An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

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Lightroom is an ever-changing ever-morphing evolution of the cutting edge of digital image processing. Quite literally, it seems like Adobe releases new features and updates for their upper tier consumer photo editing software extremely frequently. Now, some of these updates and new features are loved by the photographic community and others…well, not so much.

One of these brand new features, called the “Range Mask”, came along with the v7.2 release of Lightroom Classic CC back in February (2018) and it caused quite a stir. It allows you to incorporate masking with the local adjustment tools right inside of Lightroom V7.2 and later.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC - Death Valley

As with most fresh features in Lightroom, some photographers were a little bit skeptical about its actual usefulness in their editing workflow. It’s an interesting tool to be sure and after this, you’ll know everything there is to know about the brand new range mask feature in Lightroom Classic CC.

What is the Range Mask?

Before we get too far into the conversation let’s take a moment and briefly talk about masks as they pertain to editing photographs. A mask is simply a way for you to control what areas of a photo receive the edits you want to apply. There is a huge range of mask types and they vary quite infinitely in their applications.

Usually, masks are routinely used in Photoshop. The old adage “black conceals and white reveals” was born directly from the usage of layer masking inside Photoshop. For the purposes of understanding the range mask in Lightroom, just know that masks allow selective control over edits within a photo.

The new range masking feature provides you with two different methods for applying masks: luminance and color.

Luminance Range Masking

If you’re a Photoshop user, think of luminance masking as a boiled down version of luminosity masks. Don’t sweat it if you’ve never used luminosity masking in Photoshop. Just know that the luminance mask applies local adjustments based on the brightness range you select.

luminance slider - An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

This means that you can apply any edit from a local adjustment tool to only the shadows, highlights, or mid-tone luminance ranges that you choose. The luminance masking function also features a “smoothing” slider. This controls the intensity of the masking effect from hard to soft.

Color Range Masking

Conceptually, the color range mask works just as the luminance range mask except instead of basing its masking on brightness it relies on the color ranges you select with the dropper tool.

color range mask - An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

The dropper tool lets you select a large color palette by clicking and dragging the eye-dropper over an area of your photo.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Using the eye-dropper tool to select the color range.

Alternatively, you can also select up to four (five without the large area selected) highly specific color areas by shift+clicking each desired point.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Using the dropper to select up to 5 target colors for the mask range.

It’s important to note that you can not use both the luminance and color range masks within the same local adjustment tool at the same time. However, you can create a new local adjustment (or duplicate one) and “layer” the masks as many times as you see fit.

How to use the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Alright, let’s get down to business and look at an example of how the luminance and color range masks work. It’s extremely easy and can yield some impressive results once you get the hang of things.

Using the Luminance Range Mask

Here’s an image from an awesome night I spent in Death Valley a couple months ago.

death valley no-edit An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Let’s say I want to use the Gradient Filter tool to brighten up that foreground and bring out a little more detail around the two people crouched by the fire.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

That looks okay, but it definitely caused the highlight portions of the sky to be a little too bright for my taste. To solve this, I’ll apply a luminance range mask.

Simply select “Luminance” from the mask selection drop-down. Next, adjust the slider so that most of the highlights are excluded from the gradient filter adjustments and voila! The sky is no longer overexposed yet the foreground is now much more visible.

And since you can use the range mask with any edit in the local adjustment tool kit I went ahead and added in a little clarity and highlight boost to really make the foreground pop.

To truly demonstrate the effect of the luminance range mask I’ll tick the “show selected mask overlay” box at the bottom of the view window (the keyboard shortcut to show the overlay is O). The areas in red are the portions of the image where the gradient filter has applied its edits.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Gradient Filter applied without a mask. See how it is affecting parts of the sky as well.

Next, let’s have a look at the effect of the luminance range mask.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Gradient Filter with the Luminance Mask applied. Notice how the sky is now less affected in the bright areas.

Notice how the red masking recedes from the highlights in the skyline? It’s not overly obvious in this example but it will be incredibly apparent when we take a look at the effects of the color range mask.

Using the Color Range Mask

We’ll stick with the same photo from earlier for this example. But this time I’m going to use a Radial Filter to brighten up the fire and add some saturation to make the orange glow of the flames stand out more from that gorgeous purple of the desert night.

First, let’s see how a normal Radial Filter looks when applied to the area in question.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Radial Filter applied in Lightroom Classic CC.

Sure, it definitely brightens and adds saturation to the fire but it also added the adjustments to the entire filter area.

To remedy this, I’ll use the color range mask. I begin by using the‘shift+click and drag method to select the majority of the fire area color. Next, I set the Amount slider for the color range mask virtually to zero so that the mask really targets just those oranges and reds. This is the result:

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

And remember how I said you could immediately discern the effects of the color range mask? Well, look at the mask overly before the color masking was applied….

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Radial Filter without masking.

…and now check out the incredible selectivity of the color mask.

An In-Depth Look at the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

Radial Filter with color range mask applied.

Final Thoughts on the Range Mask in Lightroom Classic CC

The new range mask feature borrows the power of Photoshop layer masks and brings it home to the warm safety and comfort of Lightroom. While the range mask is admittedly nowhere near as versatile and customizable as say a luminosity mask in Photoshop, it does have its own excellent merits when it comes to taking more control of your local edits.

With the luminance range mask, you can fine-tune where your edits are applied based on the brightness levels within the photo. This is hugely beneficial when working with highly contrasted scenes and works great for black and white images.

The color range mask harnesses the power of color to let you creatively select exactly which tones will receive your adjustments. As you saw in the examples above, the color range mask is an excellent way to really bring out the contrast when working with complementary colors.

If you haven’t updated to the Lightroom Classic CC v7.2 or later then I urge you to do so now. Take the new range mask feature for a spin and let us know what you think in the comments below.

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Adam Welch is a full-time photomaker, author, adventurer, educator, and self-professed bacon addict. You can usually find him on some distant trail making photographs or at his computer writing about all the elegant madness that is photography. Follow his blog over at aphotographist.com and check out his eBooks and Lightroom presets!.

  • GeraldMurphy

    I have Lightroom Classic v7.3 and cannot find the Range Mask panel. Looking at Whats New in the Help area. Range mask is not mentioned for v7.2 or 7.3 and v7.4 is now available. Is Range Mask unavailable outside the US or something?

  • GeraldMurphy

    Actually I’ve found a tutorial which explains where to find it. You first need to select an adjustment tool and create an initial mask. Range Mask is otherwise greyed out and Off. Once you have created the initial mask area etc you are only then able to switch the Range mask on and select colour or luminance. Then you can apply the desired correction from the list of options such as shadows, highlights etc. I obviously didn’t read your article properly.

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