New Local Adjustment Tools in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
New Local Adjustment Tools in Lightroom Classic

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The October 2021 update saw the addition of several new local adjustment tools to Lightroom Classic, which now has eight local adjustment tools, compared to three in earlier versions.

Adobe has also updated the way you use local adjustment tools. Now you access them through the new Masks panel, which gives you a better way of viewing and organizing your masks.  

Masks panel Lightroom Classic

This is all good news for photographers as making accurate masks has just got much easier. There’s a lot to get up to speed with, so let’s get started by looking at all eight of Lightroom Classic’s local adjustment tools.

Local adjustment tool #1: Select Subject

The Select Subject tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make a mask that covers the subject. You can now create masks in a few seconds that previously would take much longer to make using the Brush tool. 

I used Select Subject to make the mask in the photo below. The mask is shown by the green overlay, and the unmasked photo on the right. 

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

You make a similar mask using the Brush, but it wouldn’t be as accurate and would take much longer. If the Select Subject mask isn’t as accurate as you would like, you can use the Brush tool to refine it.

Another new feature in Lightroom Classic 11.0 is that you can invert any mask (in earlier versions you could only invert the Radial Gradient).

With Select Subject you can invert the mask to select the background instead. The screenshot below shows the mask that results from inverting the Select Subject mask in the above photo.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #2: Select Sky

Just like Select Subject the Select Sky tool uses artificial intelligence (AI) to make a mask that covers the sky. In practice it works well on some photos, and not so well on others. But when it doesn’t work as well as you might hope it’s easy to use the Brush to either add to the mask or erase it.

Here’s a mask created using Select Sky. In this case it worked perfectly and is much more accurate than the older technique of using a Linear Gradient modified with the Brush tool. This time the overlay showing the mask is red.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Again you can use Invert to select the foreground instead of the sky. This gives you a quick and easy way of selecting the foreground of a landscape photo.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #3: Brush

The Brush is the new name for the Adjustment Brush.

You’ll probably use the Brush tool less now as Select Subject gives you a faster and more accurate way of selecting your subject. But it’s still useful for those occasions when Select Subject doesn’t work, or for refining masks made with other local adjustment tools. It’s also useful for retouching portraits, making parts of the photo lighter or darker or for applying Clarity or Texture to certain parts of your photo.

It’s also the tool to use when you need an irregularly shaped mask that you can’t make with any of the other local adjustment tools. 

For example, I used the Brush to make a mask covering the rock in the foreground in the photo below, so I could make it darker.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #4: Linear Gradient

The Linear Gradient is the new name for the Graduated Filter, which is named after the graduated neutral density filter used by landscape photographers to darken the skies in their photos. 

You can use it in a similar way in Lightroom Classic, but it’s more helpful to think of it as a tool for making a selection that covers part of the photo from the edge to the center, especially now Lightroom Classic has a Select Sky tool. Here I used it to the make the right side of the photo darker.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #5: Radial Gradient

The Radial Gradient is the new name for the Radial Filter. Use the Radial Gradient when you want to create a mask shaped like a circle or an oval. You can make the Radial Gradient as big or small as you want. 

The updated interface now shows two circles instead of one. The inner circle shows the area fully affected by the local adjustment. The gap between the inner and outer circles shows the transition between the masked area and the unmasked part of the photo.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #6: Color Range

In earlier versions of Lightroom Classic you could only the Luminance Range, Color Range and Depth Range tools to modify a mask created with a Brush, Linear Gradient or Radial Gradient. Now you can use each of those tools independently, opening up a larger range of masking options.

The Color Range tool is for making masks based on color. For example, if you have a photo with a red subject, you can click on it to create a mask that covers anything in the photo with a similar color. This is an option you could try if Select Subject isn’t working well and you have a subject that’s a different color from the background, like in the example below.

Original photo:

Buddha head Shanghai market

Mask created by clicking on the red buddha (overlay in green):

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Tip: You can hold the Shift key down and click multiple times on the same photo to keep adding to the masked area.

Local adjustment tool #7: Luminance Range

The Luminance Range tool is for making masks based on the brightness of the pixels in the photo. Using the tool is simple – all you have to do is click once on the photo and Lightroom Classic creates the mask. You can then adjust the coverage of the mask using the Luminance Range scale.

For example, in the photo below:

Pueblo blanco Spain

I used the Luminance Range to make a mask covering the white wall, so I could apply Clarity to bring out its texture.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

Local adjustment tool #8: Depth Range

Depth Range is bit of an unusual tool that’s grayed out for most photos as it’s only an option for HEIC format photos made with an iPhone 7+ or newer. Even then you need to use the phone’s camera app set to Portrait mode or the camera in the Lightroom app (with the Depth Capture feature enabled) to access this tool. 

In either case the camera embeds a depth map into the file that Lightroom Classic can use to create a Depth Range mask.

Click on any part of the image and Lightroom Classic creates a mask covering the parts of the photo that are roughly the same distance from the camera.

Local adjustments Lightroom Classic

It’s of limited use to many photographers, even those of you with a compatible iPhone, because you’ll get a better quality image if you use the DNG format instead of HEIC (which is a compressed 16 bit file more similar to a JPEG than a Raw file). 

Masking in Lightroom Classic

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

How To Use The Lightroom Classic Masks Panel

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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Christine Danger November 11, 2021 - 3:46 am

Thanks for this really useful summary!

Jean Dance November 11, 2021 - 3:42 pm

Thank you Andrew.
I installed the new update and I am so grateful you have explained the adjustments
Jean Dance


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