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5 Scenarios where you should use luminous masks

The post 5 scenarios where you should use light power masks first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Christian Hoiberg.

The world of post-processing is a large world with endless possibilities. Each photographer applies photo editing tools in his own way, and we all have different goals for what we want to convey through our photography. Post-processing is a way for me to overcome certain limitations in the camera and to better reflect what I have experienced in the field. I use both Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop for this purpose.

I used light power masks to selectively process this image

Although I do most of the work in Lightroom, there are several techniques that I apply that can only be done in Photoshop. Some of these techniques are quite popular, while other techniques are the result of playing too many hours and trying different things. The only thing I often notice when viewing images of ambitious photographers, or when talking to post-processing clients with my workplace clients, is that every effect is applied globally. I believe that is a BIG mistake.

Certain effects should only be applied to specific parts of an image. That is where layers and masks come in handy in Photoshop. However, I prefer to make my selections more accurate than just painting with a black / white brush on a layer mask. That is why light power masks have become an important part of my workflow. I am not going to understand what they are and how they can be made in this article. If you don't know how to make them, I recommend that you first read this article so that what I discuss in this article makes sense to you. I will cover 5 scenarios where you need to use photosensitivity masks.

1. Use Luminosity Masks to apply the contrast

Let's step out of Photoshop and the Lightroom RAW editor to see what happens if you raise the contrast slider:

By moving the Lightroom contrast slider to the right, the bright colors become brighter and darker, without taking into account how dark the dark colors are and how bright the bright colors are. This will often result in shadows becoming pure black and the brightest highlights becoming pure white. Yes, you can prevent this by gently adjusting the slider or by playing with the Highlights / Shadows sliders (which I often do). However, there is another way that is even better: applying the contrast with a brightness mask.

I have already applied the contrast and made the basic raw settings when opening this file in Photoshop. So if I continue to work with the contrast, I don't want to influence the brightest highlights or the darkest shadows. That means that I only want to apply the contrast with the midtones. This can be easily achieved in Photoshop by creating a Midtones Luminosity Mask (I often use Midtones 2, but make sure I also make the other masks) and applying it to the Curves Layer mask (you can also use a levels – or use contrast adjustment layer):

The brightness parameter Midtones applied to the Curves Layer mask

If we look at the above mask, we can see that we do not influence the darker parts of the image when adjusting the contrast. The effect will also be less visible in the brightest parts. If you are not sure what you see above, remember this phrase when talking about layer masks: White Reveals, Black Conceals.

2. Work selectively on the color balance

The second adjustment that needs to be done through a brightness mask is Color balance. Working with color worldwide will often result in strong color cast.

Let's say you want to cool the shadows of an image by using a color balance adjustment layer. The usual method is to set the color balance to Shadows and move the Cyan slider to the left and the blue slider to the right, such as this one:

This simple adjustment has given a nice cold color cast to the shadows, but unfortunately it is more influenced than the darker parts of the image. Less dark areas (areas that are not considered clear) are also more affected than I wanted. Even the highlights seem somewhat blurred.

If I make the exact same adjustment with a Darks 3 brightness mask, the result is very different:

Note that the colder color cast has been applied to the darkest parts of the image, which I initially sought. The midtones and highlights are left completely alone and remain the same as before before the adjustment was applied.

3. Darken a clear sky with Luminosity Masks

Another good use of Luminosity Masks is to darken a clear sky (in this scenario it is important that information is still drawn from the clear parts). A quick glance at the RAW file below shows us that the left sky is a bit too bright. I still want it to be lighter than the right because the sun is just to the left of the image. However, I want to retrieve some of the details from the overly clear parts.

The use of a Curves Layer adjustment without a mask will also affect other parts of the image. So again, let's do it through a brightness mask. The Brights 4 mask seemed the best for this image:

Note: only the white parts of the mask are affected by the adjustment. As you see above, this means that the majority of the image will not be affected in any way.

With Brights 4 Luminosity Mask, select a Curves Adjustment Layer and darker by pulling the middle part of the line down. We have now successfully darkened the clear sky:

4. Mix multiple images with Luminosity Masks

Digital cameras have had a tremendous improvement in a short period of time, but there is still one thing they can hardly do: capture the full dynamic range when working with clear skies and dark backgrounds. This is certainly something that camera manufacturers are working on. I'm overwhelmed by how far it comes, but it's still not good enough for many of the scenarios in which landscape photographers work.

The solution is to capture multiple exposures of the same frame with different shutter speeds. You usually capture a dark, a base and a clear image. You then mix these images in post-processing, whereby both the foreground and the sky are correctly exposed.

There are a million ways to do this, but one of the most accurate is to use brightness masks in Photoshop. It may sound advanced, but let me show you how simple it is.

Let's say we want to combine these two images to get the lost information back into the blown-out sky. (To keep this simple, I only mix two exposures here, but I highly recommend using the 3rd exposure in the brightest part too):

I prefer having the clear layer on top and painting in the darker lighting, but both ways are fine. If you prefer to see the dark lighting at the top, do the opposite of what I explain in the next few steps.

You can easily mix the images with Luminosity Masks:

  1. Place the clear exposure on top
  2. Align the layers to prevent ghosting (select both layers and go to Edit -> Automatically align layers)
  3. Add a white layer mask to the top layer
  4. Make a Brights Luminosity Mask (the exact mask depends on the image.) I used Brights 3 for this example)
  5. Use a black brush with a hardness of 0% and a coverage of 50% and brush repeatedly where you want to reveal the darker exposure. Repeat this until you have a soft mix.

That is it! Not too difficult right? In a matter of minutes I was able to blend the two above images into this:

As mentioned earlier, this image still needs one darker exposure to be painted back in the brightest area close to the position of the sun. This is fairly simple and all you have to do is have another dark layer at the bottom and use a more limited Brights mask on the middle layer to reveal it.

5. Apply Glow Effects

The final adjustment that I strongly recommend to do selectively instead of globally is any glow effect. It is not necessary to add a strong Orton effect to the shadows of a photo, right?

There are two "guidelines" that I follow when creating a glow effect:

  1. Never apply it to the nearest foreground (keep the foreground sharp)
  2. Avoid adding too much to the shadows

Because there may be highlights in the foreground, I am going to combine a brightness mask and free painting on the mask in this scenario. Again, this is fairly easy and you can achieve it by following a few quick steps:

  1. Create a glow effect on a new layer
  2. Make a wide Brights mask and apply it to the layer
  3. Grab a soft black brush with average coverage and remove the adjustment from the immediate foreground by painting directly on the layer mask

By following these simple steps, we have added a nice soft glow to the highlights of the image.

In my opinion, the point of adding a glow effect is not to make the entire image look soft and blurry, but to add a little extra depth and atmosphere. I achieved this by applying it selectively.

What now?

These are just a few adjustments that I recommend applying via a brightness mask. In recent years they have become an essential part of my processing workflow. I use them for the majority of my images in one way or another. Sometimes I apply to sharpen them, sometimes contrast. There are really endless options.

5-scenario, where-you-should-use-brightness-masks

The post 5 scenarios where you should use light power masks first appeared at Digital Photography School. It was written by Christian Hoiberg.

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