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An Introduction to Lightroom Classic’s Newest Tools

The announcement of Lightroom CC has been stealing all the thunder when it comes to Lightroom over the last few weeks. At the same time, however, Adobe made some changes and additions to the Lightroom you and I have been using (now called Lightroom Classic). There aren’t many changes, but they are very significant, so let’s take a look.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

Changes to Lightroom Classic

Before we get into the new tools, you’re likely to notice an overall change to Lightroom. It is faster. Much faster. It imports faster, you can flick through your pictures faster . . . everything just works faster. That is a nice change.

When it comes to making global edits to your pictures –  that is, changes that affect all parts of the picture – Lightroom works exactly the same. There are no changes (except the speed). The bad news is that there are no new features, but the good news is that you will still be comfortable with how everything works.

Making Local Changes in Lightroom

The latest change to Lightroom comes in the local adjustment tools. If you aren’t already familiar with them, Adobe lets you make changes to specific parts of your picture using one of three tools: the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter, and the Radial Filter.

Since the changes to Lightroom work within these tools, it is worth spending a second making sure you are familiar with them.  Here is what they are and how they work:

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

  • Adjustment Brush: It is just like it sounds. You select the brush and then paint in where you want to make changes. When you call up the brush, a series of sliders will appear, and the changes you make with these sliders only affect the part of the image you have selected. If you want Lightroom to find an edge for you as you paint, to keep things from spilling over into other areas, be sure you have checked the Auto Mask option at the bottom.
  • Graduated Filter:  You will find this tool gets more useful the more you use it. This is a filter that makes gradual changes to your picture, along a straight line. If you are familiar with a graduated neutral density filter, then you are familiar with this tool. As with the Adjustment Brush, when you call up this tool and create a gradient, you will see sliders appear on your screen. You can then make changes to only the part of the image you chose. Those changes will be softly blended in. You can create multiple gradients to change many discrete parts of your image.
  • Radial Filter: Frankly, this is the one I use the least. It works like the Graduated Filter, but it selects an elliptical area. Once you make your selection, you’ll see the usual sliders for making adjustments to the selected area. I find it is most useful for highlighting the subject or a particular part of your image.

The trouble with these selection tools has always been controlling the selection. Take the Graduated Filter, for example.  How often do you really want to make changes along a straight line across your entire picture?  Probably not often. What you end up doing is just trying to feather your changes in softly enough that you don’t notice changes to things sticking over the line.

Now, however, Adobe has provided additional tools for us to deal with that. It is called the Range Mask feature, and you’ll see it as an option at the bottom of the Adjustment Brush, Graduated Filter, and Radial Filter tools.

Using the Range Mask Feature

What does the Range Mask feature do? Simply put, it allows you to exclude things from a selection based on brightness values or color.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

Here’s how it works. Once you have selected a part of the picture to edit using one of the three tools mentioned above, you’ll see a little option at the bottom of the controls for that tool labeled Range Mask. It will be in the Off position by default, meaning it is doing nothing.

When you click on it, you will see options for Color and Luminance. You pick one and then you can exclude colors or brightness values from the selection.

Color Range Mask

For example, if you choose Color, then you will see an eyedropper tool. Use it to select a color you want to exclude from your selection. If you’re happy with that, you’re done. If it isn’t quite right, there is an amount slider just below so you can fine tune it. You can also click and drag to select all the colors in a particular area, or you can Shift-click with the eyedropper to select multiple colors.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

Luminance Range Mask

Or you can select Luminance instead, which will allow you to exclude pixels of certain brightness values from your picture. You’ll see a Range slider with two points on it. Think of these as your black point (on the left) and the white point (on the right).

When you drag the left/black point up, Lightroom will remove darker pixels from the selection. For example, if you want to make changes to a particularly bright area of your picture, but not affect some dark items sticking into the bright area (trees into the sky, a mountain or building, etc.), then pull up the left point of the Range control.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

The Range Mask Feature in Action

It might be more understandable if you see these tools in action. Let’s take a photo like this one just below, where you want to adjust the sky, but there isn’t a nice clean line to use a graduated filter. I should note that we could try to make an adjustment using the Adjustment Brush, but even using Auto Mask it won’t be able to make a clean selection around all those branches. Our best bet is going to be the new Range Mask feature.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

With the new tools in Lightroom, you can make quick work of this. Just grab the Graduated Filter (or the Adjustment Brush, if you prefer) and make the changes you want to the sky. Don’t worry about how it affects the darker part of the image for now. When you are done making your changes, it might look something like this:

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

We can now use the Range Mask feature to clean this up very quickly. Just select Luminance, then pull the left/black point of the Range slider up. That will exclude the dark areas from the selection.

Voila! You now have the exact changes to the sky you want, without any spillover into areas (the cliff and trees) that you don’t want to be affected.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools

You can repeat the process in reverse to make changes to the darker portion of the image as well.

Additional Uses of the Range Mask Feature

As you play with this feature, you’ll find additional things you can do with it. The ability to target pixels based on brightness and color values is so powerful and has so many different applications, that I think you’ll end up using it in a variety of different ways. I am just getting started with it (obviously, as it just came out), but I am already seeing uses for it in my night photography.

With this tool, it is a pretty simple matter to target the dark areas of the sky and leave the stars alone. I can create a selection of the entire sky using the Graduated Filter, and then use the Range Mask to remove the stars from the selection. That way I can just darken and apply noise reduction to only the darker areas.

An Introduction to Lightroom Classic's Newest Tools - night sky image

Previously, that required a tedious process of luminance masks in Photoshop. That’s just one little application I found, and you will doubtlessly find your own better applications.

Application to Your Photography

The recent update to Lightroom Classic has only one additional tool, which is the Range Mask feature addressed in this article. While it is only one change, it is a really powerful addition. It makes all the local adjustment tools in Lightroom Classic that much more powerful.

If you have shied away from making local selections in Lightroom, it is now a much more feasible process. If you are someone that routinely takes your photos into Photoshop to make local changes – utilizing the powerful masking features there – this will probably save you a few trips.

Give it a try and I think you’ll like what you find.

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Jim Hamel
Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel excels in showing aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. He is the creator of several courses here at Digital Photography School, including the popular 31 Days to Becoming a Better Photographer course. His book Getting Started in Photography has helped many begin their photographic journey. You can see his work on his website: JimHamelPhotography.com

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