Variety Masks Explained: One of Lightroom’s Most Powerful Tools

For years, Lightroom’s tools for selective adjustments left something to be desired. The “detect edges” feature often adds noise to soft areas like clouds, whereas the standard brush and gradient tools can affect too much of the image. Range masking fixes those problems.

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What Is Range Masking within Lightroom?

Range masking was added to Lightroom a few years ago and has since become one of my personal favorite post-processing tools. Lightroom provides two types of range masking: luminance (which selects servings of the image by brightness) and color (which really does the same by color). Both are very powerful ways to utilize local adjustments to the specific areas of an image you want.

For example , say that there is a bright cloud within your photo that you want to color without affecting anything else within the photo. You don’t be concerned about painting a perfect mask around the cloud with the clean tool. Instead, you can use a number mask to tell Lightroom in order to selectively edit the brilliant tones in the cloud plus completely ignore the rest of the atmosphere. Here’s how such an issue looks in practice, starting with the original photo:

Landscape with Bright Cloud
Panasonic S1R + 24-105/F4 @ 105mm, ISO 100, 1/125, f/8. 0

And then Lightroom’s survey of the range mask I created:

Range Mask Selection of Cloud in Landscape

At this point, any edits I make will affect only the areas highlighted in crimson, which allows for very nice selective post-processing. That’s what makes variety masks so powerful.

How to Use Illumination Range Masks

The process of using variety masks in Lightroom is rather straightforward. Here are the actions if you’re planning to create an illumination mask:

Along with Lightroom’s gradient or clean tools, paint over the entire area that you want to affect. It’s fine to include a little extra areas, but make sure to get 100% of the regions you will need.

General Selection of Cloud in Landscape

Look at the bottom of the local realignment panel. You’ll see a section called “range mask. Change it from “off” to “luminance, ” and this full dialog pops up:

Luminance Range Mask Dialog Lightroom

Click “show luminance mask” to see Lightroom’s preview and get a good feeling of what areas you’re affecting. Then, use the “range” slider to tell Lightroom which usually tones to affect. For instance , if you set the slider from 0 to thirty, you’ll only be affecting the dark tones – and if you set the slider from 35 to 65, you’ll only be impacting the midtones. In this case, We chose a range of 68 in order to 100, which isolated the particular brightest tones in the clouds. (You can also use the eyedropper tool to select tones, in case you prefer. ) Again, this is the mask I ended up with:

Range Mask Selection of Cloud in Landscape

After that, utilize the “smoothness” slider to make softer the mask or provide harsher edges. The default value of 50 is usually great, but feel free to adjust should you be getting halos or harsh effects.

Today it’s time to turn off “show luminance mask” and start actually making your edits! Any editing you do will only impact the tones you’ve selected (and, of course , only in the area of your own brush/gradient).

Same landscape with cloud darkened
Deepening the brightest areas of the particular clouds was easy with a luminance range mask.

How to Use Color Range Masks

The color range mask works in a similar way, except it selects areas based on color rather than brightness beliefs.

Rather than utilizing a simple slider to include or even exclude certain tones, the colour range mask tool utilizes an eyedropper tool instead. It looks like this:

Color Range Mask Dialog

All you need to do is click on the eyedropper tool, then simply click something in your photo of whatever color you want to adapt. Lightroom paints a cover up over those colors and excludes everything else. Pretty easy!

You’ll notice that the only slider involved is known as “amount. ” When the slider is at 0, only the parts of the exact color you selected will be included in the mask. However, when it’s set to one hundred, Lightroom barely takes your color selection into account plus instead applies the gradient/brush almost at full strength – almost as if there was no range mask at all. 50 is the default worth and usually a good choice, however, you may want a lower value if you want more isolated edits to the exact colors you’ve selected.

There are also 2 extended ways to use the eyedropper tool if the one-click method isn’t working well enough:

  1. Hold over the Shift key while you click a color, and you can select up to five colors with regard to Lightroom to add to the range cover up.
  2. Rather than just clicking, you can click and drag to select a much bigger area of the image for Lightroom to analyze the colors. (This can be used in combination with pressing the Shift key if you want to have several such areas selected. )

If you’ve added multiple color variety mask eyedroppers, and you are unhappy with one or more of them, you can Alt+Click (Option+Click upon Mac) to delete any kind of that are bothering you.

