Precise Local Adjustments with Auto Mask and Range Mask

Sometimes we have photographs where we want to apply adjustments to only parts of the photograph. We may have a landscape photograph where we just want to make the sky a little bit more dramatic. or we may have a portrait, where we may just want to sharpen the eyes. Just the eyes, not the entire photograph. In Lightroom, we can do that with the help of the local adjustment tools which are really great but they’re not all that precise. What if we want to make a really precise local adjustment? In that case, we take help from two additional tools that we have in Lightroom, the Auto Mask and the newly introduced Range Mask. The Range Mask is a new feature in Lightroom Classic, that was just introduced a few months ago.

In this video below, we take a look at the Auto Mask and the Range Mask feature to see how we can apply adjustments that affect only the areas that we want. If you’re someone who prefers reading, then continue below the video.

We apply our local adjustments with the Graduated Filter, the Radial filter and the Adjustment brush. You can find those in the bar right below the histogram (in the Develop module). They are the last three options.

The Auto Mask Feature

Detecting Edges with Auto Mask

In the image below, let’s say I want to apply an adjustment just to the sky. Maybe make a little darker and bluer. I can do that using the Graduated Filter.

Once I select the Graduated Filter, it shows me its settings on the right. From these settings, I’ll bring the exposure down a little bit, to make sure when I paint over the sky, it becomes darker and also bring the white balance towards the blue side just a little bit, to make the sky bluer.

Then, with these settings, draw out the graduated filter from the top left corner. But while the adjustment is getting applied on to the sky, it’s also overlapping the house. You can see it more clearly, if you switch on the option Show Selected Mask Overlay from the toolbar at the bottom. You can also switch it on using it’s shortcut, which is the O key.

Show Selected Mask Overlay

This will show that the adjustment is coming on to parts of the house. What we want, though is for it to stay just on the sky. What we can do is to select the Brush option from the panel on the right.

With this brush, you can then add or subtract the area where the adjustment is being applied. If you start painting over where the adjustment is applied, it’ll add to the area. or, you can press the Alt key on a PC, or Option key on a Mac, and then the brush will become an eraser as long as the Alt/Option key is pressed. You can use this eraser erase it off from where it’s overlapping the house.

There’s a slight problem though. When the eraser goes close to the edges, if the brush goes on to the other side of the edge, it will also erase the adjustment from the sky. We don’t want that. It certainly doesn’t look neat and it would create halos around the edges of the house.

Now, this is where the neat part comes in. From the right side panel, you switch on the option called Auto Mask and then if you erase over the house, even if the brush goes on to the other side of the edge, it’s not erasing from the sky.

Auto Mask basically allows the brush to detect any edges in your photograph. Where the white building and the blue sky meet, there’s a huge change of color and tone. For Lightroom, that’s an edge. Wherever there’s a drastic change in the color, or the darkness or lightness, that’s an edge for Lightroom. With the Auto Mask on, it’s making sure that whatever painting you are doing with the brush, it does not cross over to the other side of that edge. Now, how exactly does it work? Do you notice the minus sign in the the middle of the brush? As long as THAT doesn’t cross over to the other side of the edge, it will keep the adjustment to this side.

Selecting Complicated Areas with Auto Mask

The photo above was a pretty simple photograph. The house was a geometric shape, it wasn’t all that difficult to paint along the shape. So, it was easier to make it precise and paint along a straight line. But, what if it’s a complicated photograph? I have another photograph below and in that, you can see that applying a local adjustment to just the sky will not be that simple. The sky is showing through the trees and the branches, so, it’s a little bit more complicated to take my brush in there and paint it in a precise way.

First, I’ll show you a method to do it with the Auto Mask option that we’ve just seen, then we’ll see how to do it with the new Range Mask option that’s new in the Classic CC version. So, let’s first see, how we can do it with the Auto Mask. For this we’ll work with the Adjustment Brush.

Now, what I want to do is, I want to make the brush really big, so that it covers the entire photograph. I’ll increase the brush size to as high as I can take it. Let’s say to around 70-80. Take the feather to 0. and Flow to 100.

The idea is that the brush should cover the entire photograph. If it still doesn’t, either increase the brush size even further or if you are at the highest brush size, then zoom out of your photograph from options in the Navigator on the top left, so that the brush covers the entire image.

With the big brush covering the entire image, the one thing that needs to be made sure is that the little plus sign in the middle of the brush is on a blue area of the sky. And when it is, just click once. And you’ll see that it’ll pick out only the sky, from in between all the complicated branches of the trees. Even though the brush was covering the entire photo, but because the plus sign was on the blue color and the Auto Mask option was on, it only went and applied the adjustment to wherever the blue color of the sky was.

