Easy Luminosity Masking in Photoshop

A hot subject in photography and photo editing right now is Luminosity Masking. Having seen some of the stunning photos circulating, this interest isn’t surprising. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of confusing information circulating that can prevent you from understanding Luminosity Masking. In this tutorial, I want to introduce you to a free tool that can make Luminosity Masking in Photoshop easy.

When you can work with Luminosity Masking in Photoshop, you open lots of artistic options for editing your photography.

Luminosity Masks are perfect for editing photos like this in Photoshop

What is Luminosity Masking

Masks and masking are some of the most powerful photo editing tools in Photoshop. At a basic level, they allow you to apply adjustments to parts of an image without affecting other areas. You can also use them to remove or hide an adjustment from an area of an image.

Luminosity Masking is just another form of masking.

It gets its name from the way you create the mask and is quite an advanced technique. That’s because you really need some skills in working with Photoshop Masks to gain any value from Luminosity Masking. If you don’t understand Photoshop Masks, Luminosity Masking could become very confusing, very quickly.

Here you can see an example of a midtones Luminosity Masks created in Photoshop for the landscape photo at the start of this tutorial.

Example of a midtones Luminosity Mask in Photoshop

The white areas of the luminosity mask show where we would apply adjustments if we used the mask. Now compare this to the original image used to create the luminosity mask. You will see that the Luminosity Mask is dark in both the bright and dark areas of the image. It’s only the midtones in the image that show up as white in the luminosity mask. That’s why it’s called a midtones mask.

Creating Luminosity Masks in Photoshop

Historically, creating Luminosity Masks in Photoshop was a time consuming and quite complex technique. Whilst there are tools you can use to create the masks, there is still value in learning and understanding the manual approach (and automating this with Photoshop Actions). If you want to understand how to do this, my Mastering Photoshop Luminosity Masks course will walk you through the process and share examples of how to use the masks.

Once you understand how to create and use Luminosity Masks, you will probably benefit from one of the extension panels that automates their creation. One of these that makes the process extremely easy is the Interactive Luminosity Masks tool.

The Interactive Luminosity Masks Tool

Interactive Luminosity Masks is a free extension to help you with creating Luminosity Masks in Photoshop. You can download a copy from the Adobe Exchange marketplace with the following link.


Once installed, you can use it to easily, and interactively (hence the name) create Luminosity Masks in Photoshop.

Interactive Luminosity Masks is a Photoshop extension panel. This means that after installing it you access the panel from the Photoshop menu under “Window | Extensions” where you should find the panel listed. Once the panel’s visible you can dock it to the Photoshop interface by dragging and dropping. You can see the panel docked in my Photoshop toolbar in the screenshot below, along with a few other extensions I use.

Interactive Luminosity Masks panel docked in the Photoshop toolbar

Using the Interactive Luminosity Masks Tool

The Interactive Luminosity Masks tool is easy to use and has a simple interface that steps you through the process.

interactive luminosity masks interface 1

Start by opening the image you want to work on in Photoshop. You can then pick which of the two types of mask, “Luminosity Mask” or “Saturation Mask”, that you want to create. The interface and approach is the same for both. It’s the processing in the background that’s different.

After clicking the Luminosity Mask option, you will see the next set of buttons.

Creating different types of luminosity mask in ILM

There are four options to create a Luminosity Mask:

  1. “Highlights Mask” targets the lighter tones.
  2. “Midtones Mask” targets the midtones.
  3. “Shadows Mask” targets the shadow tones.
  4. “Zone Mask” targets a specific tonal range which you control, anywhere from the darkest to the lightest areas.

The Cancel button moves you back to the previous screen. Let’s use the Midtones Mask as an example.

Refining the Luminosity Mask

After selecting the Luminosity Mask, you want to create, Midtones in this example, the interface changes again.

Refining the Luminosity Mask in ILM

At the top you can see a graduated strip from black to white with a red bell curve on it. The strip indicates the tonal range targeted. In this example the red curve shows that we aren’t targeting the black and white ends of the tonal range much, but the central area is at the maximum.

It’s then possible to adjust the range using the slider “Midtones Feather”. Move it left to restrict the tonal range and right to widen it. All the time you are adjusting this, you can see the Luminosity Mask in the Photoshop preview, rather than the image.

When you’re satisfied with the Luminosity Mask, click one of the five action buttons:

  1. “Selection” loads the Luminosity Mask as a selection. You could then work with the selection, add it to a layer as a mask, or save it as a new channel.
  2. “Channel” will save the Luminosity Mask as a new channel in the image. This is a common practice as it’s easy to change between masks, selections, and channels in Photoshop.
  3. “Curves Layer” adds a Curves Adjustment Layer to the image with the Luminosity mask attached.
  4. “Levels Layer” adds a Levels Adjustment Layer to the image with the Luminosity mask attached.
  5. “Hue/Saturation Layer” adds a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to the image with the Luminosity mask attached.

The “Cancel” button returns you to the previous stage in the Interactive Luminosity Mask tool. You can see the Interactive Luminosity Masks tool in use in the following YouTube video.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Of course, being able to create a Luminosity Mask is only a first step. You then need to know how to use them effectively in your Photoshop editing. You can learn more about this in my course “The Photographers Guide to Using Luminosity Masks”.

Other Luminosity Masking Tools for Photoshop

Whilst the Interactive Luminosity Masks tool is a simple and easy solution for creating Luminosity Masks, there are other more powerful alternatives. Two of the best that I use are:

  1. TK Actions from Tony Kuyper
  2. Lumenzia from Greg Benz.

Both Tony and Greg offer free simple versions of their panels, but it’s the full versions that have the real power. Once you get to grips with using Luminosity Masking in Photoshop you will probably benefit from editing with one of these.

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Summary of Easy Luminosity masking in Photoshop

Whilst many of the traditional techniques for creating Luminosity Masks in Photoshop are complex, a Photoshop extension panel can simplify a lot of the work for you. Interactive Luminosity Masks is a great option for creating Luminosity Masks in Photoshop. It benefits from being simple and easy to use but is also free.

If you want to experiment or learn to work with Luminosity Masks in Photoshop I would recommend downloading and installing a copy. Once you understand how to use Luminosity Masking, consider progressing to one of the paid products mentioned above.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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