Three Ways To Use Lightroom Classic Masks

by Andrew S. Gibson
Three Ways To Use Lightroom Classic Masks

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Lightroom Classic’s new masks tools are very powerful. Now we can make selections with an accuracy that simply wasn’t possible before. 

Today I’d like to give you some practical examples that show how the new masking tools work.

They show how versatile the new Masks panel is and how easy it is to use. 

Lightroom Classic masks example 1:  Subject and background

The first way you can use masks in Lightroom Classic is to apply different develop settings to the subject and background of your photo.

This works best with subjects like portraits, where the subject and background are clearly defined.

Take the portrait below as an example. I made it using natural light, so (unlike a studio) I had no direct control over the darkness of the background. 


But we can fix that in Lightroom Classic, with the new masking tools.

I started by going to the Masks panel and using Select Subject. This created the mask below.

Lightroom Classic masks

Then I clicked the three dot icon next to the mask and selected Invert. Lightroom Classic flipped the mask so that it selected the background.

Lightroom Classic masks

Then I moved the Exposure slider left to make the background darker.

Lightroom Classic masks

Next I used Create New Mask > Select Subject again to create a new mask covering the model.

I moved The Exposure slider right to make her brighter, and the Clarity slider right to bring out the textures in her clothes.

Lightroom Classic masks

The only thing is that I didn’t want to brighten the model’s skin. Nor did I want to apply Clarity to it. That’s easily fixed using Subtract.

I clicked the Subtract button below the mask and choose Select from Mask with… > Color Range and clicked once on the model’s skin to subtract those colors from the mask. I had to move the Refine slider right to get the best result. 

This is what the mask looks like with that adjustment. Now the Exposure and Clarity adjustments are applied to the model’s clothes, but not her skin.

Lightroom Classic masks

I finished by making a few tweaks to the brightness values of both masks until I got the result I wanted. You can see the difference below.

Before and after portraits

Lightroom Classic masks example 2:  Subtracting masks (again)

Here’s another example that shows the power of subtracting masks.

I started with this photo:

Travel photo

I used Select Subject to select both the old van and the shed next to it. This is the mask.

Lightroom Classic masks

I then increased Exposure and Clarity to bring out those elements in relation to the background.

Lightroom Classic masks

Then I made a second mask using Select Subject and inverted it.

Lightroom Classic masks

I moved the Exposure slider left to make the background darker, and the Saturation slider left to reduce the intensity of the blue in the sky. This makes the yellow of the old van stand out even more.

Lightroom Classic masks

Next I used Select Subject again to select the van and the shed. This time I wanted to make adjustments to the van but not the shed. So I clicked Subtract again, selected the Adjustment Brush and erased the part of the mask that I didn’t need. This is the result.

Lightroom Classic masks

I moved the Exposure slider right to brighten the van, added Clarity to bring out the textures even more and increased the Saturation. The before and after examples below show the result of these local adjustments.

Travel photo before
Travel photo after

Lightroom Classic masks example 3:  Adding masks

In this next example I’m going to show you how you can add a mask.

I started with this photo:

Still life photo

I used Select Subject hoping it would select the tomatoes and the dish. But as you can see in the screenshot below, Lightroom Classic didn’t select all of the subject (I set the overlay color to green so you can see it better).

Lightroom Classic masks

So what’s the quickest way of adding the unselected parts of the dish to the mask? I Clicked the Add button and tried Color Range and Luminance Range, but they also selected other parts of the photo. 

So I used the Brush with Auto Mask on to get a smooth selection along the edges of the dish. This is the resulting mask.

Lightroom Classic masks

I added Texture and Clarity, and moved the Shadows slider right to compensate for the way this darkened the selection. You can see the result in the before and after photos below.

Still life photo before
Still life photo after

Practice using masks

These examples show you some of the interesting and creative ways that you can use Lightroom Classics masks. The best way to get a feel for what you can do is to experiment and play with the new tools.

An easy way to get started is to re-develop some of your favorite photos. Can you get a better result with the new tools? 

I suggest you pick five of your favorite images, add them to a new Collection, and give it a try. Don’t forget to make Virtual Copies so that you’re working on new versions.

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