Using the Levels or Curves adjustment masks with a Gradient Mask

Photoshop and Photoshop Elements adjustment layers

Analyses

You have a photograph where you want to enhance the sky or the foreground but a Levels or Curves adjustment layer will affect the entire landscape making part of it too "dark" or too "light" as you can see below.

Here is how to "fix-it" with a gradient mask...

Look in the Option bar. When you click inside the gradient display with the mouse pointer, the gradient "editor" will pop open as seen below. Choose "Black, white."

Close the Gradient Editor by clicking "OK".

The mouse arrow will become a small "+" cursor... Now draw the gradient on the photo, (Hold down the mouse button and draw)... You'll see the gradient in the mask window in the layers palette... you might have to undo and change the direction of the gradient by clicking the reverse button in the option bar.

and you are done... you can use a soft brush and paint with black or white to change the edges of the mask...


Gradients in Lightroom

The Gradient button in the Develop Module (The M Key)

In the Develop module. Three clicks of the mouse and you are done...except for the settings

The Gradient Panel in Lightroom 4.1

LR-GradientsThe gradient panel in Lightroom 4.1 is very robust. You can add more than one "Shades of Gray" gradient.

In addition to a simple gradient, you can make adjustment settings from the Basic "Develop" Panel, The Detail Panel and you can add a color filter.

However, you cannot use the "alt"/"option" key to see a mask that shows how the Develop settings are affecting your image.

Lightroom has some built in "Presets" that you can apply ("Toggle" the Custom Button.) You can also save settings for future use...

lr%20presetsPre-sets
Click the Custom Button...

Gradients in Camera Raw

The gradient button (G key)

CR-gradient

Choose the gradient button. Three clicks of the mouse and you are done... Except for the settings...

The Gradient Panel in CS 6

PS-Gradients The gradient panel in Camera Raw (Photoshop CS 6) is very robust. You can add more than one "Shades of Gray" gradient.

In addition to a simple gradient, you can make adjustment settings from the Basic "Develop" Panel, The Detail Panel and you can add a color filter.

However, you cannot use the "alt"/"option" key to see a mask that shows how the Develop settings are affecting your image.

You can save your settings as a preset for later use... Press the parallel lines with the little down arrow...in at the top right the Gradient Panel. If you haven't saved a preset a box pops up that says "New Local Correction Setting..."

Local

Keyboard shortcuts

Duplicate layer
Command + J (PC)
Control + J (Mac)
Select the Gradient tool
G key in Photoshop Camera Raw
The M key in Lightroom's Develop Module

You can assign your own keyboard shortcuts for adjustment layers. Here's a short video, It's a Photoshop Killer Tip by Matt Kloskowski at Layer's Magazine