I find that the graduated filters tool is a hidden gem of which many Lightroom (LR) users are unaware. To find it, go to the right side of your LR Develop module where all the sliders are, look under the histogram there at the top, and you’ll see five icons. The first is the crop tool, second is spot removal, third is red eye correction, and that fourth one, that is your graduated filter tool. To apply a filter, click a spot on the photo and drag into the photo in the direction you wish to apply the effect. For instance, click and drag down to make the intensity decrease from the top to bottom of your image.
They work like gradients in photoshop, but with somewhat different tools and application. Each time you apply one, you can adjust several qualities within the range of space you’ve set up for the filter, and it will apply at a graduated intensity from the direction you first ‘pulled on’ the filter. The qualities you can adjust are: exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation, clarity, sharpness, and you can also apply a color. So if you want to bring in some more color in a sky, or take out some perhaps distracting colors in the bottom of your frame, or perhaps you didn’t quite get the exposure right but not necessarily for the entire shot. Or maybe you just want to play, be creative, make a filmy light leak effect or some fun color gradients to create some magic…graduated filters are your friend! Here are a few screen shots to give you some idea, but the best way to learn is to play with it yourself, so get to it!
In the two screen shots below, the filter I am working with is indicated by the black dot with the white circle around it and the lines coming out from it. I am applying a creamy yellow graduated filter from the bottom up, at a slight angle. It is also adding more contrast to that area. In the second screen shot you can see the difference as I increase the sharpness to the area. This is my favorite use of filters besides the color, the ability to add a selective and gradual sharpness. There is another way to do this in LR, the adjustment brush is the 5th icon, right next to the graduated filter icon, but I find it more cumbersome and less easy to apply evenly. I’m just not as skilled with that tool, but it is also very useful!