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Range Mask: The Unconventional Luminosity Masks in Lightroom

Range mask is a tool in Adobe Lightroom that allows you to create adjustment masks targeting either a range of tones or colors.

The idea is similar to luminosity masks with its extended functionality to include color but without all the heavy machinery.

If you’re a Lightroom only user and have been wondering how to apply targeted local adjustments like in Photoshop…

You should definitely know Range Mask!

In this article, I’m going to show you how Rang Mask in Lightroom works and how you can use it like a "lite" version of luminosity masks.

Range Mask = Luminosity Masks Lite

Although I do not know how the idea of Range Mask came along...

It certainly looks very similar to luminosity masks. The ability to create a selection based on color also feels like Color Range in Photoshop.

If you’re a Photoshop user, you probably know what I’m talking about. In which case, skip this and dive straight to the next section.

Otherwise, read on because this may help you understand Range Mask a bit better.

Both Luminosity Masks and Color Range in Photoshop create highly targeted selections based on the brightness and color of the pixels respectively.

You can apply literally any adjustments via these masks to affect only the desired area, i.e. local adjustments.

I’m sure you can imagine how powerful it is to be able to do the same in Lightroom!

Why Use Range Mask?

The reason is obvious if you’re a Lightroom only user.

Targeted local adjustment is a proven way to create much better images compared to global adjustment.

Since Lightroom doesn’t have layer masks, Range Mask is the next best thing available. It’s also useful even if you’re a Photoshop + Lightroom user like me!

Although Photoshop is the go-to software that handles all the heavy lifting...

It can sometimes feel cumbersome especially when you just want to do something quickly to fine-tune your image.

Having a “lite” version of luminosity masks and color range in Lightroom means you can fix your image with some precision without having Photoshop eating up your RAM.

How Does It Work?

There are two types of Range Mask: Luminance and Color.

You can use it in Radial Filter, Graduated filter, and Adjustment Brush.

The principles for both masks are the same. The only difference is how they create the selection.

Luminance Range Mask selects area based on the range of brightness you set. Color Range Mask selects area based on the color you choose.

Let’s walkthrough them both.

Luminance Range Mask

Make sure you’re in Develop Module to being with.

At the top of the Adjustment Panel, you’ll find a series of icons - pick Radial Filter, Graduated Filter, or Adjustment Brush.

What should you choose?

It depends on the area you want to apply...

E.g. use the Graduated Filter for large areas such as the top half of the image, etc.

Once you have created the filter or painted with the brush, find “Range Mask” at the bottom of the Adjustment Panel and follow these steps:

  1. 1
    Activate Luminance Range Mask by selecting Luminance from the dropdown menu.
  2. 2
    Check the box for “Show Selected Mask Overlay” to visualize the mask. The area selected is now colored red.
  3. 3
    Use the Range slider to set the tonal range for selection. We'll go through this in more detail in a second.
  4. 4
    Use Smoothness to adjust feathering, i.e. how seamless the mask/adjustment blends into the surrounding area.
  5. 5
    Apply your adjustments and fine-tune Range and/or Smoothness to get the best result.

Setting Luminance Range

The Range slider determines the range of brightness the Luminance Range Mask selects.

The bar represents tones, from the darkest on the left to the brightest on the right.

The tonal range is to illustrate what the Range slider represents.

There are two sliders (the red arrows). What lies in between them is the range of brightness covered by the mask. 

Let me show you an example:

In the example above, I used a Graduated Filter and dragged it down to the shore line.

I wanted to brighten only the mountains without affecting the buildings. I moved the right slider towards the left until the mask (the red color area) selects only the mountains.

If you look at the Range slider, the area between the two sliders corresponds to the darks/shadows area of the tonal range.

Here's a quick tip:

To visualize the mask/selection, check the box pointed with the yellow arrow, not the green arrow!

Color Range Mask

Similar to how you activate Luminance Range Mask. But instead of Luminance, choose Color from the dropdown menu.

Now you need to select a color for the mask to target within the selection.

Follow these steps:

  1. 1
    Click on the eyedropper (red arrow), hover it to a color in the image you like to select.
  2. 2
    Hold down Shift + Click to select multiple colors up to four different colors.
  3. 3
    Alternatively, hold down Ctrl/Cmd + Click and drag the box within a color to improve the accuracy of the selection. This is useful when the color has multiple shades.
  4. 4
    Use Amount to refine your selection.
  5. 5
    Apply your adjustments +/- tweak Amount until you're satisfied with the result.

Depth Range Mask

I’m sure you’ve noticed it while selecting Luminance or Color Range Mask from the menu.

Its use is limited to certain devices so we won’t discuss it here. You can, however, learn more in this article.

Editing With Range Mask

You can apply everything you’d normally do with a Radial/Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush.

For that reason, I won't go through every single adjustment because you already know that.

