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.

Vibrance, Saturation, Smart Orton: A closer look at what the TK7 panel can do

I’m well aware that the TK7 panel can seem a bit overwhelming at first. Lots of buttons that do lots of stuff, and it’s not all luminosity masks. That’s why I appreciate Dave Kelly doing some videos that take a closer look at specific features and how to use them. These videos narrow the focus considerably and explore one or two techniques in detail. Knowing how the different functions work provides a sense for what is possible, and once you know what’s possible, you can decide when it might work to add that feature to your workflow. Dave’s latest videos feature techniques that I find particularly useful on many of my images: Saturation and Vibrance masks and the Orton effect.

The first video below goes over how to use Vibrance masks. Saturation and vibrance are both areas of image development that don’t get a lot of attention. Yes, we might adjust them when things don’t look quite right, but there’s a creative side to explore as well. I’ve found that Vibrance masks are often ideal for making a global saturation increase. The correct Vibrance mask in combination with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer can add a nice saturation pop to the image without over-saturating colors that are already quite saturated. By using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer instead of a Vibrance adjustment layer to control saturation, individual color channels can also be adjusted independently to fine-tune the effect. Dave shows how to do this. This technique is one of my favorites to try near the end of the processing workflow to make sure I’ve pushed the image’s saturation as far as possible without overdoing it.

Saturation masks are the flip-side of Vibrance masks in a couple of ways. The first is that they target the opposite pixels as Vibrance masks. Vibrance masks are brightest in areas with the least-saturated colors whereas saturated pixels show brightest in Saturation masks. Additionally, Saturation masks often work best with local adjustments (instead of a global adjustment) via a technique called saturation painting. This process loads a Saturation mask as a selection, and then painting gray through this selection onto a special layer lowers the saturation in areas of the image where the color looks too hot. It’s a very precise way to target over-saturated colors without affecting the overall global saturation of the image. Dave demonstrates how it’s done in the video below.

By combining global saturation adjustments through a Vibrance mask with local saturation adjustments via saturation painting, a new (and often better) saturation balance can be achieved in the image. The image will look better because saturation has been specifically addressed using masks that can accurately target different levels of saturation in the image.

The final video below looks at additional ways to add some finishing touches to the image: the Make-It-Glow and Smart Orton techniques. Make-It-Glow is pretty much a one-click technique that adds a nice sense of glow to the image via color blurring without blurring the image’s texture. It works well on warm-colored subjects like sandstone, autumn leaves and flowers.

The Smart Orton action takes the regular Orton effect (which combines a saturation and contrast boosts along with Gaussian blur) and breaks it into it’s component parts. Shadows, highlights, blur, and contrast all have their own layers, and users can adjust them to get whatever effect looks best on their image. It might feel a bit daunting at first, but Dave walks you through the various layers and adjustments in the video below.

Be sure to subscribe to Dave’ Kelly’s Joy of Editing YouTube channel to get the latest TK7 videos along with additional videos about Topaz and Nik filters.

More TK7 videos from Dave Kelly

Dave Kelly has continued to create video content about the TK7 panel on his YouTube channel, The Joy of Editing. One of the themes he’s exploring is how to use the different masks available in the Go module. The Go module was the new mask generator in last year’s TK7 update and it’s part of an evolution to simplify the mask making-process. The videos below are his most recent ones that take a look at using the Go module.

Dodging and burning is covered in the first video linked below. This is one of the most fundamental and powerful ways to us luminosity masks. The mask essentially creates a stencil, and painting through this stencil in the form of a Photoshop selection deposits either black paint for burning or white paint for dodging precisely on those parts of the image where it’s intended to have an effect. Multiple brush strokes can be used to intensify the effect in certain parts of the image and not others, and even colored paint can be applied, so it’s possible to burn and dodge with color. There is a lot of creative flexibility when burning and dodging through luminosity mask selections, and it’s a technique that can be used on almost every image.

In the next video, Dave looks at combining luminosity masks with Photoshop plug-ins like Topaz Studio. This is a really interesting application of luminosity masks and it makes perfect sense. Luminosity masks, because they are based on pixel-level data, provide perfectly feathered edges. So blending in a Topaz adjustment is very much like exposure-blending with luminosity masks. In both cases there is a seamless blend creating a natural transition between the different effects.

In the third episode of the series on using the Go module, Dave runs through several processing steps on three different images. What I really like about this episode is Dave’s experimental approach to incorporating the masks in his workflow, and experimentation is a very important part of the creative process. It’s sometimes easy to forget that generating luminosity and other pixel-level masks would be hopelessly inefficient if we had to do it manually. The Go module completely removes this barrier by making a huge variety of masks available at the click of a button. Dave shows that it’s easy to experiment and find the right mask and then apply it to achieve the desired outcome. This video also features luminosity masks being used on monochrome images. Luminosity masks have a reputation for being best suited for color landscape and nature photography. The reality is they can be used with ANY photograph, and monochrome, especially, can benefit from their ability to isolate specific tonal ranges in the image.

I find Dave’s videos enjoyable to watch as they reflect a real-world application of the panel. No one is going to use every feature in the different modules, but there’s a high likelihood that certain features will be incredibly useful. It all depends on what you’re looking to do with an image, and Dave provides plenty of ideas for incorporating different functions into the workflow.

Since many people will find Dave Kelly’s videos useful, I reached out to him and provided a discount code that he’s included in his video descriptions on YouTube. It’s works on all items on the Panels & Videos page.

The Complete Guide to Smart Object Techniques: A new video series by Sean Bagshaw

Last Thursday, Sean Bagshaw released The Complete Guide to Smart Object Techniques, a new video series that provides an in-depth look at creatively incorporating smart objects into the Photoshop workflow. The early chapters provide a very thorough overview of how to make smart objects and how they work. After that, he takes viewers on an journey that, while centered on smart objects, is also an incredible odyssey through Photoshop. Sean uses menus in Photoshop that I didn’t know existed and combines them with smart objects to do things I didn’t know were possible. So in many ways, this series is as much about new techniques with Photoshop as it is about smart objects.

There are over 40 chapters in this series. Before watching it, I would have struggled to come up with even a dozen ways to use smart objects, but, chapter after chapter, Sean shows innovative ways to improve images by combining smart objects with novel Photoshop techniques. Color, sharpening, glow, blending, noise, filters, printing, transforming, blur, cloning, and texture are just some of the topics covered.

It’s also important to note that Sean’s techniques are as practical as they are plentiful. The infinite adjustments possible with smart objects means that things normally fixed in place on a pixel layer, like filters, transforms, and Camera Raw modifications, now have the flexibility of an adjustment layer. Sean capitalizes on this easy flexibility to incorporate a variety of additional Photoshop functions into his workflow. Below is a list of a few of my favorite techniques from the series.

  • Smart warp
  • Dehaze cloud-sculpting
  • Noise removal
  • Smart print-sharpening
  • Light-sculpting
  • Exposure-blending (five examples from easy to difficult)
  • Orton-soft light variations
  • Filter Gallery options

While Sean makes use of luminosity masks and the TK7 panel throughout the course, this series isn’t specifically focused on either as its scope is much broader. However, these tools naturally fit into this type of workflow and it’s instructive to see how they contribute to the larger effort.

I’ve linked to Sean’s intro below. You can watch additional chapters here.

As always, Sean has priced the new series quite reasonably and I’m happy to be able to offer it for sale on my website. All readers can use the following public discount code, which takes 20% off the price during the month of March: Save20

If you’re a previous customer, check your March 4th email for additional savings (possibly in junk/spam folder), or contact me if you didn’t receive the private discount code.