The Perfect Mask and Vignettes/Spotlights

Making the Perfect Mask

One of the most important things to understand about luminosity masks, zone masks, color masks, and saturation/vibrance masks in the TK7 panel is that that they are created using actual pixel values. The masks that are generated reflect pixel-level differences between individual pixels. These masks are not like selections made with the Lasso or Marquee tools, where the mouse draws the physical boundary around specific elements. Instead, pixel-value masks use the luminance, hue, and saturation values in each pixel to determine what gets revealed by the mask (white and light gray in the mask), and what gets concealed (black and dark gray).

This concept plays a central role when generating masks using the TK7 Go module. Pixel-value masks should not be pure white in the selected areas, like the masks created with the Lasso or Marquee tools. Instead, selected pixels should have a gradation of light gray values reflecting the underlying textures in the image. The TK7 panel does a good job of quickly generating a proper pixel-value mask based on the chosen data source (luminance, hue, or saturation). Lights-1, Darks-2, Midtones-1, Zone 3, and a “red” color mask are examples. These initial masks are usually an excellent starting point for a planned adjustment. In addition, some masks, like zone and color masks, offer modification options built into the user interface. There’s also an entire modification section in the Go module for sculpting any initial mask to better match the areas to be selected. Modification is often quite useful. Be sure to give it a try for additional control in creating the ideal mask. Here are some rules that can help.

  • Avoid pure white in the mask for areas that require subtle and seamless transitions. Pure white in the mask means that the nuance possible with pixel-value masks has been lost.
  • Aim to create masks that have light gray values for selected areas and dark gray or black values for areas not selected.
  • Look for light gray texture in the selected areas of the mask that matches the texture in the image. Texture in the mask indicates that the pixel-level differences in the image are still present in the mask.
  • Areas that should not be selected by the mask can go to pure black, but also make sure that there is a smooth, gray transition to lighter areas of the mask. Hard edges in the mask can lead to hard edges in the image when adjusting or painting through the mask.

In the video below, Dave Kelly uses a Lights mask, a Darks mask, a Color mask, and a Zone mask, and then modifies them to create a more suitable mask for achieving his goals with the image. Notice how he works to keep light gray texture in the mask in the selected areas and then how using the mask automatically insures a smooth transition of the effect as he paints it in.

Vignettes and Spotlights

One of the simplest techniques to focus the viewer’s attention in a photograph is using vignettes and spotlights. As we look at photographs, light areas attract our attention. Vignettes generally darken the edges of the frame so that our eyes don’t wander outside the borders. Spotlights, on the other hand, brighten specific areas or elements in the image to move the eye to these areas and indicate their relative importance. Both vignettes and spotlights are meant to be subtle. They are almost always feathered to insure they blend in with the rest of the image. In the best circumstance, the viewer is unaware they exist, but is also guided by them to view the image the way the photographer intended.

In the video below, Dave Kelly demonstrates four useful techniques available in the TK7 panel for building vignettes and spotlights.

  • The Vignette action adds symmetrical circular or oval darkening around the edges of the image.
  • The Freehand Vignette action also creates a vignette inside the image’s borders, but it uses a selection drawn by the photographer, usually using the Lasso or Marquee tool, as the guide for the shape of the vignette’s transition zone.
  • The Spotlight action again uses a freehand selection created by the photographer, usually on something near the center of the image, and then the action adds some subtle brightness to the selected area.
  • Burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask is also a great way to add vignettes and spotlights to an image that look completely natural.

In order to provide smooth transitions, the Vignette, Freehand Vignette, and Spotlight actions add a Gaussian blur to the selection based on the size of the image. The size of the blur is adjustable as the action executes. For burning and dodging through a Midtones-1 mask, simply choose an appropriately large brush with 0% Hardness to insure smooth blending.

Be sure to check out other videos by Dave Kelly on his YouTube channel.

One thought on “The Perfect Mask and Vignettes/Spotlights

  1. Hi Tony.

    Thanks for this and wanted to say, very much looking forward to TK8!

    Cheers, Gord Roberts

    Sent from my iPhone so please forgive my “thumbos” 🙂



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