What Are Luminosity Masks
Luminosity Masks Explained
What Are Layer Masks?
Before we delve into Luminosity Masks, we first need to understand what a layer mask is. If you have a clear understanding of layer masks in Photoshop, you may want to skip ahead.
Layer masks in Photoshop are one of the reasons that Photoshop is such a powerful editing tool. Layer masks allow us to choose what areas of a particular layer are visible. A layer mask can be added to any type of layer in Photoshop, and are automatically created with adjustment layers. For the layers where they are not added automatically, you can simply add one by pressing the layer mask icon at the bottom of your layers palette. Layer masks work as simple as:
White Mask: When the layer mask is white, or where it is white, you will see the effects of that layer. Meaning if that layer is an image, you will see the parts of the image where it is white. If that layer is an adjustment layer, you will see the adjustments made, where the layer mask is white.
Black Mask: When the layer mask is black, or where it is black, you will not see the effects of that layer. Meaning if that layer is an image, you will not see the parts of the image where it is black. If that layer is an adjustment layer, you will not see the adjustments made, where the layer mask is black.
Shades of Grey: When the mask is painted a shade of grey, meaning not black or white, it will partially show the adjustment or image layer. The closer it is to black the less you will see, the closer it is to white the more you will see.
Making Selections in Photoshop?
In Photoshop, there are many ways of making selections. These selections allow us to have much greater control over the way we can edit our images. From fine adjsutments to image composites, the sky is the limit on how we can use selections. Each of the selection tools has their own unique strength and weakness. Skipping over the “dumb” tools such as the marquee tools, the more powerful tools at your fingertips in Photoshop are:
Quick Selection: This tool is looking for edges of contrast in your image, allowing you to make reasonably good selections of objects with strong edges.
Magic Wand: The magic wand tool takes the Quick Selection tool to another level. This tool allows you to control the sensitivity of the selection brush.
Color Range: Colour range is a great tool for making selections purely based on specific colours in the image. You also have the ability to set the tolerance, allowing broader or more specific selections.
Select & Mask: The select and mask tool is a powerful method of allowing you to clean up your selections and refine their edges.
All of the selection tools mentioned above are important to understand, as they are useful in your workflow in certain circumstances. Even though a few of them are smart tools, on many occasions you will still struggle to get the selection you desire. The other pitfall is that they don’t offer very smooth transitions, even if you choose to use the feathering options. This is where luminosity masks can be so powerful.
What are Luminosity Masks?
Luminosity masks are masks developed based on the brightness values, or luminance of the pixels in your image. Each of those pixels is converted to a grey scale value, dependent on the type of luminosity mask you have chosen. With the masks being created directly from the brightness values of the pixels in your images, the transition between tones is feathered. This feathering of the transitions, allows you to make smooth adjustments to specific tonal ranges without the downside of hard line selections. They can also be manipulated through the use of colours, adjustments and dodging and burning to refine your selections. These tools allow you to create luminosity masks to suit just about any purpose.
The most commonly used luminosity masks are in the light or dark tonal ranges. These masks allow you to create virtually any selection within the lights or dark areas of your image. From there the development of luminosity masks become much more complex. With some effort, you can create luminosity masks in the midtones and throughout all the tonal zones.
There are a few different methods to create luminosity masks. On the linked page we run through all of the methods available to make and adjust lights, darks and midtone masks with ADP Pro v3. These methods include, Luminosity Masks with Layers, and Quick Masks (calculations), both of which have advantages & disadvantages.
We also have zone system masks built into the panel. These masks allow you to select areas in your images based on a 5, 11 & 19 zone system. The most powerful of the selection tools is our Heat Mapping. This overlays the zone system in a visual colour overlay, and allows you to make multiple zone selections at a time.
How Can You Use Luminosity Masks?
Luminosity masks are a powerful tool for making adjustments in all types of photography. If your image has luminance, which all images do, they can be used to make selections and control light. The uses for luminosity masks in in your workflow are only limited by your imagination. Some of the most common methods include:
Luminance Adjustments: Creating masks to control areas that you want lightened or darkened, through adjustment layers.
Contrast Adjustments: Creating greater separation between tones, helping those subject to stand out in the image.
Colour Adjustments: Using luminosity masks to control the areas where colour is added or enhanced, such as warming the highlights only in an image.
