How to Use the Adjustment Brush in Adobe Lightroom

Lightroom is an amazing tool for photographers to use to cull and edit their photos. It isn't as sophisticated or complex as Photoshop which is perfect for me because I don't have the patience to learn all that Photoshop has to offer.

I've been a photographer for over a decade and I've used Lightroom exclusively for the last six years. Lightroom gives me all of the tools I need to successfully cull and edit an entire session from start to finish.

Today I want to share with you some insight into my favorite tool in Lighroom: the adjustment brush. This brush is what takes my photos from "pretty good" to "WOW."

Are you ready to WOW your photos? Of course you are! Let's get started!



STEP 1: find the brush

This is a screen grab of the top set of editing tools in Lightroom. What we are going to be learning about today is the adjustment brush which can be found directly under the histogram and all the way to the right. It is the very last tool in the line of 6 tool icons (it looks like a makeup brush).

STEP 2: figure out what the brush can do

Click on the brush and you should see this  


This is where you can make adjustments to only parts of your image and get really detailed! You'll notice that when you select this tool and then move your mouse over the image you have a circle around your curser. This is the area your adjustments will effect.. You can make the circle bigger or smaller with your tracking mouse or using the "size" adjustment toward the bottom under "brush." Ok so now that you know how to get the adjustment brush working, let's see what we can do with it! 

Next to "effect" at the top you will see the word "custom" with some up and down arrows next to it. LR likely has some adjustment brushes ready to go for you and you can create your own unique brushes as you get comfortable with it.

STEP 3: start making adjustments

Before I start working with the adjustment brush I like to zoom in on the part of the image that I want to make changes to. So step 1, zoom, step 2, select the adjustment brush tool from your top editing menu. Now we can start changing things. 

In this image I've made all of the basic adjustments I need to on the main editing page and now I'm ready to use the adjustment brush. 

For this particular image I want to darken her eyebrows, brighten her eyes and smooth her skin.

Each dot on this image represents where I've made changes with the adjustment brush and the dots can only be seen in the adjustment brush editor. 

To darken her eyebrows I created a "burn" (darken) brush. I did this by using the custom setting and then dropping the exposure to about -.30. From there I just went to the area that I wanted to darken, adjusted my brush size to what I needed and then "brushed" over the area by clicking and holding down my mouse and moving it over the area that I needed to burn (darken). 

STEP 4: only make adjustments where you want them

After you've made the first adjustments that you want to make (for instance, everything you want to darken/burn) you will need to select "new" on the top right across from where it says "mask." This will ensure that you don't darken areas that you don't want to darken. It starts a brand new mask. 

The second adjustment I made was to brighten (or lighten AKA dodge) her eyes. I started a new mask and bumped up the exposure to about +.25. Sometimes with eyes specifically I also bump up the sharpness to about +18. 

Next I want to smooth out her skin. Time for a new mask! This time I only want to adjust the clarity (-20) and sharpness (-40). 


Something to note: when you make your adjustments and then decide you want to maybe go back to the first one and make it darker, just go back into your AB tool, click on the circle on your image where you made that burn (darker) adjustment and then bump your exposure down. This change will effect everything you did with that initial brush. This is why every time you want to change what you're adjusting you need to create a new mask.

Make sense?


Go forth and create some "WOW" images with your adjustment brush!!


*if you want to learn how to do more in Lightroom just sign up below for my 2 week Lightroom Lessons course! In the course I cover things like using the HSL sliders, histogram, tone curve, and more amazing tools.