How To Use Invert Mask Creatively In Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Use Invert Mask Creatively In Lightroom Classic


Editor's note: Our October sale is on! Get 30% off our all Lightroom Classic ebooks, presets and video course with the code ml30. Click here to learn more. Thanks for reading, Andrew.



Adobe added the Invert Mask option to Lightroom Classic in the June 2022 (11.4) update. At first glance this may not seem interesting. But it’s actually a powerful tool that opens up lots of creative possibilities in the Develop module. It also makes it much easier to copy and paste Develop module settings, or create Develop Presets that work on different photos.

You can invert any mask in Lightroom Classic, but today I’m going to show you how it works with Select Subject and Select Sky. If you haven’t experimented with these new tools yet, then it’s time to start, as they open up lots of exciting possibilities.

Invert mask and Select Subject

With the photo below I’d like to make the background darker and play around with the colors. Masks are the ideal tool for this, so let’s begin. You can follow along with a photo of your own.

Lightroom Classic Develop module

Start by going to the Masks panel, click on Create New Mask and select Select Subject. Lightroom uses AI (artificial intelligence) to mask what it considers to be the photo’s main subject. 

Here’s the result. The overlay (set to Color Overlay on B&W) shows that the AI selected the red buddha head plus some of the background.

Lightroom Classic mask

That’s easy to fix. Click the Subtract button under the mask.

Lightroom Classic AI mask

Then use the Brush to remove the unwanted part of the mask. 

Lightroom Classic mask

Now you can make any adjustments necessary to the masked area. I set Clarity to +41 and Saturation to +18 to bring out texture and color.

The next step is to right-click the mask name (Mask 1 in this case) and select Duplicate and Invert Mask from the menu (this option is available in Lightroom Classic 11.4 or newer).

Lightroom creates a new AI mask, based on the first one and inverted with all the sliders zeroed. This is what the new mask looks like on my photo.

Invert Mask Lightroom Classic

Now you can adjust the sliders to achieve what you want. I set Exposure to -0.64 and Saturation to -17 to make the background darker and the colors softer. Here’s the final result.

Lightroom Classic Develop module

Invert Mask and portraits

You can apply this basic idea of making the subject brighter and the background darker to just about any photo with a well defined subject. And now, with AI masks, you can do it in with just a few mouse clicks. If you’re a portrait photographer you’ll love the effects that you can get. Let’s look at an example.

Below you can see a portrait and, on the right, a mask created using Select Subject.

Lightroom Classic mask

I made the model brighter by setting Exposure to +0.35 and Clarity to +15. Then I selected Duplicate and Invert Mask to make a new mask covering the background. 

Invert Mask Lightroom Classic

I set Exposure slider to -0.65 to make the background darker. This is the result.

Portrait developed in Lightroom Classic

Invert Mask and Select Sky

You can use Select Sky in a similar way with landscape photos. The Linear Gradient (formerly called the Gradient Filter) is the best tool for landscapes with straight horizons. But what if the horizon isn’t a straight line, like the photo below? That’s where Select Sky comes in.

Landscape photo

Applying Select Sky created this mask:

Select Sky AI mask Lightroom Classic

I moved the Exposure slider left to -0.93 to darken the sky.

Then I right-clicked the mask and selected Duplicate and Invert Mask from the menu. Lightroom made this mask over the foreground:

Invert mask Lightroom Classic

I increased Clarity to +20 to add some definition and brightness to the foreground. This is the result:

Landscape photo

Copying and pasting masks

The benefit of using AI masks (Select Subject and Select Sky) is that you can apply them to different photos by using copy and paste, sync or Develop Presets. In each case Lightroom recalculates the masks to match the subject or sky in the new photo.

This is how it works. Imagine that in the landscape photo above I used the Brush to mask the sky. It would have taken longer, been less accurate, and looked something like this:

Brush mask Lightroom Classic

Now imagine that I wanted to use the same mask on another, similar photo. I could copy and paste the mask, but it wouldn’t work on another photo unless the horizons matched exactly.

Here’s an example. I copied and pasted the mask from the photo above to the one below. As the photos are different, it doesn’t cover the sky accurately.  I need to make a new mask, which isn’t a big deal, but it does take time.

Brush mask Lightroom Classic

It’s different with AI masks. When you copy and paste (or sync settings or apply a Develop Preset) Lightroom recalculates both masks so they accurate mask the sky and the foreground. That means you can copy and paste masks and let Lightroom Classic do the hard work.

This is what happens when I copy and paste the masks from the first landscape to the second landscape. Lightroom recalculated the masks, and applied the same settings (Exposure -0.93 and Clarity +20).

Select Sky AI mask Lightroom Classic

The result isn’t perfect, but it’s easy to clean up with the Brush.

This is the result (before and after view).

Landscape photo Lightroom Classic
Landscape photo Lightroom Classic

AI masks and Develop Presets

Adding AI masks to Develop Presets lets you make presets for landscape photos that are far more accurate than anything you could do before. 

The same idea applies to other subjects like portraits. Here you can see the masks I made for the portrait above applied to a different photo. 

This is what the recalculated masks look like:

Invert mask Lightroom Classic

And this is the before and after views, with the model brighter and the background darker.

Portrait developed in Lightroom Classic

Hopefully the examples in this article inspire you to try out these techniques on your own photos. I’ve already gone through some of my older images and re-developed them in new ways using AI masks. It’s fun and exciting to see what you can achieve, and how creative you can get, so please try it out. 

Further reading

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module ebook

More great Lightroom Classic tips, tricks and tutorials!

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