Dodging & Burning: Control the areas affected while dodging and burning.
Accurate Hard Line Selections: Defying the smooth transitions, you can use luminosity masks to make hard line selections for adjustments or compositing.
Digital Blending: Blending multiple exposures to create a more balanced final exposure.
These are only a few of the more popular examples for the uses of luminosity masks in your workflow. Don’t limit their use to only what you see in videos or tutorials, experiment and find new amazing ways to use these powerful tools.
Methods of Luminosity Mask Creation
At ADP Pro we realise that everyone has different preferences when it comes to creating luminosity masks. We have incorporated many methods of mask creation within the panel, so you have options and can reap the benefits of all their strengths. In addition to the methods described above you can also create luminosity masks with:
Luminosity Masks with Layers: This method of 16-bit mask creation uses layers to create masks. The greatest benefit of using layers over other methods, is the ability to modify the mask through colour. See our tutorials on How To Create Luminosity Masks to see more details on how these tools are used.
Quick Masks (Calculations): Creating 16-bit masks with calculations using Quick Masks, this is a very powerful method of mask creation. The main benefit of this method over using layers is the power of dodging and burning the mask. See our tutorials on “How To Create Luminosity Masks” to see more details on how these tools are used.
Heat Mapping: This is a visual zone system selection tool, and one of the most powerful in its simplicity. This is fully described in: Create Zone System Luminosity Masks
Restricted & Expanded Zones: This is a tool available in Luminosity With Layers & Quick Masks. There are options for 5, 11, & 19 zone systems. You can also make selections directly from your image using these tools.
Subtraction Masks: You can create your own custom selections by subtracting masks from each other. A powerful method for removing unwanted tonal ranges.
Apply, Adjust, Replace: This is a powerful tool that allows you to apply a luminosity mask to an existing layer that does not have one. You can adjust a mask on a layer that already has one, or replace it all together. Working between the mask and image view you can see your adjustments in real time.
How To Create Luminosity Masks
Traditionally luminosity masks were created by making selections through your channels. The process for creating the masks can be cumbersome so actions were made to make the process easier. As the uses and power of the masks became more understood, the complexity in the masks that could be created expanded. At the same time a greater understanding of the bit depth of masks started to be discussed (8-bit vs 16-bit). As a result, new methods, other than channels, to create luminosity masks started to be explored.
Today there are two popular methods of creating luminosity masks on the market. Masks are created through calculations, and directly from the image with layers, both of which are 16-bit. They each have their advantages & disadvantages, and both methods are built into ADP Pro tools, so you don’t have to choose. In this article, we will discuss how to create luminosity masks using ADP Pro tools and why you’d choose one method over another.
Create Luminosity Masks Using Channels (Legacy Method for Mask Creation)
Channel masks are a legacy method of mask creation, but are still an effective way of creating luminosity masks. These masks are available in ADP Pro as a legacy tool, but are not the method used to create luminosity masks in our panel. You can also watch a short video, to the right, that shows how all of this is done.
Creating Lights Luminosity Masks
Step 1: Press “Cmd” and left click on the RGB Channel, marching ants will appear on the image
Step 2: Click the “Save Selection” button at the bottom of the Channels Palete, and rename the layer to Lights 1
To then create a lights 2 through 6 follow these steps:
1: Press “Cmd” and left click on the Lights 1 Channel.
2: Press “Cmd + Opt + Shift” and left click on the Lights 1 Channel.
3: Click the “Save Selection” button at the bottom of the Channels Palete, and rename the layer to Lights 2
Repeat this process until you have created all of the luminosity masks you desire.
Creating Darks Luminosity Masks
1: Press “Cmd” and left click on the RGB Channel, marching ants will appear on the image.
2: Press “Shift + Cmd + I” to invert your selection, or go to Select > Inverse
3: Click the “Save Selection button at the bottom of the Channels Palete, and rename the layer to Darks 1
To then create Darks 2 through 6, follow the same steps as you do in the Lights, except using the Darks masks.
Creating Midtone Luminosity Masks
1: Create the lights and the darks luminosity masks.
2: Press “Cmd + A”, this will select your entire image.
3: Click “Cmd + Opt + Shift” and click on Lights 1 , this will remove the Lights 1 mask from your selection.
