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Using Luminance Range Masking in Photoshop Camera Raw

The Photoshop Camera Raw filter is easy to use and an extremely flexible tool. It can be a great way to edit your photos and it can also provide an alternative to more complex techniques like Luminosity Masking. When making a selection in the Camera Raw filter you can now apply Luminance Range Masking to target specific image tones. In this tutorial, we look at how to add and control Luminance Range Masking in Photoshop Camera Raw.

Here is a simple example. This used the Luminosity Range Masking technique to darken the bright areas of the sky without affecting the shadows.

how to target adjustments using luminosity range masking

Preparing to Work in Photoshop Camera Raw

When working with the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, it’s a good idea to use it as a Smart Filter. This may sound complicated but it’s a simple thing to do and means that you can reopen and change the filters adjustments in the future. If instead you applied the filter directly to an image you would lose this ability to change your settings after you close the filer.

To use Camera Raw as a Smart Filter we need to create a new image layer and convert it to use Smart Filters. There are a couple of options here:

  1. If your image only has a single “Background” layer in the Photoshop Layers window, you only need to duplicate it. To do this, click on the “background” layer to select it. Then, right-click with your mouse and select “Duplicate layer…” in the popup menu. Alternatively, you can use the shortcut keys “Cmd + J” on a Mac or “Ctrl + J” on a PC.
  2. If the image has multiple layers in the Photoshop Layers Window, you should create a new Stamp Layer. This is a layer that consolidates all the other layers into one new layer. You can create it using the keyboard shortcut “Shift + Cmd + Option + E” on a Mac or “Shift + Ctrl + Alt + E” on a PC.

Having created your new layer, select it in the Layers Window and then choose “Filter | Convert for Smart Filters” from the Photoshop Menu. If Photoshop displays an information dialog, click the OK button to continue. After a few seconds, the new layer is ready for you to apply a Smart Filters.

Creating a new layer and converting it for smart filters

The small icon to the bottom of the layer thumbnail indicates you can use the layer with Smart Filters.

Launching Photoshop Camera Raw

Now that the layer can work with Smart Filters, we can launch the Photoshop Camera Raw filter.

Click the layer to ensure you’ve selected it and then select “Filters | Camera Raw Filter…” from the Photoshop menu. This opens the Camera Raw filter.

The Camera Raw filter showing the selection tools and range mask

The Camera Raw filter has three tools you can use to make or draw selections. These are on the right of the interface in the latest version, or along the top of the interface in earlier versions. The selection tools are the:

  • Adjustment Brush
  • Graduated Filter
  • Radial Filter

All three of these selection tools have a Range Mask option. You will find this at the bottom of the adjustment controls on the right side of the interface. Notice the Range Mask’s disabled in the screenshot above.

For this example, we will draw a selection of the sky in the image using the Graduated filter. We can then use the selection to adjust the bright areas of the sky but not the hillside.

drawing a selection of the sky using the graduated filter

Here you can see a Graduated Filter drawn to select the sky (1). The screenshot also shows a red mask over the area that’s not affected by the filter. You can turn the mask on and off using the “Mask Options” tick-box (2). Drawing the Graduated Filter also enables the Range Mask option (3).

The Range Mask has a dropdown where you can select the type of Range Mask you want to use. There are two options:

  1. Luminance – refines the selection based on how light or dark areas are.
  2. Color – refines the selection based on colours.

We will use the Luminance option.

Configure the Luminance Range Masking

We want to configure the Luminance Range Mask to select the bright areas of the sky but not the darker hillside. The screenshot below shows how we can achieve this.

Configuring the Luminance Range Mask options to select the sky

When we tick the “Visualize Luminance Map” option (1) it changes the image to black and white, showing the darkest and lightest parts. The red overlay masks then displayed over the sky to show the selected area. Initially this can be confusing because it’s the opposite behaviour to the Mask Overlay discussed above but you will soon master it.

Now you can control which tones to include in the selection using the Luminance Range slider (2). This has two markers, one on the left and the other on the right. The left slider represents the darkest tones in the selection and the right slider is for the light tones. It’s the tonal range between the two sliders that’s selected. As you move the sliders, the area covered by the red mask changes to reflect the selection. In this example you can see the selection is targeting the brightest areas of the sky but little on the hillside.

You can then use the Smoothness slider (3) to help blend the Luminance Range Mask selection. When you move the Smoothness sliders to the left the selection edge becomes hard and doesn’t blend as well. Move it to the right and it’s smoothed to improve blending, but this also makes it less precise.

Apply Your Adjustments

After creating the Luminance Range Mask selection, you can turn off the “Visualize Luminance Map” option. If you don’t turn this off, it’s temporarily disabled as you use the adjustment controls like Exposure or Saturation.

Here you can see we have applied adjustments to affect the colour and intensity of the sky. Notice these only affect the brighter areas of the sky but not the hillside or darker sky tones.

applying adjustments with the graduated filter using Luminance Range Masking

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For an image like this, it’s also be possible to use the Color Range Mask selection to achieve a similar result. The Color Range Mask allows you to select an area of the image based on colours.

Summary of Using Luminance Range Masking

In this tutorial we’ve looked at how you can use Luminance Range Masking to refine selection in the Camera Raw filter. This allows you to refine a selection based on how dark or light the image tones are. You can then make better selection and improve the quality of your editing.

Although Luminosity Range Masking doesn’t have the power and flexibility of Photoshop Luminosity Masking, it can be an incredibly useful Technique. And for any Adobe Lightroom users reading this, you will find a similar Luminosity Range Masking control in Lightroom.

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Photo Editing Tutorials Using Luminance Range Masking in Photoshop Camera Raw