When it comes to making selective edits in Lightroom, the range mask tool is a game changer. In this post, I’ll cover the range mask tool in detail, showing you just how easy it is to use and showing you how to use it to take your Lightroom edits to the next level.
So let’s get into it! First…
What is the Lightroom Range Mask Tool?
As the name suggests, the range mask tool allows you to selectively control/mask the range of pixels that will be affected by a particular edit based on either luminance values, color values, or depth information.
Note: the depth option is a newer addition to this tool and will only be available for some photos from newer phones which have dual cameras and can include depth metadata. These files are usually in a .heif or .heic format. It’s not a format widely used yet, but be aware that in the near future this could become something that is standard. We won’t cover it in great detail in this post since it still won’t apply for many of you, but if you want to see a demonstration you can check it out here.
Before diving into the Range Mask tool options within Lightroom, let’s review some basic terminology that might be helpful:
What is a mask?
No, I’m not talking about the kind of mask you wear at Halloween, but the kind you find it photo/video editing software. It’s a different kind of mask, but the name still makes sense as a mask in Lightroom/Photoshop controls what you see and what you don’t see (or the area where edits will be applied). In the case of Lightroom’s range mask tool, areas within the selected range will get the selective edits you apply, areas outside the selected range will not.
Simple, right? Cool, moving on…
What is Luminance?
There’s no need to over complicate this with a technical definition, you can just think of luminance as the brightness values that exist in your image: from the dark shadows, to the midtones, to the bright highlights. Every pixel in your image falls somewhere within that luminosity range. Just like your histogram, the far left of the luminance range represents black, the far right is white, with the whole spectrum of brightness values in between.
Okay, with those basics tucked away, we’re ready to look at…
How does the range mask tool work in Lightroom?
First, it’s crucial that you understand that the range mask tool is not a standalone tool. Rather, it works in concert with the 3 local adjustment tools that already exist in Lightroom: the graduated filter, the radial filter, and the adjustment brush. These 3 tools already give you more precise controls in defining what area of your image get affected by a particular edit (or set of edits), but now you can take this control even further by adding a range mask while working under any of these tools.
Just understand the range mask is constrained to whatever initial range is defined within the local adjustment where it is defined. So if you use the adjustment brush to select the top half of your image and then apply a color range mask, you are selecting just a range of colors within the top half of the image.
It’s not complicated, but let’s talk through the options:
Applying a Color Range Mask
The one is pretty straightforward, the color option of the range mask tool is for choosing a color range or color ranges. It works with an eyedropper tool (which you’re probably already familiar with from other LR/PS tools) that let you click anywhere in your image. The selected color is used to define the initial color range selected.
Then, you use the amount slider which basically lets you decide how liberal you want your color range to be or how quickly you want the falloff to be between your selected color (which becomes part of the selected mask that will get the edits you apply under the adjustment) and the areas of your photo that won’t be selected/affected. With a low amount, your color range will only include colors really close to your selected color and there will be a really quick falloff from selected to not selected. With higher amounts, you increase the color range resulting in a more gradual falloff. This is similar to feathering — if you’re familiar with how that works — only this time the breadth of the color range is what is controlling the amount of the feather.
You can also shift-click and your eyedropper tool, it will show a + symbol next to it, and click add additional colors. As of right now, you can add up to 5 colors. Each color represents its own range that will be part of the selection, but the one amount slider controls each of these ranges so by dragging it out you make all of the ranges more or less liberal.
To see the area that is being selected as part of your color mask you can tap the “o” key in Lightroom to turn on the mask overlay or if you alt + click when dragging the amount slider you will see a black and white version of the mask with white representing the selected area.
Keep in mind: You can add as many local adjustments as you like (at least until you crash Lightroom) to your image so instead of shift-clicking you could also just define a new color range in a new adjustment. This is DEFINITELY how you’d want to do it if you wanted to make different edits to the different colors, otherwise, it’s really up to you. There are almost always different ways of accomplishing the same task in Lightroom and Photoshop so it’s usually about choosing which method is the most efficient to accomplish the task at hand.
Now, let’s look at the luminosity option:
Using a Luminance Mask
To apply a luminance mask you again start by first defining an initial area with one of the 3 local adjustment tools: the graduated filter, the radial filter, or the adjustment brush.
Next, find the range mask option and choose luminance.
The luminance mask works by letting you define a range of luminance (brightness values) within your photo. You do this by using two control points on a range slider that let you define the bottom and top value of the range. In the most recent Lightroom update they also added the eyedropper option so you can click on an area of your photo and it will use the brightness of that area to define an initial range….which you can still tweak further with the control points on the range slider.
The key is just to understand that the range slider represents the full range of brightness values within your image — the far left of the slider would be anything that is pure black, the far right would be anything that is pure white and then you have the full spectrum in between.
As a final option, you have a smoothness slider which lets you control how quick or gradual the falloff will be between the selected and non-selected areas. If you’re familiar with Photoshop terminology you can think of this as the feather.
The third and newest option under the Color Range Mask tool is depth. I’m not going to cover it in full in this post, but all you really need to know is it works pretty much the same as the luminance mask only you are making selections based on depth map data. Most photos still DO NOT have this information and so the depth option will be grayed, but some newer phones with dual camera are able to capture this information and if your photos have it then you’ll be able to choose the depth option and make selections that attempt to isolate foreground and background elements based on the images depth metadata.
So that’s basically it! It’s not hard and the best way to master the range mask tool is to dive in there and practice. But, hopefully, you see how powerful and what a time-saver this tool can be.
Look at the photo of these peppers:
Imagine if you wanted to select just the yellow pepper. Or if you wanted to isolate all the peppers from the background. This task might take you a while using the adjustment brush alone, but combine it with a color range mask and you’ll have it done in no time at all!
In the above photo, the red peppers (now shone with a green overlay) were easily isolated with a single click. If you wanted to isolate the other peppers from the background as well you could shift+click to add in more color ranges.
Imagine the possibilities.
Now get out there and start practicing!