4: Press “Cmd + Opt + Shift” and click on Darks 1, this will remove the Darks 1 mask from your selection.
5: Click the “Save Selection” Button at the bottom of the Channels Palete, and rename the layer to Midtones 1
Repeat this process using Light & Darks 2 through 6 to create all of the Midtone masks.
Quick Tip: Once you have created a Lights 1 or Darks 1 mask, you can restrict that selection by applying a levels adjustment to the mask. Select the layer that you want to adjust without loading it as a selection, then press “Cmd + L”. This will bring up a levels adjustment. You can now slide the middle slider on the levels adjustment to create an infinite number of masks.
Video: Create Channel Luminosity Masks
Create Luminosity Masks With Layers in ADP Pro
Creating Luminosity Masks with Layers is one of the most powerful methods of mask creation. This method of mask creation uses layers to create the luminosity selection. As a result, there is a major advantage, we can now use colours within the image to manipulate the mask. In this section, we will describe how to create luminosity masks with layers using ADP Pro.
In the first image shown to the right, the area highlighted in red represents the buttons on the main panel, that will open up the Luminosity Masks with Layers panel. Choosing any of these buttons, will create the initial mask, and then give you all the editing tools and choices to use the mask.
In this section, we are going to cover the Darks, Lights, Midtones and Colour Channels. We cover the Restricted, Expanded and Heat Map in a separate article, that can be found in the “Create Zone System Luminosity Masks Section“.
Creating Luminosity Masks Using Layers
From the main panel, you can make any luminosity selection, the mask and adjustment layers will be created, and the Luminosity Masks With Layers panel will open. Once you are in this panel you can cycle through all of the available masks, very quickly. Included in your options are 5 Darks, 5 Lights, 4 Midtones, 11 Restricted Zone, and 5 Expanded Zone masks. All of these masks can be final or just a starting point for further adjustment.
Another set of buttons you’re going to find in this section are the colour masks. What these buttons do is restrict your selection to these colour channels. This means you can more accurately target specific areas in your image by eliminating colour channels. These are particularly useful if you’re finding it difficult to find the mask that targets your desired area.
Select Your Mask > Adjust Your Mask > Choose How To Use
Our Luminosity Mask panels have been created with a top down approach. At the top, you are choosing your starting point, or the mask that you want to work with. In the next section, you are modifying your mask. In the last section, you’re choosing how you want to use the mask.
At any point, if you decide you no longer want to create a luminosity mask, or you want to use another method, press the close button at the top right of the panel and you’ll be taken back to the main panel.
Adjusting Luminosity Masks Using Layers
The options available to modify the mask to perfectly suit your needs are extensive, but simple to use. There are two areas that you can use to modify your masks. You can modify your mask directly from the panel itself, using the “Adjust Your Mask” section. In the layers palette, you will also find three adjustment layers that can be used to modify your mask.
Adjust Your Mask Section of The Panel
Restrict & Expand Tonal Range: Without using the adjustment layers you can restrict or expand the tonal range in the image by 5% or 10% at a time. These are the first 4 buttons in this section of the panel.
Darken Darks & Lighten Lights: Here you can make the darker areas of your image darker by shifting the black point. You can also lighten the light areas of the mask by shifting the white point. This is done with the dark black and bright white arrows.
Dodge & Burn: This is a new and completely unique tool that has been added. One of the shortfalls of creating luminosity masks with layers is the ability to dodge & burn. Dodging is meant for the highlights, and used to make your light areas lighter. Burning is meant to darken the shadows. When you choose one, a new layer will be created. Then using a white brush, you paint on the black mask to lighten or darken the luminosity mask.
White & Black Paint: This is another completely new concept to Luminosity Masks With Layers. Choosing one of these will create another new layer, allowing you to paint white or black directly on the mask itself.
Adjustment Options in Layers
When you create a luminosity mask using layers, you are given three adjustment layers. These layers can be used to modify your mask, giving you incredible control over your mask. Using these tools is also completely non-destructive. If you want to undo any adjustment you’ve made it’s available to you.
Levels Mask Creation: With this adjustment layer you can restrict of expand your selection by sliding the midtone slider. This means you only need Lights 1 to create any mask you desire. You can also shift the black point to darken your darks and the white point to lighten your whites.