But if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you want to know if you can use it as Luminosity Masks or Saturation Mask.

Luck for you, I've done all the hard work!

Let's check it out...

Range Mask vs Luminosity & Saturation Masks

Before we dive into the fun part...

Let’s look at how Range Mask is like compared to Luminosity Masks and Saturation Mask.

If you’re not familiar with those two, you can learn more about it in my previous posts.

Learn more: The Kickstarter's Guide to Luminosity Masks and Fixing Color with Precision Using Saturation Mask

Range Mask vs Luminosity Masks

It’s challenging to compare every aspect of it like for like.

The tricky thing with Range Mask is that you have to set the tonal range for the mask. Unlike luminosity masks, these are already generated for you through automation.

You can sort of play around with the Range sliders…

But you can never be sure at what point to consider it Brights 1, 2, etc.

Having said that, if you move it all the way to the brightest and the darkest...that’s probably Brights and Darks 6 mask.

...and that’s what we’ll be comparing.

Brights 6 Mask

Range Mask (be​fore) vs Luminosity Mask (after)

In Range Mask, I dragged the left slider all the way to the right until the Range value was 95/100 and reduced Smoothness to 0.

This is followed by reducing Exposure to -4 (maximal adjustment in Lightroom).

In Photoshop, I did the same using Adobe Camera Raw filter and applied it to a Brights 6 luminosity mask.

As you can see in the images above…

Visually speaking, the selections in both are very similar. The only difference is the effect seems to be more subtle with Range Mask.

Darks 6 Mask

Range Mask (before) vs Luminosity Mask (after)

I did exactly the same but in reverse this time.

In Range Mask, I move the right slider towards the left until the Range value is 0/5 and Smoothness to 0. Exposure was increased to +4.

In Photoshop, I used Adobe Camera Raw filter again to increase Exposure to the same value and mask it with Darks 6 luminosity mask.

The results looks almost the same visually.

If I'm really critical, the only noticeable difference is the tonal transition in Range Mask might be a little abrupt. (you might not see the same as I do due to monitor calibration)

Range Mask vs Saturation Mask

My next question was whether I can use Range Mask as Saturation Mask to target the most saturation part of a color.

Range Mask (before) vs Luminosity Mask (after)

In Range Mask, I use the eyedropper to click on the most saturated part of green and reduced the saturation to 0.

I repeated that a few times and even tried the Cmd/Ctrl + click & drag method to average the sample. Somehow the color selection is always above the saturated line.

The saturation wasn’t really reduced to absolute 0 either.

In comparison to Saturation Mask, the saturated green line was completely desaturated.

Verdict

Luminance and Color Range Mask performed pretty well compared to their “counterpart” in Photoshop. 

The results are not exactly the same but it’s good enough for a quick fix.

Case Studies

This section is merely to share with you my experience with Range Mask and how it has helped me in my workflow.

By going through these examples, I hope you do get something out of it to help you improve your workflow.

Quick Adjustments

As mentioned earlier, one of the reasons to use Range Mask is to spare your time from loading Photoshop.

This is particularly useful if all you want to do is a small tweak.

I recently post-processed an image I took earlier this year. I converted it to black and white and did all the heavy-weight editing in Photoshop.

Before and after highlight adjustment with Range Mask

I thought I was done with it…

But a few days later when I came back to the image, I thought the highlight wasn’t bright enough.

The histogram certainly showed a small gap on the far right that suggests I could push the brights further.

By the way, a good way to make your black and white image look punched out is to make sure it has a full tonal range (from 0-255).

This means stretching the histogram to its full width!

Selection without (before) and with (after) Luminance Range Mask

What I did was apply Luminance Range Mask via a Radial Filter to target the highlights of the building.

Then, I increased Whites to brighten it up until the histogram stretches all the way to the brightest bright.

The final comparison below shows how the same highlight adjustment look without and with Luminance Range Mask.

Highlight adjustment without (before) and with (after) Luminance Range Mask

Saturation Control

If you remember the comparison I did earlier with saturation mask, you know Color Range Mask doesn’t target saturation as well as a true Saturation Mask does.

But it does a reasonable job.

So, if you’re not feeling strongly about perfection, it might just work for you.

Saturation in sky reduced with Range Mask (before) and Saturation Mask (after)

The magenta in the sky in the right towards the centre of the image seems a bit too overwhelming.

I applied a Color Range Mask, click on a single point in the area I think is most saturated with the eyedropper.

Saturation was reduced so that the colors in the image look more unified.

The results looks pretty good...

You hardly notice any difference!

Take Home Message

If you're a Lightroom +/- Photoshop user but haven't checked out Range Mask before...

You're honestly missing out BIG TIME.

Range Mask brings image editing in Lightroom to a new level - faster editing with more control and precision.

Lastly, for more tutorials on luminosity masks, you can check out the luminosity masks resource page!


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