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Range Masking is a relatively new feature in Lightroom Classic (it first appeared in version 7.2). If I had to nominate an under-appreciated feature this would be it!
For example, you may have read articles explaining how to use luminosity masks in Photoshop. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you have to export your photos from Lightroom Classic to Photoshop in order to use them.
Well, Range Masking gives you luminosity masks right in Lightroom Classic. This gives you huge workflow advantages as you’re no longer forced to send your photos to Photoshop, converting them to unwieldy 16 bit TIFF files along the way.
Naturally, you can do more with luminosity masks in Photoshop, but do you really need to? Most of the time you don’t.
Lightroom 6 users take note. If you’re looking for a good reason to upgrade to a Lightroom Classic subscription, this might just be it.
Note: Adobe added five new local adjustment tools and a new Masks panel in the Lightroom Classic 11.0 (October 2021) update. The way color and luminance masks work has changed, plus Adobe added Select Subject and Select Sky tools. You can get up to speed with the updates in my article New Local Adjustment Tools in Lightroom Classic.
How does masking work in Lightroom Classic?
If you’re new to Lightroom Classic you might be surprised to learn that masking works a little differently than in other applications.
In Photoshop, for example, you use masks to prevent part of the photo being affected by an adjustment. The term derives from advanced darkroom techniques used by printers.
But in Lightroom Classic adjustements are applied to the masked area instead (with the exception of an inverted Radial Filter). In other words, it’s a selection rather than a mask.
Once you understand this difference you’ll soon get the hang of how masks works in Lightroom Classic.
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What are Lightroom Classic Range Masks?
There are three types of Range Mask in Lightroom. You can use Range Masks to refine a selection already made with a Graduated Filter, Radial Filter or Adjustment Brush.
They are useful because they are often quicker and more accurate than using the Adjustment Brush to adjust the area masked (or selected) by a Graduated or Radial filter.
There are three types of Range Mask in Lightroom Classic.
Color: The mask affects selected colors only.
Luminance: The mask affects selected tonal values only. This is a variation of the luminosity masking techniques popular in Photoshop.
Depth: A newer option currently limited to HEIC format photos taken with newer iPhone models. It enables you to create a mask utilizing a depth map embedded into the photo file by the camera. The mask is based on what parts of the photo are in focus. It’s a niche application and we won’t cover it any further in this tutorial.
How to use Range Masking in Lightroom Classic
Now it’s time to see how you can use Range Masks to make more accurate selections.
How to use the Color Range Mask
We’ll start with the Color Range Mask. Imagine that you have a photo like the one below, and that you’d like to select the orange umbrella so you can use the Texture and Clarity sliders to make it pop.
You could do this with the Adjustment Brush (your only option if you have Lightroom 6). It’s easy, but it takes a bit of work to refine the mask so that it covers the umbrella but not the background.
Color Range Masking is a faster and more accurate alternative.
1. Use the Adjustment Brush tool to create a mask that covers the umbrella (see below – I’ve set the mask color to green using Shift+O so it’s easier to see).
2. Set Range Mask to Color and click on the Eyedropper icon.
3. Click on the orange umbrella. When you do this Lightroom Classic analyzes the color values of the pixels clicked on and refines the mask so that it covers the selected colors (and nearby hues) only.
Tip: Hold the Shift key down and click multiple times to add colors to the selection. You can also hold the left mouse button down and click and drag to sample a larger area.
Extra tip: Move the Amount slider left to increase the range of colors affected by the local adjustment, or right to decrease it. Hold the Alt key down when you move the Amount slider to see the mask in black and white. Anything included in your selection is white. Anything excluded is black. Gray tones are partially included.
Here’s the result.
The eyedropper icons show the pixels sampled to create the Range Mask.
Now you can adjust the Adjustment Brush sliders to get the result you want. For this photo I increased Texture, Saturation and Clarity. Thanks to the mask, Lightroom Classic applied the adjustments to the umbrella without affecting the background. Here’s the final result.
How to use the Luminance Range Mask
Luminance Range Mask works in a similar way, except this time you’re adjusting the selection using the brightness of the underlying pixels.
A common use of the Luminance Range Mask is to make the sky darker in a landscape photo without affecting the foreground.
For example, in the photo like the one below you might darken the sky to add atmosphere. You can do that with a Graduated Filter. But it’s kind of tricky because you don’t want to make the wooden poles darker as well.
One solution is to use the Adjustment Brush to refine the selection created by the Graduated Filter. But the Luminance Range Mask gets you there faster.
1. Let’s start with the sky. Start by applying a Graduated filter.
2. Press the ‘O’ key to show the Mask Overlay. Here, you can see the Graduated Filter affects the poles and buildings as well as the sky.
3. Set Range Mask to Luminance. Two sliders appear under the Graduated Filter sliders – Range and Smoothness.
The Range slider indicates brightness on a scale of zero to 100 where zero is black and 100 is white. The Graduated Filter affects all tones falling between the two sliders. With the sliders at 0 and 100, that includes everything.
For this photo I moved the left slider to the right to number 74 so that the Graduated Filter only affects only the lightest tones.
The exact number is unimportant. Just move the slider and judge the effect on the mask by eye.
Tip: Use the Smoothness slider to control the degree of graduation between masked and unmasked areas. The mid setting of 50 seems to work well for most purposes and gives a natural fall off.
Extra tip: If you hold the Alt key down while moving the Range or Smoothness sliders Lightroom shows you which tones the masks affects. Black areas are’t included in the selection, white and gray ones are.
4. Press ‘O’ again to hide the Mask Overlay. Move the Exposure slider left to make the sky darker. As you can see, I was able to make the sky darker in this photo without affecting the poles or buildings on the horizon.
Hopefully these two examples have shown you how useful Range Masking can be in Lightroom Classic. It really is quite easy to use and gives you far more control over the quality of your masks than earlier versions of Lightroom.
If you haven’t tried Range Masking before then I suggest you go through some of your older photos and give it a shot. You’ll get the hang of it quickly and you’ll have mastered a new tool that helps you develop your photos better in Lightroom Classic.