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The Essential Guide to Object Selection in Lightroom

A guide to object selection in Lightroom

One of the most exciting, creative, and practical features in Lightroom is object selection. Knowing how to properly utilize the Select Objects tools can reduce hours of cumbersome editing into mere minutes – and while this feature is incredibly powerful, it’s also easy to handle.

More broadly, object selection demonstrates Adobe’s practical approach to integrating AI into its photography tools, where each new feature has tangible benefits both for casual users as well as demanding professionals.

In typical Lightroom fashion, object selection doesn’t do your editing for you. Instead, it gives you the power to edit your photos more quickly and efficiently, while also producing better results for you and your clients.

In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about Lightroom’s Select Objects tools: what they do, how they work, and how you can use them to enhance your post-processing workflow!

What is Lightroom Object Selection?

Lightroom Object Selection, two geese near a pond.
Nikon D750 | 50mm f/1.8G | f/2.8 | 1/1000s | ISO 400
The Lightroom Object Selection tools let me create precise masks for the two geese in just a few seconds. This kind of operation has traditionally been extraordinarily cumbersome and time-consuming, especially for subjects that blend into the background (like the goose on the left). Lightroom’s Object Selection solves this problem and is easy to learn.

For many years, Lightroom’s Develop module tools let you apply edits to specific portions of an image, but these tools were always been hindered by the limits of technology.

For example, the Brush tool was a great way to selectively adjust exposure, saturation, and color. However, if you wanted to apply edits with surgical precision, you mostly had to rely on the Auto Mask option (which attempted to limit your Brush to a range of colors similar to where you first clicked). It was, and still is, an imprecise solution to a complicated problem, with results that are middling at best.

But Lightroom’s object selection feature is like Auto Mask turned up to 11. Rather than refining your masks based on color or luminance, Select Objects uses the power of artificial intelligence combined with your keen eye as a photographer. You can select discrete elements within your images to create bespoke masks, which you can then use to apply targeted edits without any of your adjustments spilling over into other portions of the file.

It’s the kind of AI use case that hits all the right notes for me and millions of other photographers. Here, Lightroom’s object selection feature essentially functions as your hardworking pixel-precise partner, but it knows its place and never actually does the editing for you.

Lightroom Object Selection, a yellow airplane flying low over a field.
Nikon D500 | 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II | f/2.8 | 125mm | 1/6000s | ISO 100
Lightroom’s object selection tools made it easy to edit the plane, house, barn, and other discrete elements within this image.

There are two object selection Modes: Brush and Rectangle.

Brush works best when the object you want to select is in front of a more complicated background, and it requires just a bit more manual labor on your part. Rectangle is faster and is ideal for objects that stand out from the background.

However, it’s not a question of which Mode is better; both are equally useful and will quickly find a valuable place in your editing workflow.

How to use Lightroom’s Brush Select Mode

The best part of object selection is how easy it is to use and incorporate into your workflow. Open the Develop module, then enter the Masking interface by clicking the circle beneath the histogram.

You can then harness the power of Adobe’s AI algorithms to automatically create masks for the subject, sky, and background, as well as for individual people. Of course, you can also use tools like the Brush, Linear Gradient, and Radial Gradient to create masks in a more traditional, hands-on manner. But the Object option offers the best of both worlds: Lightroom uses AI to create a mask for objects within your image – but with a little help from you, the photographer.

Once you’re in the Masking panel, you can get started with object selection by clicking Objects. You’ll then need to choose either Brush Select or Rectangle Select.

(I generally prefer the Brush Select Mode, but it’s good to know how to handle both because they are each useful in their own way!)

For this example, we’re going to work with the Brush Select Mode. Make sure the Brush Select icon is chosen:

Lightroom Object Selection, screenshot with Brush mode clearly identified.
The Brush mode is ideal for objects that are oddly-shaped and that blend in with the background a bit more.

Then drag the Size slider to change the size of the brush to suit your needs.

(Note: The brush should be large enough to let you quickly paint over the object you’d like to select, but it shouldn’t be so large that the masking algorithm becomes confused and imprecise.)

After choosing your brush parameters, head over to your image to create the mask. If you’re looking to mask objects that are simple or uniform in color, you won’t need to do much; the AI is pretty good at identifying what you want to mask, provided you can give it a basic idea to work with. It also works best with objects that are clearly separated from the foreground and background.

Lightroom Object Selection, a blue and gray fire hydrant next to a street.
Nikon D750 | 50mm f/1.8G | f/2.8 | 1/2000s | ISO 220
The blue and gray color scheme of this fire hydrant would make for a difficult masking job using traditional methods. It could be done by masking different areas and adding them together, but that kind of operation adds time and effort.

Use the brush cursor to draw a mask over your object, much like you would with the traditional Brush tool. But don’t worry about staying in the lines. In fact, the tool works best if you go beyond the object’s borders since the point is to give Lightroom a general idea of the mask you want to create, then let the AI do the rest. Lightroom uses the power of AI to analyze the area you brushed and look for the object, and only the object, over which you want to create a mask.

Lightroom Object Selection, a red blob of color to illustrate the object selection masking brush tool.
No need to color within the lines when you use the brush to paint over the object. All you are doing is giving the Lightroom AI model a general idea of where the object is and what is looks like.

