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.

More TK7 Go panel videos from Dave Kelly

Dave Kelly continues to make videos that explore different sections of the TK7 Go panel. Rather than trying to cover everything the panel does, Dave focuses on one or two methods for making and using masks, and then demonstrates different options within the panel for fine-tuning and using that mask.

The key to deciding which mask to use is usually dictated by the what you’re trying to select. If the brightness or the darkness of a particular element is its defining characteristic, then a luminosity mask or zone mask will be an effective starting point. Luminosity masks are probably best if you’re looking to target light tones or dark tones INCLUDING the whitest whites and the blackest blacks. Zone masks, however, are better at targeting the light gray, dark gray, and midtone gray tones that EXCLUDE pure white and pure black. If the defining characteristic of the element to be selected is color, then infinity color masks are a good starting point since they allow very targeted masks based on color.

Keep in mind that the first mask choice is not necessarily going to be the perfect mask. Modifying the mask is usually helpful for improving it. The TK7 Go panel has options for fine-tuning the initial mask choice, and the MODIFY section provides additional controls. These options often make significant improvements to the initial mask. The desired elements can be better selected (made whiter in the mask preview) and parts of the image that should not be selected can be made darker or even black. Properly modifying the mask is an important second step in order to better sculpt the mask to fit your particular image.

In the first video below, Dave focuses on using zone masks to make adjustments to different tonal ranges in the image. At the beginning, he takes a close look at how the Go module’s mask controls work using a step-tablet image of the different zones. Seeing what the different zone mask sliders do on this control image makes it easier to understand what they’re doing in the more complex setting like an actual photograph. (You can download Dave’s step-tablet image here.) Dave includes three different examples of using zone masks to adjust brightness in specific parts of the image. Zone masks are one of my favorite techniques since they are so precise at selecting the initial tone and then can be easily adjusted to be even more specific.

In the second video below, Dave uses both luminosity and zone masks to make gentle adjustments to the image. This video emphasizes the experimental nature of creating these masks. Sometimes a luminosity mask works better and sometimes a zone mask works better. It may not be entirely obvious which will work best until you try both and see. In addition to experimenting with different types of masks, Dave also uses different mask controls, like the different color channels for luminosity masks and the sliders for zone masks, to fine-tune the initial selection. Then, to take it a step further, he uses the MODIFY section of the Go module to add contrast to the mask and to paint out some areas with black paint to make an even better selection of his chosen subject. These types of adjustments quickly become second nature since you actually see the mask on-screen and can make modifications based on how the mask looks.

In the final video below, Dave looks at making adjustments using infinity color masks. Color masks add an entirely new dimension to the masking process. Unlike luminosity masks (which are based on pixel brightness), hue and saturation are the two pixel values that determine what gets selected with infinity color masks. Things that would be impossible to select based on brightness are sometimes very easy to select based on color. As with luminosity and zone masks, color masks also offer specific mask controls for choosing the hue range, mask brightness, and color feathering. And, of course, the MODIFY section can again be used to make even more precise masks. The one caveat when choosing to use infinity color masks is to make sure the colors are colorful. Unsaturated colors can still be selected, but the masks will be quite dark, even in the selected pixels. Saturated colors definitely produce brighter masks.

The big takeaway in Dave’s latest videos is that there is no preset way to use luminosity, zone, and color masks. The characteristics of the image will determine the best place to start, but the panel’s ability to quickly adjust and modify the initial mask also plays an important role in generating the best mask for a desired adjustment. Some experimentation may be necessary, but with a little practice, it’s easy to generate a targeted, perfectly-feather mask with just a few mouse clicks. I think you’ll enjoy Dave’s latest videos. Be sure give them a thumbs-up and consider subscribing to his YouTube channel to get the latest updates.

TK7 Go Module: A video by Dave Kelly

“The Joy of Editing” is a YouTube channel run by Dave Kelly, and he recently uploaded a video featuring luminosity masks and the TK7 Go module. He explains the basic features of how to use it, and photographers familiar with the panel may already know some of what he demonstrates. However, he does make especially good use of the module’s Zone masks in this video. Zone masks were completely changed in the Go module compared to the Zone masks in the RapidMask module, and they’re possibly underutilized. Dave uses them as layer masks on Curves adjustment layers, but I also find them useful for burning and dodging after loading them as a selection. If you’ve not experimented the Zone masks in the Go module, hopefully seeing what Dave does in this video will provide some incentive and confidence to give them a try.