Photoshop Tutorial | How to Use the Graduated Filter Tool

When you’re shooting at a location with bright sun and a big open sky, like the beach or an open field, it can be difficult to expose your subject correctly without overexposing everything else. I don’t enjoy replacing skies or doing heavy edits in Photoshop so I often use the graduated filter tool in Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) to deepen the color of a sky without affecting the exposure and color of the rest of the image.

The below tutorial will work for you as long as you shoot in RAW and your sky isn’t completely blown out (check your histogram if you aren’t sure).

Here’s How To Use The Graduated Filter Tool in Photoshop ACR.

Here’s my original image, straight out of the camera, opened in ACR:

photoshop tutorial graduated filter

As you can see, the sky is nice and blue, but a bit washed out. I want to create a nice vibrant blue without affecting the rest of my image, so I’m going to add a graduated filter to the sky only.

First thing’s first, I will straighten my horizon.

Then I’ll select the graduated filter tool and drag the filter from the top of the image to just below the horizon line. The green dot should be at the top of your image and the red dot should be at the horizon.

Now you’ll see the graduated filter sliders on the right side of your screen. Adjusting these sliders will only affect the area from the green dot (top of graduated filter) to the red dot. You’ll notice that the area at the top of the image, closest to the green dot, are affected more than the area closest to the red dot. This is because the filter is graduated. This makes the tool really great for skies, as color is naturally more faded closest to the horizon.

Move the sliders until you get the color and exposure you want for your sky. You’ll also be able to increase saturation if you’d like. If you find that the vignette is too heavy or that the top of your sky is getting too dark, you can move your green dot up or your red dot down until you get the filter in just the right position.

Click into the HSL tab if you want to change saturation, luminance or hue.

photoshop hsl panel

You can do subtle adjustments to exposure, or go crazy and change the color of the sky. It’s up to you and your creative vision to create the look you want. I wanted to go really bold for the sake of example. I’ve decreased the exposure, increased the saturation and changed the hue of the sky using the graduated filter.

Now I’m going to click off the graduated filter by clicking the zoom tool (or hand tool). This will bring me back to the whole image and the main sliders.

Now I can make global adjustments to get the whole image looking just how I want it to look. These global adjustments will also affect the area where I just applied the graduated filter. I’m going to increase contrast and vibrance and decrease exposure, as well as adjust the white balance of my image.

As you can see from the final edit below, I’ve chosen to really push the vibrance of the sky. The day I took this photo was bright and sunny with a bright blue sky. This is how I remember it, even if it’s not exactly how it looked in reality.

Remember, it’s your photo and your edit. You can keep it true to life or be creative. The important thing is knowing how to use the tools that can help you achieve your vision. Using the graduated filter tool, I was able to take a nice image and create a whole different feeling.

Authentic Stock Photos | Miami Photographer

Here’s something you might not know about me… In addition to my personal photography projects and work with clients, I sell stock photos. I began working with Offset, a boutique stock photography company, about two years ago and have grown my portfolio to more nearly 500 images. Most of the images I have for sale are of my kids, my daily life or my travels. Sometimes friends model for me or I go out and shoot for a certain concept or idea. It’s been really fun to see which images Offset selects, and which images actually sell.

Here’s a little sample of the stock photos I have for sale…

girl basking in sun on beach, miami, stock photo
girl watering flowers, stock photogirl doodling on placematlittle girl sleepinggirl using electronics in car, stock photogirl having fun at beach, stock photogirl holding planted herbs, stock photogirl baking cookies, stock photogirl on adventure, travel, stock photo

You can view my full portfolio of stock photos on Offset here.

Here are just a few of the images I’ve sold that are now being used in magazines, ads and articles. I also found one of my stocks photo in Parents Magazine, which I came across totally by accident in the waiting room at my daughter’s dentist appointment! It’s really a surprise to see where my stock images will end up.

stock photos Elizabeth Ordonez

I love creating beautiful, authentic stock photos that fit with today’s marketing standards. It’s great to see companies adding real people and real life scenarios into their advertising. Because, really, that’s the world we’re in. What could be real than people doing the stuff they love doing? It’s been such a fun way to channel my photography into other areas and I hope my stock photos help grow the beautiful trend of authenticity in advertising.

Please check out my work for sale if you are interested in my fresh, natural take on stock photos. Or, contact me directly. Follow me on Facebook for modeling opportunities!

Stephanie de Montigny - I love that you take the time to capture your daughter’s life like this. It is definitely something I strive to do when I start my family!

Jackie Kelley - Wow how cool is that taking stock photos, I am sure Miami provides some really great backdrops for the photos. These are really great photos and your kids are adorable!!

