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Luminosity Masks 10th Anniversary−A brief history of how it all started

November 13, 2016

Today is the 10th anniversary of my original luminosity masks tutorial.  It was linked in this post on NPN on November 13, 2006.  NPN is a wonderful website to participate in image critique and improve photography skills.  I had been posting images here for a few years prior.  The tutorial was meant to be a way to share a Photoshop secret with my many friends on the forum.   Here’s how it came to be.

I had been using luminosity masks for about 8 months before the tutorial was published.  I first saw the term in a spam email in March that year, and, not knowing what a “luminosity mask” was, I turned to Google for answers.  At the time, there wasn’t much to go on.  I was able to piece together the method to make the initial selection, Lights-1, using Alt+Ctr+tilde in Photoshop 7.  Looking at the mask I immediately knew this could very useful.  A perfect mask created from the image itself.  How cool!  I understood Photoshop masks, but this “luminosity mask” was quite unique compared to the masks I was making with Photoshop’s standard selection tools.

I was instantly hooked.  I soon started using luminosity masks all the time because they worked all the time.  My images quickly improved.  The luminosity masks and selections I used were created ad hoc by adding, subtracting, and intersecting the initial Lights mask and other masks derived from it.  It was not an orderly process, but I could eventually find the mask I needed to target the tones I wanted to adjust.

Given how much I liked them and how little information I could find, I decided to try writing a tutorial that explained luminosity masks to others.  This project started in late May 2006 and continued until mid-September.  In addition to the challenges of writing and illustrating a tutorial for the first time, I also had to figure out how to explain the creation of these crazy (but very useful) masks on the fly as I developed images in Photoshop.

It was while writing the tutorial that I found the answer.  I realized that focusing on “intersection” for the Lights and Darks series and “subtraction” for the Midtones would provide the needed framework for photographers to understand and visualize how these masks could target different tones.  I wrote the first set of actions to make luminosity masks during the summer of 2006 and used them to create the tutorial’s illustrations.  I also quickly realized these actions were much better than the ad hoc masks I had been cobbling together previously.  They provided a huge efficiency boost compared to the “freehand” method.  I could now do in one click what had been taking me several minutes before.

I was somewhat nervous as I prepared to post a link to the tutorial on NPN.  There was still considerable disdain surrounding Photoshop manipulation in 2006.  We all knew photographers were doing it, but most were reluctant to admit how much. Once posted, this tutorial would out me as an enthusiastic manipulator.  Plus luminosity masks felt like an overly geeky process compared to the standard Photoshop tutorials of the time.  Would readers be able to follow along?  Would they even be interested?  Regardless of these concerns, I had come to love this technique, and after over 3 months of writing, editing, illustrating, and recording actions, it was definitely time to set it free.

It turned out I was right about one thing . . . luminosity masks. They are indeed a useful technique for developing images in Photoshop.  I was totally wrong, however, on how they would be perceived by the photographic community.  Even in the manipulation-averse culture of 2006 they were quickly and enthusiastically embraced.  The method for making luminosity masks described in the tutorial was adopted by other photographers and even became the standard of practice for a soon-to-emerge flock of luminosity mask experts.  No one was more surprised than me that there would be this level of interest . . . or that luminosity masks would still be going strong a decade later.

While I didn’t coin the term “luminosity mask” (thankfully there was no spam filter on my email back in 2006), I am happy that this tutorial introduced them to a mainstream audience.  I’m also pleased to have been able contribute to the body of knowledge about luminosity masks with additional tutorials on luminosity painting, mask painting, subtracted masks, 16-bit luminosity masks, infinity masks, and several blog posts.

But written tutorials only go so far.  The world prefers videos, and this luminosity mask anniversary would be incomplete without acknowledging Sean Bagshaw.  His video series are the clearest, best organized, most informative, concise yet thorough video instruction available on luminosity masks, and his examples demonstrate how they can be personalized to any workflow.  There’s no doubt that Sean has helped many photographers grasp and ultimately harness the power of luminosity masks.

While the awareness, acceptance, application, and appreciation of luminosity masks has increased dramatically since that first tutorial, there’s still more to come.  I love luminosity masks as much today as I did in 2006 and continue to experiment both with the masks and the extension panels that make them possible.  I have a goal of making luminosity masks and these panels even smarter, faster, and more fun to use.  While the first decade was a good start, I still have ideas that I want to explore and share.  Please stay tuned.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. Dave Fligg permalink
    November 13, 2016 7:23 am

    Congratulations and well done. Your efforts are much appreciated. You really do make a difference to the enjoyment of my hobby.
    Thank you again.