You’re seeing the sky to be a little purple because the Show Selected Mask Overlay Option is on at the bottom, but, if you switch that off, you will only see the adjustment it applied, and it would’ve applied it in a really precise manner.

Here’s another cool thing about this. If, after clicking on the sky, you realize, that maybe you didn’t want it on the sky. You wanted the adjustment on the building. You can simply click on the pin of the adjustment, and drag it on to the house, and then, it will no longer apply the adjustment to the blue areas of the sky, but it’ll apply them to the brown color of the building, wherever it is in the photograph.

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The New Range Mask Feature

This has gotten even more powerful in Lightroom Classic CC. We have a new option called the Range Mask, which allows you to isolate your adjustments further to edit either a particular range of colors, or a particular range of tones in whatever area that we define with our Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter or the Radial Filter. Kind of similar to what we’ve just seen, but much more precise and powerful.

Luminosity Range Masks

I have another photograph, a portrait I took of my daughter. With this one, I want to apply some local adjustments to just her eyes. Maybe brighten them up, sharpen them; just bring out the overall details.

With the Local Adjustment Brush, we’ll simply start painting over her eye. When you paint, you’ll notice that it isn’t all that precise; it’s kind of going out of the eyes as well, but the preciseness is what we’ll achieve with the Range Mask feature.

Then from the right panel, we have the new Range Mask dropdown. In that, we have two options. Color and Luminance. Color will allow us to select a color and isolate our adjustment to just that color. Kinda like what we did with the sky in the other photo. Luminance will keep our adjustment limited to only a particular tone, so say let’s say if we wanted to brighten up just the dark tones in the eyes and don’t want the adjustment to apply to the areas that are already bright. So, it will apply the adjustment to just the dark areas and not the bright areas. For this portrait of my daughter, let’s choose Luminance.

Once Luminance is selected, it gives two more sliders at the bottom. Range and Smoothness. Range is basically asking me to define what tones do I want to affect. On the left are the dark tones, on the right are the bright tones. So, if I move the right part of the slider to the left, the bright tones are no longer going to be in the range that is getting affected with the adjustment. only the dark tones will get affected.

As the Range slider is moved to the left, the bright areas are no longer affected.

It’s a little difficult to see what the Range Mask is affecting and what it is not, in this view. If you want to see it more clearly, just press the Alt key on a PC or Option key on a Mac, and then move the Range slider, it’ll show you in a much better way, in this special kind of view, all the areas that the brush affects. All the white areas are the ones where the brush will apply the adjustment. All the black areas is where the adjustment will have no effect. And the grey areas are the ones where it partially applies the adjustment. So, with the help of the Range slider, you’re really in control of which tones you want to affect, and which ones you don’t.

Color Range Masks

Then, let’s take a look at another photo below where we’ll limit our adjustment to only a particular color. The way we did it in the house photograph, but over there we did it with the Auto Mask option. This time we’ll do it with the Range Mask option, which is much more precise. This is a photo from Phuket, Thailand which is an absolutely amazing place!

Let’s say we want to just apply a graduated filter on the sky to darken it a little bit; the adjustment should just apply on the sky, not on the clouds at all. For that, we’ll use the graduated filter and draw it out from the top. When that happens, it’s affecting everything, including the clouds.

In order to limit this to just the sky, from the Range Mask dropdown in the right-side panel, this time we’ll choose Color. Then selecting the color picker that appears, simply click on the sky. That will only include colors that are similar to the one we clicked. It will now exclude the clouds from where the adjustment will be applied. The adjustment will now be applied just on the blue part of the sky, not on the clouds at all.

If you want to include a bigger range of colors, you can do two things. With the color picker, you can click and drag to draw out a bigger area and then it’ll include all the colors in that area. Or you can click on one place, then hold down the Shift key and click on another place to include colors from that area as well. Now if you change any sliders from the right side panel, they will only be affecting the blue sky and not the clouds.


The local adjustment tools in Lightroom are really great. With the Auto Mask and Range Mask you can be really precise in making sure that you apply the adjustment only to the areas that you want. Earlier, if you wanted to make such precise adjustments, you needed to go into Photoshop. Over there, you had to apply selections and masks and what not. But as Adobe is coming out with newer versions of Lightroom, it has made the local adjustment tools within Lightroom really powerful.

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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