This initial step does not require much effort on your part. Then Lightroom basically says “Thanks, I’ll take it from here.” It analyzes the area you painted with the brush tool and, in just a few seconds, produces a mask that applies only to the selected. In most cases, it does a phenomenal job of identifying the object – even if it’s an odd shape, contains uneven edges, and is made up of many different colors.

For instance, here’s the result of the brushing I did in the image above:

Lightroom Object Selection, a red mask overlay on top of a fire hydrant.
Lightroom created this mask in mere seconds, whereas it would have taken me a few minutes. The very top needs just a bit of refinement, but creating masks like these with the power of AI is dramatically faster and simpler than doing it by hand.

After creating the initial object mask, Lightroom hands the editing back to you as if to say – like Superman after defeating Lex Luthor or Metallo – “My work here is done.” You are now free to edit the mask just as you would any other mask. You can adjust the area using sliders like Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, or Saturation, and you can also add to or subtract from the masked area for further refinement.

Even if the AI object mask isn’t flawless, it’s almost always significantly better than what most human editors could create in a similar amount of time and will certainly speed up your editing workflow.

Lightroom Object Selection, two geese near a pond with red mask overlays on top of each one.
These are the masks I created for the image at the top of the article using Lightroom’s Select Objects tools. It took about ten seconds, and the masks are much more accurate than what I would normally create manually.

How to use Lightroom’s Rectangle Select Mode

While the Brush Select Mode works very well for objects against complex backgrounds, the Rectangle Select Mode is an ideal solution when the object is easily separated from other elements in the frame. It’s also faster to use since you don’t have to manually paint in a mask area.

Lightroom Object Selection, screenshot with Rectangle mode clearly identified.
Rectangle Select Mode makes the object selection process even faster, but it works best when the objects are easily distinguished from their surroundings.

So how do you use Rectangle Select Mode to quickly mask an object? Start by clicking the Rectangle Select icon. Then click on the image and drag the cursor around the object you want to mask:

Lightroom Object Selection, a brown leaf on green grass with a lightroom object selection rectangle surrounding it.
Nikon D750 | 50mm f/1.8G | f/2.8 | 1/750s | ISO 400
I quickly drew a rectangle around this leaf; now Lightroom will take care of the rest.

After you finish creating the rectangle, Lightroom takes over and, within a few seconds, presents you with an almost-perfect mask that you can edit however you want. As with the Brush Select Mode, the mask might need a bit of refinement, but the time you save is well worth the trade-off.

Lightroom Object Selection, a brown leaf on green grass with a red mask overlay on top.
In 1-2 seconds, Lightroom’s AI creates masks that would be much more time-consuming to do by hand. This mask needs just a bit of refinement on the left side, but it’s very solid overall.

Lightroom’s object selection tools are flexible

The beauty of Lightroom’s AI-powered object selection tools lies not just in their speed, but in their flexibility. While there are other AI-powered masking tools in Lightroom, such as Subject, Sky, and People, they are limited to specific elements within your images. These tools work automatically with no manual intervention from you, but this automated approach also severely limits the range of applications. For example, Subject works great unless there is not a clear subject, or multiple subjects, in your shot. In these cases, Objects is a much better choice.

In the image below, there are several individual objects and no single clear subject. If you want to create masks to selectively edit individual objects, none of Lightroom’s automatic AI-powered masking tools will be helpful at all.

Lightroom Object Selection, several objects on office shelves including soda bottles, coffee mugs, and figurines.
This scene has dozens of individual objects, many composed of multiple colors and odd shapes. Creating masks would be a considerable chore without the benefit of Lightroom’s object selection tools.

Until recently, if you wanted to create masks for individual objects in the image, it would have involved precise, often painstaking work with the Brush tool. Auto Mask would have helped a little, but most of the objects are made of more than one color and some have colors that are very similar to their surroundings, which complicates matters a great deal.

However, Lightroom’s AI-powered Select Objects tools can handle the job in a matter of seconds.

Lightroom Object Selection, several objects on office shelves including soda bottles, coffee mugs, and figurines. Six of the objects have red masking overlays.
A combination of the Brush Select and Rectangle Select Modes worked very well, and the results are even more impressive when you consider that these masks took about 20 seconds to create!

I used the Brush Select Mode to create masks for four of the objects on the shelves, and I used the Rectangle Select Mode for the calendar and framed starship artwork on the right. The only major issue is the top of the picture frame; Lightroom’s AI algorithm didn’t quite get it, even after multiple attempts, but for an operation that took less than one minute, the results are extremely impressive.

Object selection in Lightroom: final words

With all the AI tools that are rapidly encroaching on so many areas of digital photography, it’s hard to know which are useful and which are more like gimmicky party tricks. But Lightroom’s Select Objects tools are most certainly the former and have rapidly become an essential element of many photography workflows.

Selecting objects in Lightroom is easy to learn, quick to do, and does the kind of difficult time-consuming work that many editors need but don’t like to do on their own. If you haven’t tried it, I strongly recommend giving it a shot, and if you’ve already worked with the feature, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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