How To Use The Lightroom Classic Masks Panel

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Use The Lightroom Classic Masks Panel

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In my previous article I showed you Lightroom Classic’s new local adjustment tools. Today we’re going to look at its new masking tools, which are found in the Masks panel.

The way you make and organize local adjustments in Lightroom Classic has changed. Everything is done through the Masks panel, which makes it easier to find, see and edit your local adjustments.

The new tools may seem confusing at first but they’re a big improvement on the old way of doing things. Let’s start by recapping the changes to the interface.

1. Adobe has redesigned the Toolstrip under the Histogram panel. The new Masking icon (marked below) replaces the old Graduated Filter, Radial Filter and Adjustment Brush icons.

Masking iconl Lightroom Classic

2. If you’ve already added at least one local adjustment to the photo, clicking the Masking icon opens the Masks panel to the left of the Histogram (marked below).

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

3. If you haven’t made any local adjustments yet then the masking options open up under the Toolstrip (marked below). Create a mask by clicking on one of the eight masking options.

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

Masking shortcuts

You can use keyboard shortcuts to get to any of the masking tools, except Select Subject and Select Sky, faster:

Brush (K)

Linear Gradient (M)

Radial Gradient (Shift + M)

Color Range (Shift + J)

Luminance Range (Shift + Q)

Depth Range (Shift + Z)

Tip: Click the small i icon at the top right of the Masks panel to see a full list of shortcuts, plus links to Adobe help articles:

Masking shortcuts in Lightroom Classic

What is a mask?

Masks originated in the darkroom where printers used them to hide (or mask) part of the photo so that it was unaffected by light from the enlarger.

In apps like Photoshop masks are also used to protect part of the image from an adjustment. For example, let’s say you are adjusting levels to make the photo darker. The masked part of the photo remains unchanged, and the unmasked part of the photo gets adjusted (made darker in this case). There’s also usually a transitional area in-between that’s partially affected by the adjustment.

But in Lightroom Classic it’s the opposite. A mask shows which part of the photo is going to be affected by the local adjustment you intend to make. In other words, a mask is a selection. You may prefer to call it that if you find the way that masks work in Lightroom Classic confusing.

The Masks panel is important because it lets you see all your masks at a glance.

The screenshots below show some different masks / selections in Lightroom Classic. The red overlay shows where the mask / selection is, and which parts of the photo are affected by the local adjustment.

Here’s a mask made using  the Radial Gradient tool. The outer red area is affected by the local adjustment, but the central clear area isn’t.

Masking in Lightroom Classic

This mask was made using the Brush tool. The cliffs on the horizon are affected by the adjustment, and the rest of the image isn’t.

Masking in Lightroom Classic

The third mask was made using the Select Sky tool. The sky is affected by the adjustment, but the rest of the photo isn’t.

Masking in Lightroom Classic

The Masks panel

The Masks panel organizes all the masks associated with the photo currently open in the Develop module. 

If you open the Masks panel (by clicking the Masking icon) and you made local adjustments using an earlier version of Lightroom Classic, you’ll see something like the screenshot below.

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

Your local adjustments still exist, it’s just that you can now find them by going to the Masks panel. It’s quicker and easier than the old way of activating a local adjustment tool and searching the photo for pins.

Click on a Mask once to select it, and again to reveal a submenu that shows you which masking tools were used to make the mask.

For example, in the screenshot below Mask  2 shows a Linear Gradient modified using Luminance Range Masking. You can no longer do this in Lightroom Classic 11.0 or newer, but the older mask is still there. 

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

Click the double-arrow icon at the top of the Masks panel to minimize it.

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

Alternatively, you can click and drag the Masks panel to relocate it under the Toolstrip. 

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

This is my preference as it gives the clearest view of the photo you’re working on.

Double-click on a mask (Mask 1 etc.) to rename it. This useful function lets you give masks meaningful names to make it easier to find the one you want. 

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

Masking in Lightroom Classic

You can learn more about the new masking and local adjustment tools in Lightroom Classic in these articles:

New Local Adjustment Tools in Lightroom Classic

How to Use Overlays in Lightroom Classic’s New Masks Panel

The Masks panel is covered in full detail in my ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module, which you can buy today for just $12.

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Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book Two – The Develop Module ebook

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Timothy Auger November 23, 2021 - 10:26 pm

In a Photoshop context the term ‘masks’ has always scared the hell out of me. I wish Lightroom had called this new development ‘Selections’ – I would have been much more relaxed! 😉

Bill Fosdick November 24, 2021 - 8:17 pm

I love the new masking tools and know I will love them even more after following your notes. Subject selection is such a joy for my portraits. Thanks Andrew for your pithy descriptions and explanatory images

Satya paraja February 13, 2023 - 2:44 am

How to unlock masking tools

Andrew S. Gibson February 13, 2023 - 12:13 pm

Click the Masking icon under the histogram.


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