Masking in Lightroom/Camera Raw: Two perspectives

The newest versions of Lightroom (Lr) and Camera Raw (CR) have significantly improved masking capabilities. There are options to make masks based on the subject and the sky, gradient masks, brush masks, and masks based on color ranges and luminance ranges. It’s an interesting and useful collection. In addition, there are ways to add, subtract, intersect, and invert masks, so the new masks can be combined in a variety of ways, similar to the Mask Calculator in the TK8 plugin.

There are lots of YouTube videos demonstrating the basics of using these new masks, so most readers are probably already familiar with their functionality. The two people I work closely with, Sean Bagshaw and Dave Kelly, have both contributed what I feel are some unique perspectives on these masks that I think are worth sharing.

Dave Kelly: Mask-the-mask in Lightroom/Camera Raw

Dave Kelly is someone who is good at taking a deep dive into almost anything and finding a few pearls that others have missed. His weekly “TK Friday” series on YouTube looks at using the TK8 plugin, and, to be honest, he’s pushes it further than I have when testing and using it. In doing so, he’s found new uses for TK8 and has also highlighted some things that can eventually be improved. I’m always glad (and somewhat relieved) to see that TK8 can keep up with what Dave is doing.

One of the techniques he’s demonstrated in various videos in the Friday series is the mask-the-mask technique in Photoshop. The way this generally works is to make an adjustment to the image through a specialized mask, like a luminosity mask or color mask, and then putting the adjustment layer into a group with a black layer mask. Painting on the group’s layer mask with white paint then reveals the adjustment in just those parts of the image where it’s needed. Luminosity and color masks are incredibly useful, of course, but they work on all similarly selected pixels in the image. The mask-the-mask technique allows the adjustment to be selectively applied to specific parts of the image. The process is easy and straightforward in Photoshop and produces a very targeted adjustment.

But, you might wonder, is it possible to replicate this technique with the new masks in Lr/CR? Well, thanks to Dave Kelly, we now know the answer to this question is “Yes,” and Dave shows how to do it in the video below. It’s not as simple as in Photoshop but appears to achieve similar results, namely restricting a color range or luminance range adjustment to specific parts of the image. It uses the Brush tool for making the final reveal, so that’s similar to the Photoshop method. However, it’s a bit more complicated before that. Still, it’s a very clever and insightful use of the new Lr/CR masks . . . and I’m not surprised Dave was able to figure out how to do it. For photographers working exclusively in Lightroom, Dave’s method will likely be a useful new tool in their workflow arsenal. NOTE: Dave doesn’t call this the “mask-the-mask” technique in the video, but, based on the end result, that’s essentially what’s happening.

Sean Bagshaw: Comparing Lr/CR masks with Photoshop masks

I’ve personally not worked extensively enough with the new Lr/CR masks to compare them with masks that can be created with Photoshop and the TK8 plugin, but Sean’s video below specifically undertakes this comparison. Some of the masks, like Select Sky, are basically equivalent in Lightroom and Photoshop according to Sean. Lightroom wins for gradient and radial masks, but Photoshop masks, like those made with the TK8 plugin, offer additional types of masks (saturation, vibrance, color brightness, and edge masks) and additional ways to modify masks. Sean also discusses using smart objects to be able to continually access the best of both types of masks from the two different sources.

The takeaway from Sean’s video, I think, is that there are some new and very useful mask options now available in Lr/CR, but that Photoshop still offers mask options and mask control, along with additional creative techniques not available in Lr/Cr, to continue to make it a valuable part of the workflow. In the end, everyone will use the tools they understand best and that produce the result they’re looking for. And that’s always been the best approach when working creatively with images.

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