  2. November 13, 2016 7:30 am

    Thank you Tony and Sean for opening my eyes to these techniques. You guys are the pioneers in this.


  3. permalink
    November 13, 2016 7:52 am


    WOW! Time flies, doesn’t it. I was there with you from the time you first published. It was obvious to me that you were using some Photoshop technique to create your beautiful photos. I was so happy that you chose to share it with the world! My testimonial from NPN was one of the first on your website and I was honored to have it there. Congratulations on your your 10 year anniversary!

    Barry Siegel


  4. Lightscap3s permalink
    November 13, 2016 7:59 am

    Congratulations and Thank You Much Tony!


  5. Richard Wise permalink
    November 13, 2016 8:10 am

    Congratulations on your 10 year anniversary and thank you and Sean for all your good work that has, I’m sure, helped many people to understand Photoshop just that little bit more.


  6. November 13, 2016 8:19 am

    Tony, congratulations on your significant contribution to the proliferation and widespread use of luminosity masks over the past ten years! You have been THE pioneer (along with the talented photographer and educator Sean Bagshaw) in this field.
    Many have tried to take credit for having been the ones to have developed these techniques but your’s is the honour alone.
    Being a humble amateur photographer I lay no particular claim to be able to utilise your techniques and panels (coupled with Sean’s instructional videos) to their fullest extent. Nevertheless, you have certainly helped to improve my post processing skills dramatically.
    I am sure everybody is looking forward to what next is coming from you. I know I am.
    Thank you.


  7. Bob permalink
    November 13, 2016 8:28 am

    Thank you Tony for bringing these masks to the masses. While I’m still very much in learning mode on how to really use these techniques to best effect, I need to tell you how helpful they have been not only in processing my images but, more importantly, by using them I have learned to see better in the field.

    By the way, no rush to bring more improvements…still trying to digest what the first 10 years has brought.




  8. November 13, 2016 9:02 am

    It was the complete game changer for my work
    Words can never be enough to thank you for what you have brought us

    Joe Reardon


  9. November 13, 2016 9:09 am

    Wow. Thats a great recap. As i read, my own journey flashed by my mind. It has been great knowing you , talking to you on occasions and brushing ideas with you. Cant wait to see what u add to the toolset next. All the best



  10. Michael Colby permalink
    November 13, 2016 9:22 am

    Congratulations. You changed the trajectory of how we process our images. Few people ever have that kind of impact.


  11. Gary Leonard permalink
    November 13, 2016 9:30 am

    Tony, you are a Pioneer in this field. Happy 10th Anniversary. Keep up the good work!


  12. BT Lubinski permalink
    November 13, 2016 10:02 am

    Mr. Tony,
    Your masks have been a regular part of my workflow since your first free posting. I now can’t imagine not using them during processing. As you said, Sean Bagshaw’s videos explaining various techniques has also been an idea bonanza.
    BT Lubinski


  13. Bob Farrell permalink
    November 13, 2016 11:15 am

    Thank you, Tony, for introducing me to the world of luminosity masks. I now have a set of tools with which I can apply a more subtle yet deliberate touch to my RAW files. The surprising liberation I’ve experienced since first learning to use luminosity masks has come during the capture phase. Scenes I had been passing by I now take with the assurance that I have the tools to accomplish my intentions.

    Congratulations on your first decade of collegial sharing. Many more.

    Bob Farrell


    • November 13, 2016 11:31 am

      That’s an interesting perspective, Bob, to have improved confidence in the field as a result of better tools in Photoshop. I’m glad to hear luminosity masks provided this. I think it speaks to how tightly everything is now integrated for the digital photographer. It’s not just a camera anymore. We have new ways to express our personal photographic style through post-processing and this in turn influences how we use our cameras. I think this is perhaps one of the biggest and best changes in the last 10 years. Not only do we accept that photographers will manipulate the light in their images with Photoshop, but we now are seeing how doing so elevates and improves both the artist and the art form in unexpected ways.


  14. November 13, 2016 12:46 pm

    I will always be indebted to your work Tony. Thank you.

