Better editing using luminosity masks in Lightroom

Adobe’s Lightroom Classic is far from perfect, but I still use it for 90% of my editing. It’s easy to use, but gets a bit slow when using large catalogs and many modifications in one photo. The best part is of course that all your modifications are non-destructive. All modifications are stored in a separate file, so you won’t mess with the original photo. Lightroom now is better than ever with this addition: luminosity and color masks.

One of the things that was absolutely missing in Lightroom were luminosity masks. You would have to open your photo in Photoshop and do it there. Since I do 90% of my editing in Lightroom, I was very happy to have this feature in Lightroom. For those of you who are wondering what luminosity masks are, I’ll give you a brief explanation.
Luminosity masks divide you image in areas of darks, midtones and whites, based on the luminosity. You could create as many masks as you want and you would be able to edit each of these areas as you please. These mask are very precise and complex, so they are difficult to reproduce with a brush. With luminosity masks we can make very precise adjustments.

How does it work in Lightroom?

Let’s start with this example. It’s a photo I took in South Africa, near Cape Town. The coast there is beautiful and the mountains rise up right next to the sea.

mountains with clouds and side light
Original photo without any editing except for slight cropping

When I took this photo there was this spectacular side light bursting through the clouds coming in from the right and illuminating the rocks of the mountains. This seems a bit lost in the raw image, but let’s see what we can do to bring that back. Remember that raw files always look a bit dull, because what we saw on the back of the camera was the jpeg, which was already ‘retouched’ by the camera. Raw files contain a lot more information though. We will use a luminosity mask and a color mask, all in Lightroom.

Luminosity Masking

In Lightroom you will first need to make a new adjustment: a brush, a radial filter or a gradual filter. You make sure it affects the area you want to change.

This is our Adjustment Brush. It will be our starting point to make a more precise selection

If you use the brush, toggle off the Auto Masks, we will use the Luminosity mask to select only the area we want. Now in Range Mask select Luminosity Masks. When you do this, two sliders will appear: one for range and one for smoothness. Let’s start with the Range slider. By restricting the range you exclude darks or highlights from your selection. To see what is being selected press the Alt or Cmd key while moving the slider. What is being selected or masked is shown in white, what is excluded is shown in black.
Once you’re happy with what is selected you can move to the Smoothness slider. The Smoothness slider sets how your mask is blended with the adjacent pixels, if set higher the selection ‘feathers’ around the selection. When you move it to a lower value your selection becomes sharper.

Our selection after the Luminosity mask has been applied

Once you’re satisfied with the selection, you can make adjustments to your liking. In this photo I wanted to accentuate the light reflecting on the mountains, so the mask only works on the highlights. The light will look more dramatic now, with the sun breaking through the clouds.

Color Masking

A second option that is now possible with Lightroom is colour masking. This works in more or less the same way, but instead of selecting by luminosity, you select by colour. Let’s have a look at the same photo. I now insert a Graduated Filter on the lower part of the image.

A Graduated Filter before applying the Color Mask

I want to select only the green parts on the lower slopes of the mountains, but of course the Graduated Filter selects everything in the lower part of the photo. Instead of selecting Luminosity Masks , we now select Color. When we have selected Color, next to the Range Mask, we find an eye dropper. Select this and we can now choose the color we want to select directly in our photo. Pressing Shift you can pick multiple points on your photo. Now my selection looks like this:

The red area indicates where the Color Mask will have effect

I have now increased saturation of the greens slightly, reduced the shadows and changed the white balance. The end result looks like this.

This is the final image. Look how the rocks light up

As you have seen, you can make easily very complex selections, which would have been almost impossible with the Range Mask tool. You can now do even more in Lightroom, without going to Photoshop!

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. You are welcome to write us any comments or questions. We are passionate about photography and love to help you to make the best of yours!

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