Tech & Work

How to use the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom with a Wacom tablet

The Adjustment Brush is a handy tool within Lightroom, but you can enhance it further by adding a Wacom tablet to your editing workflow.

As an aspiring photographer, you not only look into tips to help capture better photos, but you're more than likely reading or viewing content about photo editing software to really make your photos pop. Previously, I shared an intro to the Adobe Lightroom software. This is one of my primary tools for photo editing. The intuitive layout of the software is great and it offers many useful photo editing tools—including the Adjustment Brush. This is a powerful tool for fine tuning your photographs, but you can make it even better: Use a Wacom tablet instead of your mouse or touch pad. Allow me to explain.

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What is a Wacom tablet?

Have you ever watched popular photographers on YouTube discuss a photo edit? Ever noticed they have a stylus in their hands to point to things on their screen? That stylus belongs to a Wacom tablet. The stylus acts as a pointing device by interfacing with the trackpad you connect to your computer. Think of a Wacom tablet as an interface allowing you to digitally draw onto your computer screen more naturally than with a mouse.

Wacom has a variety of tablets and displays designed for creative artists. If you look into some of its products, you may get sticker shock because a lot of the items are rather pricey. But don't worry—you can still buy a more affordable Wacom tablet and add it to your editing workflow. Personally, I own the Intuos Pen Tablet, which was only $99. I can use it in conjunction with the stylus (Wacom pen) as a mouse when I'm not being creative or just use it as a trackpad.

SEE: 2017: Must-have mobile photography gadgets and accessories (ZDNet)

Exploring the Adjustment Brush tool in Lightroom

The Adjustment Brush tool is located at the top of the Develop module in Lightroom (Figure A). You can also just press K on your keyboard to activate it.

Figure A

adjustmentbrushtool.jpg

You'll notice that the tool offers various effects and options that are similar to what you'd see under the general Develop module. It lists effects such as Exposure, Contrast, and Saturation (Figure B). This is where the Adjustment Brush gets cool. It allows you to leverage all those standard effects and options for an area you specify on your image—not just the whole image.

Figure B

adjustmentfx.jpg

For example, if I started editing a photo and noticed it was poorly saturated, I'd increase the saturation levels to give the image more color. This would make all colors pop. Let's look at the image from my GNARBOX review (Figure C). Notice my drone is in the background with its vibrant orange color.

Figure C

20170711-img9251.jpg

Image: Ant Pruitt

In this photo, I wanted to feature the product (GNARBOX) with the intent of showing it as an on-the-go product for content creators—hence the drone and other items visible in the background. To give more attention to the product and not the drone, I increased the saturation of the logo and decreased the saturation on the drone using the Adjustment Brush. Here's how:

  1. Select the Adjustment Brush tool and select the Saturation effect in the dropdown box.
  2. Using your mouse, click on or near the area you'd like to adjust. In this instance, the drone is my target. This will put a small circular mark on your image designating that the Adjustment Brush is activated (Figure D).
  3. With your mouse, "paint" over the area you want to adjust.
  4. When you're done, use the slider in the Effects panel to manipulate the area you're working on. In my case, that means decreasing the saturation on the drone.
  5. Click the Adjustment Brush tool again to deactivate it when you're finished.

Figure D

droneselection.jpg

Image: Ant Pruitt

You can follow these steps for any effect under the Adjustment Brush, not just Saturation.

I wanted to use this technique for the product logo, as well. The difference was that I wanted to increase the saturation slightly to bring out the green—just enough to make your eyes notice it there.

If you look at the design of the the drone, you'll see that the arms and legs vary in size, yet they're all the same color. Trying to paint a drone or any object with lots of curves or rounded edges can be challenging with a mouse. Sure you can zoom in on the image for a greater surface area to work with (Ctrl+ on Windows, Command+ on Mac), but painting with a Wacom is much easier and offers even better control.

SEE: How to create awesome long exposure photos (TechRepublic)

One great feature within the Adjustment Brush is its built-in pressure sensitivity. This allows you to dial in how you actually want to "paint" your adjustment area. In my product example, the more pressure I apply to the logo, the more green will increase. In the drone example, the more pressure I applied, the more the orange decreased. Again, couple this with zooming in on your image more and you'll get awesome control and precision with this adjustment. In the zoomed-in screenshot shown in Figure E, you can see the precision of my adjustment has a red overlay. That's where the green saturation will be increased.

Figure E

logosaturation.jpg

Image: Ant Pruitt

Note that you can also adjust the brush size with the bracket keys on your keyboard. Press [ to make your brush smaller or press ] to make it larger.

Conclusion

I can honestly say that there's no way I could be this precise using a standard mouse for this adjustment in Lightroom. I'd have to zoom in so much closer and use the Erase option more often to get the precision I need. All of that would increase my editing time. Using the Wacom pen makes jobs like this much easier for me.

Lightroom is quite useful when it comes to cataloging and editing photography. Its tools work well for my editing style, but some days I need more control and precision. Sure I could have pushed the image into Photoshop and used the dreaded Pen tool—but panning, zooming in and out, and just brushing through an edit with a Wacom is rather handy. Do you "need" a Wacom for photo editing? No. Does it help? Tremendously!

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Your take

Are you using a Wacom in your editing workflow? If so, what model are you using? Tag me on Twitter with your thoughts about it—and share your advice with fellow TechRepublic members in the discussion below.

About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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