    On Sun, Nov 13, 2016 at 5:19 AM Good Light Journal wrote:

    > Tony Kuyper posted: “Today is the 10th anniversary of my > original luminosity masks tutorial. It was linked in this post on NPN on > November 13, 2006. NPN is a wonderful website to participate in image > critique and improve photography skills. I had been posting images here f” >


  15. November 13, 2016 2:36 pm

    Tony congratulation on the 10th anniversary. Your LM and panel continues to be a major part of my image editing process. Could not do without it. Many thanks


  16. November 13, 2016 3:27 pm

    Congratulations on 10 years of helping us to make our pictures better.


  17. November 13, 2016 5:08 pm

    Congratulations Tony on the 10th anniversary of your first tutorial. I learned about luminosity masks from that tutorial, and I’ve been a very happy user of your panels ever since. You just keep making things better. The infinity mask add on to the V4 panel is extremely useful. Thanks for all the effort you have put into publicizing and explaining luminosity masks.


  18. November 13, 2016 5:37 pm

    Congratulations Tony. Ten years is an eternity in the current state of the world. You and Sean have opened my eyes to lots of possibilities. I use luminosity masks as a standard part of my processing. I couldn’t imagine not having them around.


  19. November 13, 2016 7:07 pm

    Tony, it was Sean Bagshaw who first introduced me to your luminosity masks. He spoke before the Niagara Frontier Regional Camera Clubs in 2015. Since then I have introduced them to many digital photographers who pass my way. They are in the forefront of my digital processing. Thanks for giving them to us.

    Mary Lou Frost


  20. John Paquette permalink
    November 13, 2016 8:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills. I have been using your masking and panels for the past 4 years. Thank you again.


  21. November 14, 2016 12:53 am

    Hello Tony,

    What a great 10 year history you’ve had with your luminosity masks. I am happy to have shared in it… and know there’s more to come!

    My very best always,




  22. Peter Jones permalink
    November 14, 2016 7:20 am

    Happy Anniversary, Tony and Sean, and thanks for changing the world of photography FOREVER into the future. I look forward to all your new innovations yet to come.


  23. Bob permalink
    November 14, 2016 7:50 pm

    Thank you for all the enjoyment I have received from using luminosity masks. Thanks to Sean for his videos to help educate us visual learners on the use of the masks. Hard to believe it has been 10 years.
    As a retired pharmacist also I hope you are enjoying your retirement!


  24. November 15, 2016 1:29 pm

    Tony, your luminosity masks made me a 69-year-young amateur that enjoys making images every day. And make them more interesting by using your masks. The videos of Sean made me understand them in an easy way. I keep learning from you both every day. Thank you so much !! It keeps me young !


    • November 15, 2016 4:49 pm

      Thanks, Ben. I know there is some initial effort up front to understand these masks. Appreciate you making the effort and glad to hear it’s paid off.


  25. November 16, 2016 9:48 pm

    Thanks, Tony and Sean. I knew luminosity masking was a valuable tool I needed but other panels and training – I tried many – didn’t connect with me. TKActions and Sean’s videos gave me what I needed to understand and use luminosity masking. I use TKActions to some degree on almost every image and I keep going back to Sean’s videos to remind me of techniques I could use more. I’ve been able to successfully process images I was never happy with before TKActions. And I appreciate Tony’s quick response to a couple of questions I asked him along the way.


  26. November 17, 2016 4:07 am

    Congratulations Tony!

    And thank you for opening my eyes towards your luminosity masks!


  27. November 26, 2016 6:05 pm

    Wow! I vividly remember going through the tutorial. It is an honour to know you from the early NPN days…around 2003 I guess. And exchanging prints with you. What amazes me that you have been sharing this without any great financial interest. Here is to 10 more dear friend!


  28. Stan Burman permalink
    November 28, 2016 3:29 am

    Thanks so much Tony for the excellent work you’ve done with luminosity masking. And thanks also to Sean for the excellent videos. You two have opened new worlds of Photoshop for me!


  29. December 18, 2016 9:46 am

    Wow, I am amazed it has been 10 years already. Losing them would be like chopping off my right hand now. Thank you for all your great work Tony, and to Sean for helping reveal all the various uses in his videos.


    • December 18, 2016 1:42 pm

      Thanks, Mark. , You were definitely one of the early-adopters, as I recall. Glad to know they continue to be useful for you.


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