Miami Newborn Photos | A Natural In-Home Session

I was so excited to meet this little lady! I did newborn photos for her sister two years ago and I couldn’t wait to see the family again. It is amazing what changes in just two years! Big sis is now a gorgeous little girl and little sis is the sweetest little newborn beauty. Here is big sister’s in-home newborn session, in case you want to compare. I think both newborn cuties were amazing.

Anyway, here she is! Tiny, adorable, newborn baby Isla. She’s all pink and squishy and already owns the hearts of mom, dad and big sister. Welcome to earth little one.

Miami in-home newborn photo session

Monica - I love these Elizabeth! Your newborn sessions look super fun! Can’t wait to have you photograph my family.

Photography Tutorial | Black and White Photography

Black and white photography takes a special vision, great lighting and a good conversion technique (if you’re shooting in color). The absence of color makes other elements stand out even more. You need to be especially aware of tones, highlights and shadow.

There are lots of ways to convert a color image to black and white. One of the quickest ways to do it is in ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) by simply clicking “convert to grayscale” in the HSL/Grayscale tab.


But chances are that, if all you do is convert to grayscale, your image is going to look muddy and flat, like this:


Do you see how the above image lacks strong tonal range and has an overall gray appearance instead of a wide variety of black and white highlights and shadows? Stronger light while shooting would have helped, but with a little bit of smart post processing I can make this a better black and white image.

Let’s look at my Black and White Photography Conversion Technique in ACR

Here’s the SOOC (straight out of camera) image without any adjustments.


As you can see, it needs a few basic adjustments, including a white balance and contrast adjustment. I’ll go ahead and do that first in the “basic” tab. My edits here are not exactly what I’d do for a color image, by the way.

Since I know I’m converting this to black and white, I’m leaving it a bit darker and adding some clarity to bring out the movement and contrast in her hair and dress.


Next, I’ll click on the tone curve tab and adjust the highlights and shadow to create a little bit more tonal range in the image. I’m basically making the bright areas brighter and the dark areas darker. Make sure to check your histogram so you don’t clip shadows or blow highlights on important areas.


Then I will open the details tab and reduce the luminance noise. I want this image to look smooth and not noisy. This is a personal preference. Some people like a bit of grain in black and white photography. At times, I do too.


Next I’ll click on the HSL/grayscale tab and click “convert to grayscale.” This is where you can really see the difference from the first image. Better already, right?


Although I think this looks pretty decent already, it’s not quite there yet. I’m going to add a few more details to make it better. I want my subject to pop even more.

So, next I’ll add a bit of a vignette by clicking into the Lens Correction tab and moving the lens vignette slider to -10. I just like vignettes. If you add one here, you can play around with the slider until you get the look you want.


Now I’m going to go back into my Tone Curve tab and click on the “point” tab. I’ll create an S curve for more contrast by clicking two points on the line, one on the shadow side and one on the highlight side. Drag the shadow point down slightly and the highlight point up slightly. Don’t go too crazy with this.


And here it is the final ACR edit. This is a pretty solid black and white image. There’s good tonal range and contrast to draw our eye to the important details. We have no real need to pull this into Photoshop…


Except that I always Photoshop! I want to crop this image a bit, add a bit of dodging and burning and add a little glow. I’ll do a ‘how to convert to black and white in Photoshop’ another time, but here’s my final Photoshop edit just so you can see the difference with the subtle extra details.


Black and white photography is an art that takes practice. By eliminating color, we draw attention to movement, time, texture, light and other elements that create emotion in a photograph.

Knowing how to convert an image to black and white can help you achieve your vision and amplify your voice in photos. As your grow in your work, you’ll probably learn many black and white conversion techniques. This is important in finding your own unique style. Have fun!

Newborn to Toddler | Miami Photographer

Over the last couple of years, I have had the pleasure of being invited back to photograph toddlers that I once photographed as newborns. I cannot tell you what an honor this is! It feels great to be trusted to capture those first moments in photos, but it’s an even bigger compliment to photograph these babies as they grow.

I thought it would be fun to put together a little newborn to toddler “before and after” post. It is so much fun to see how these little people change in just a short amount of time. Some toddlers look just the same as they did as newborns and others look completely different.

As you can see, my newborn photography style has changed a bit over time too!

newborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transitionnewborn to toddler transition

Maybe next I’ll do a sibling newborn photo comparison post. That would be fun, right? What do you think?

Shannon Cairns - Adorable! Wish we still lived in Miami so you could photograph our kiddos! Love your pictures and photography style.