Masking in Photoshop Lightroom

Often when  I talk to people about their work flow one big question and the need to do some pixel based editing in Photoshop, one of the questions that often comes up is “Why can’t I do X in Lightroom?”

Most of the time, it involves answers that include explanations of pixel based editing versus parametric editing, and lots of other technical reasons as to why certain things can’t happen in LR.  But sometimes (and this is the best part), I find out they are adding to their work flow because it can be done in Lightroom!  One of the most common ones is masking effects.  When I show people this, I almost always get a “Holy Cow!” or some other variation on the “cow” part.

So, today I thought I’d share a quick tutorial on how to implement masking edits in Lightroom.  Let’s take a look at the base image I am using here – a boat dock on Raquette Lake in the Adirondacks of upstate NY:

Before the Mask

So, the dock here is a significant portion of the subject, but it’s way darker than the rest of the image, and really could be increased by a stop or two relative to the sky.  So, rather than round trip to PS, let’s see what we can do here.  I’ll start off with making a general masking selection of the entire area.  So I check the Adjustment Brush (near the top of the Develop Module on the far right hand side), and then at the bottom of the image (over on the left), there’s a box that says “Show Selected Mask Overly”.  I check that box.  Then I just start painting!

Masking a selection in Lightroom

It’s a prety broad brush I’ve used, so we need to clean it up, as some of the water got caught and that will leave an ugly halo effect if I don’t take care of it.  So, to get more detailed selections completed, I zoom in, and then switch to erase mode while still showing the mask.  This is in the lower options of the Adjustment Brush, on the right hand panel – see where it has “A”, “B”, and “Erase”?  Click the erase and start painting again to undo the mask:

Erasing a Mask
You, of course, will have to adjust the size, feathering and opacity of your brush to taste, and to accommodate your brushing technique as needed (hint:  Wacom tablets work better than regular mice or trackballs).  Once you’re finished with your refining of the mask, go ahead and uncheck the option to display the mask and see your results.

At this point you can actually do something else kind of cool – hover your mouse over the dot that is on display and then slide it to the left or right as you see the exposure increase and decrease for the selected area!  Pretty cool, eh?  This same technique works with other features in the adjustment brush, whether you are working on eyes, teeth, dodging, burning, or even skin softening.  The scrubby slider is a nice feature in here.  Then, finally, one thing I’ll do is make a side-by-side comparison of the image in a before and after mode to make sure my changes aren’t too garish or over the top (you can do a side-by-side comparison, top and bottom comparison and even split the screen between the two for a more detailed look):

Side By Side Options

Side by Side View

Side by Side View

Looks pretty good for this quick tutorial…and here’s the final image after our masking edits are done:

Adirondack Dock

Adirondack Dock

Now I grant you that this is probably not a portfolio image, but it hopefully was helpful in illustrating how you can mask and edit your photos inside of Lightroom without having to do the round trip as often to Photoshop!

Like this tip/trick?  Got any other comments, questions, or curiosities of how to leverage Lightroom more in your own work flow?  Sound off in the comments, and as always, keep on shooting!


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