Create Zone System Luminosity Masks

Create Zone System Luminosity Masks Title Image

The zone system has been around for a long time, and was coined back in the 1930’s by Ansel Adams and Fred Archer. It was a method of photography developed to ensure correct exposure. It is basically a system of controlling exposure through tonal zones in order to achieve a correct and balanced exposure. Zone system luminosity masks have been developed so that you can visualise, select and manipulate those tones to your advantage.

In the ADP Pro Luminosity Masks panels, we provide several methods of working with the zone system. We have the traditional 11-zones built into Luminosity With Layers and our Heat Map tools. We also have a reduced 5-zones in both Luminosity with Layers and our Quick Masks. There is also a 19-zones built into Quick Masks allowing you to make finer selections and adjustments. In this article, we will describe how to make luminosity mask selections using all of the Zone System tools built into our panel.


Luminosity Masks Explained

How To Create Luminosity Masks

Create Zone System Luminosity Masks

Zone System Luminosity Masks Explained

Using zones in the processing of images is a very powerful tool to control exposure and contrast within specific zones. This allows you to direct light much more accurately then using standard mask and painting techniques. The 3 different zone systems give you the greatest flexibility, allowing you to make fine adjustments to much larger tonal adjustments.

When someone is viewing our images, there are three things that direct the way a viewer see the image:

  • Contrast: The areas of higher contrast (lights against darks).
  • Saturation: Areas of high saturation, and in particular warmer colours.
  • Sharpness: The parts of an image that are in focus and sharpness. 

What does this mean in relation to using a zone system? The zones allow us to control contrast and light, very accurately, helping us to emphasize the areas of importance. We can shift specific tones in the image to either emphasise, de-emphasise or add contrast, helping direct the viewer to the important parts of the image.

You can see from the examples to the right, they have feathered transitions. This allows you to make adjustments within specific tonal ranges and have smooth transitions with other tones. Larger tonal ranges give you greater feathering and allow you to make larger, smooth adjustments. The narrower your selection, such as the selections in the 19 zones, mean your adjustments should also be more subtle.

There are 3 different zone systems available in the ADP Pro Luminosity Masks Panel, a 5-Zone, 11-Zone & 19-Zones.

5 Zones

The 5 Zone System is available in both Luminosity Masks With Layers and Quick Masks. The selections using 5 zones are much broader, selecting a greater tonal range then the other two systems available. These are valuable when you’re looking to make larger adjustments in your image, such as shifting a larger tonal range in an image to a high or low key.

11 Zones

The 11 Zone System is available in Luminosity Masks With Layers as well as the very powerful visual Heat Map tool. The main difference being the Heat Map is visual and allows you to select multiple zones at a time. This system is the most commonly used as each zone is both broad and restrictive enough to give you fine control without being overly limiting.

19 Zones

The 19 Zone System is only available from the Quick Mask panel. Using this system, allows you to select a very narrow tonal range within your image, and is best for fine tuning contrast or brightness. This is a great tool for subtle adjustments in your images.

Zone Maps

5 Zone System for Luminosity Masks
11 Zone System for Luminosity Masks
19 Zone System for Luminosity Masks

5 Zone Example

5 Zone System Example for Image Editing

Using the Heat Map

The Heat Map tool uses an 11 zone system and the calculations method of mask creation. The visual interface allows you the user a clearer understanding of where the tones in your image are. Each of the tonal zones is represented by a specific colour and these colour are replicated in the selection area of the panel. This makes it extremely easy to pick the zones you want to work within.

An additional benefit of seeing the visual representation of the zones, is that you see where the eye is likely to be led. This allows you the ability to manipulate the image to help lead the eye throughout the image. This panel works in the same way the other luminosity mask panels work, with a top down approach. You make your selection in the top section, adjust it in the middle, and choose how to use it at the bottom.

An example of a heat map can be seen in the middle at the top of this page, or you can watch how they work the video.

Heat Map Tonal Selections

Making tonal zone selections has never been easier. The colours of the heat map are replicated in the selection section of the panel. You have two options for selection:

Luminosity: The top row of colours are luminosity mask selections, meaning they are feathered selections.

Hard Edge: The second row of colours are hard edge selections, and they will perfectly match what is seen on the heat map.

Unlike the other zone system tools built into the panel, you are not limited to a single selection with the heat map. You can make multiple selections, selecting as many zones as you desire. Each time you select a new zone it will be added to your existing selection, allowing you to make virtually any selection you want.