I used range masking for the image below because I was finding it difficult to brighten the yellow-colored flowers selectively any other method. This version is prior to I added the range mask:

Flowers before foreground brightening
Canon EOS R5 + RF 35mm F1. 8 MACRO CAN BE STM @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/10. 0

I actually couldn’t use the HSL board for the image above because it was adjusting the yellow colors in the sky as well (and adding some color noise). A standard gradient tool – with or without luminance masking – wasn’t a terrible option, however it selected a bit too much of the flowers’ stems for the taste.   So , the colour range mask was the approach to take.

In this image, I created a gradient that will only affected the foreground. Then I used the click+drag technique in the color range cover up to isolate the yellowish tones:

Click and Drag with Color Range Mask to Select Colors

You’ll note that this does incorporate a few of the green tones too, but is mainly focused on the yellow flowers. Then it was obviously a simple matter of adjusting the sliders in the lean panel to brighten the particular flowers to my liking. Here is the final result:

Yellow Flowers with a Distant Mountain
Canon EOS R5 + RF 35mm F1. 6 MACRO IS STM @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/80, f/10. 0

Note that with the color range mask, there is no “show color mask” option, therefore it can be a bit harder to inform what areas you’re impacting. You can get around this by simply pushing the “o” key in your keyboard, which is the shortcut for showing your local adjusting mask in Lightroom.

What Are Depth Range Masks?

You may notice that there are a third option in Lightroom’s range masking tool, together with luminance and color: depth. With most cameras, this option is going to be grayed-out, and you will not be able to use depth range masking at all.  

However , if you shot a. HEIC image file with a digital camera that supports depth mapping, you’ll be able to use this device to selectively mask locations by how far away they are. This applies to some Apple iPhones when shot in portrait mode but generally isn’t found on DSLRs or mirrorless cameras yet. In the future, we may see it become more commonly accessible.

Disadvantages of Range Masks

In general, range masks don’t have very many downsides and cause very few artifacts in a photo. It’s 1 reason why I prefer them within the “detect edges” tool or maybe the HSL panel most of the time. Nevertheless, if you do an overdramatic modify, you can end up getting some halos with range masking that may not have shown up with a more standard gradient or soft brush too.

Another minor downside is how the tools may not perfectly face mask your subject in every circumstance. For example , different parts of people’s confronts – their eyes,   lips, hair, skin, etc . – are generally so distinctive from each other in luminance and color that range face masks can’t select everything at once. If you want to make broad edits to people’s faces or even other such subjects, it’s better to use a standard brush tool than to rely on range masking.

Portrait photo with peace sign
NIKON D7000 + 17-55mm f/2. 6 @ 55mm, ISO 2800, 1/200, f/2. 8

But the biggest issue with range masking is more general. After years of modifying in Lightroom and a lot of additional post-processing software, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s better to do fewer local edits whenever possible, including range hiding.

This isn’t a few ethical crusade against local edits. There’s nothing incorrect with them in theory, and they usually can lead to results that are impossible to achieve any other way. However they demand a high degree of care. In practice, it is very easy to use local edits with bad outcomes (not just range masking, but even gradients).  

Specifically, if you have a large number of nearby edits, they can overlap plus compete with each other in unwanted ways, leading to color shifts, halos, and other artifacts. Choosing the source of these issues can be extremely difficult without deleting all your nearby edits entirely. Not to mention the particular slowdown penalty in Lightroom once you exceed about a number of local adjustments.

The process I recommend instead is to try to bring an image so far as possible without any local edits. Only once you’ve achieved that is it time to edit the locally – and even after that, I’d aim for just a few well-placed gradients or soft brushes if possible.

This particular applies to any local adjustments, including range masking. Just do not overdo it. Local adjustments are great features (and range masks in particular), in case you let them become your primary editing tool, you may find that your process becomes unmanageable.

Conclusion

I think about range masking to be the greatest feature added to Lightroom in years. It offers an elegant way to edit selective parts of an image without adding excess noise or other artifacts. And once you get the hang of it, it is very easy and intuitive.

While I still prefer to use global sliders as much as possible, range masking is really a helpful tool when you need to produce precision edits. I’d proceed so far as to say that a majority of gradients and clean edits in Lightroom can benefit from a range mask limitation. It’s a tool that I recommend learning for almost every Lightroom-based photographer.

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