Curves MC: Similar to the levels adjustment, we can restrict or expand our selection with a curves adjustment. This tool gives us further control, by allowing us to target specific tones in our mask, giving us finer adjustment options.
B&W Mask Creation: This adjustment layer is what makes this method of mask creation stand out against using calculations. With this adjustment layer, we can modify the way colours appear in our masks, giving us ultimate control to create luminosity masks.
Using Your Luminosity Mask
Continuing on from the many ways we have to create luminosity masks, we now have many options for how we can use them. Built into the bottom section of the Luminosity With Layers panel, are the options to choose how you’re going to use the mask, including:
Dodge & Burn: This is a powerful method of using luminosity masks. This allows you to control the tonal values that will be affected. You have three different options for Dodging or Burning as well. You can dodge and burn on a transparent layer, which also means you can dodge or burn using colour. A middle grey layer is also available, which gives you a better visual of what is being lightened or darkened. The last method is with curves, allowing you to lighten or darken without affecting colour.
Adjustment Layers: The 10 most commonly used adjustment layers used with luminosity masks are included. Choosing any of the adjustment layers will create an adjustment layer with the luminosity mask already applied.
B&W Image: This will actually convert your luminosity mask into a black & white image, on its own image layer.
B&W Image With Layers: This will maintain all of the layers used to create your luminosity selection. This gives you the ability to modify your B&W adjustments at any time.
Selection: This will load your mask as a selection to be used how over you like.
Create Luminosity Masks With Quick Masks (Calculations) in ADP Pro
Using calculations is another popular method to create luminosity masks in Photoshop. Unlike Luminosity Masks With Layers, you will not get a set of layers to work with. These 16-bit masks are stored in the background, but are adjusted using all the adjustment options available.
The functionality in Quick Masks is almost identical to that with layers with a couple of exceptions. The differences in the functionality of Quick Masks compared to Luminosity with Layers are detailed below. All of the other functions are the same, and to see those details, you can read them above in the Luminosity With Layers section.
Creating Luminosity Masks Using Quick Masks
When you click on the Quick Mask button from the main panel the Quick Mask Luminosity Masks Panel will open. This panel opens initially with a Lights 1 selection already made. All of your selections and adjustments of your mask are now going to be done from within the panel itself, there are no layers created with this method.
The key differences with this panel are:
- The Restricted zones have 19 zones instead of 11. See the Create Zone System Luminosity Masks section for more details.
- When you choose the colour channels, they will automatically revert to a Lights 1 selection of each channel. Unlike with layers, you will always be reverted back to Lights 1. This means that if you want to use colour channels, you must make your colour channel selection before modifying your mask.
Adjusting Luminosity Masks Using Quick Masks
In the Adjust Your Mask section you will see a few differences, and they are:
- The dodging and burning tools here are much more powerful than they are with layers. They utilise the dodging and burning tools built into Photoshop, and allow much finer control in the modification to your masks.
- You no longer have the ability to use colour to adjust your mask. This option is not available with this method to create luminosity masks.
- Layers are no longer available, but you can still use Curves & Levels to adjust your mask. On top of that brightness & contrast has also been added as an adjustment. Selecting any of these will bring up the adjustment window so you can make modifications.
- A blur tool has been added if you want to soften the edges of your selection. Our preference is to use the feather slider on the mask properties itself, but this is also an effective method for feathering.
- The refine tool is used for very fine adjustments in the lights, midtones and darks of your luminosity mask.
- You can also invert your mask. This can come in handy when you’ve created a mask and realise you have actually created the opposite selection.
Using Your Quick Mask Luminosity Mask
The options for using your luminosity masks are exactly the same as they are in Luminosity with layers, with only one exception. Layers are not created with this method, so the option to create a black and white image with layers is not available.
Our next article in the luminosity mask series is all about the zone system. This is a powerful method of tonal control in your images, allowing you much visual control over directing light.
Create Zone System Luminosity Masks
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. This system in post processing has been developed so that you can visualise, select and manipulate those tones to your advantage.
In ADP Pro 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.
Zone Systems 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 Panel, a 5-Zone, 11-Zone & 19-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.
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.
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.
5 Zone Example
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
Video: Using the Heat Map
Using the Restricted & Expanded Zone Systems
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.
Adjust 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
Video: Restricted & Expanded Zones