If you want to view your selection as a mask, you just need to press the green “Show” button in the Adjust your mask section. If you want to add more to your selection, press the “Add” button. This will bring your heat map and selection up again for you to add to.

When you make adjustments to your image, the heat map also gets adjusted, and will represent the changes in your image. The tools that make the selection don’t know that the image has changed though. As a result, the “Re-Gen” button has been added. When you make changes to your image, use the “Re-gen” button to regenerate your selection tools.

Adjust Your Mask

All of the tools in the “Adjust Your Mask” section of this panel are exactly the same as the tools in the Quick Mask Luminosity Mask panel. Refer to the How to Create Luminosity Masks article to see the details on how to use this section of the panel.

There are two buttons that are new here, and they are:

Show: As mentioned above the “Show” button reveals your luminosity selection, showing you the mask. When the mask is revealed, you can make adjustments to the mask using this section of the panel.

Add: If you want to add additional selections to your existing selection, press the “Add” button. This will reload your selection and turn the Heat Map back on, allowing you to add to your selection.

If you are finished with your selection and adjustment to the mask, you can now choose how to use your mask in the last section.

Choose How to Use

All of the tools in the “Choose How To Use” section of this panel are exactly the same as the tools in the Quick Mask Luminosity Mask panel. Refer to the How to Create Luminosity Masks article to see the details on how to use this section of the panel.

There are 4 exceptions, and they are the 4 grouping tools at the bottom right of the panel. These 4 grouping or mask the mask tools allow you the ability to further control what is effected by an adjustment. Often when we are making selection there are additional areas that we don’t want in our selection. Rather than spending the time modifying the mask, you can isolate these by using the grouping tools.

Group Selection: With this tool you make a selection, using any method you desire, such as your marquee tools. This selection should be of the areas that you only want affected. Pressing the Group Selection button will group your adjustment layer and only reveal what is within that selection.

Group Feather: This tool works exactly like the Group Selection tool, except the edges of the selection you make will be feathered.

Group Black: This tool will place your adjustment inside a group and put a black mask on the group. The black mask will hide any adjustment that you have made. Using a white brush, you can reveal the areas that you want to appear.

Group White: This tool works just like the Group Black tool, except it puts a white mask on the group, meaning nothing is hidden. Use a black brush now to hide the areas that you don’t want affected.

Quick Tip: If you see the edges or artifacts in the image after an adjustment, it’s because the selection was too restrictive. This can be overcome by feathering your mask in your adjustment layers mask properties. This is a great tool for providing slightly smoother transitions and a much cleaner result.

Heat Map Panel Images

Heat Map 11 Zone System Selection Panel
Heat Map Zone System Tonal Selections
Heat Map Tonal Zone System Mask Adjustments
Heap Map Zone System Use Your Mask

Video: Using the Heat Map

Using the Restricted & Expanded Zone System Luminosity Masks

The zone system tools built into the Luminosity with Layers and Quick Masks work the same way. The key differences between them are the number of available zones. In the Luminosity With Layers panel there are 11 and 5 zone systems. In the quick mask panel, there are a 19 and 5 zone system.

11 & 19 Zone Systems (Restricted Zones)

With the 11 and 19 zones, you have the ability to make a selection directly from the image. One of things about using tonal zones, is knowing which zone to choose. By using the eye dropper tool that is available to you, you can make a selection directly from the image. When you make a selection and press OK on the colour palete, the panel will select the appropriate mask. Note the panel is analysing the area to make its selection. It may not always be 100% accurate. If the selection is incorrect, chances are it will be by 1 zone. If this happens you simply just need to select one of the zones on either side of the one selected.

5 Zone Systems (Expanded Zones)

The expanded 5 zones, is a much broader selection. These zones allow you to make much larger adjustments in your images, with a large feathered zone. Typically, these would be used for broader contrast adjustment or to make large shifts in exposure.

Note: You can also cycle through all of the zones, just like you can with any of the other luminosity mask options within the panel.

Adjusting Your Mask

The “Adjust Your Mask” sections are identical to those in the article on How to Create Luminosity Masks. Please refer to this article to see how to use this section of the panel.

Choose How To Use

The “Choose How To Use” sections are identical those in the article on How to Create Luminosity Masks. Please refer to his article to see how to use this section of the panel.

Restricted & Expanded Zones

Luminosity With Layer Zone System
Quick Luminosity Mask Zone System Panel

Video: Restricted & Expanded Zones