheel and by using the [ and ] keys. The Feather setting determines how the effect feathers off to help blend it into the scene.  Less used but equally valuable are the Flow and Density sliders that were mentioned earlier.


The Local Adjustment Tool is one of the best features of Lightroom and allows photographers to do more of their work in Lightroom without having to jump into Photoshop for a lot of different adjustments. In future segments we will show more real-world ways of using these and other Lightroom features.


Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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2 Responses

  1. Lightroom 4 is wonderful software for photographers as well as those who are interested in photography. Though it is very difficult to get used to the interface of the software it is the best one that is now available in the market. Introduction to the adjustments brush was helpful in understanding the software better.

  1. July 14, 2012

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