Lumenzia v5

I’m excited to announce that version 5.0 of the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop is now available as a free update for all customers.

This update includes over 100 improvements, so there is only room to highlight a few in this post. Please see the release notes for a full list of new/updated features and bug fixes. And be sure to see the written manual and tutorial videos, as both have been updated and expanded significantly.


Create and visualize luminosity selections more easily than ever

While everyone uses the term “luminosity masks”, the real star of the show is actually “luminosity selections”. Luminosity selections are the foundation of exposure blending, dodging and burning, and many other advanced workflows. In the past, they’ve been difficult to customize and visualize. Not any more.

Lumenzia v5 includes a comprehensive set of new features and enhancements for selections, including:

  • “✓Sel” to visualize selections just like a mask!  No more confusion with invisible selections or marching ants.  You can now view the active selection as a full screen black and white preview (ie, just like a mask).  This is very helpful to see your exact luminosity selection, when trying to confirm edges of the current selection, modify selections, or other situations where the current selection is not obvious.  Click  once to see the preview, and a second time when finished with the preview.
  • “✓Sel” also allows you to refine any selection just like a mask!  Adjust the preview you see with “✓Sel” any way you want, and then click “✓Sel” again to re-load the selection.  You can brush, use levels, or make any other adjustment as you normally would if you were working on a mask.
  • A new Live Selection (LIVE-S) mode!  Make luminosity selections instantly, for faster dodging and burning, exposure blending, or other situations where you need to paint through a selection. Click on the mode button at the top of the panel to set LIVE-S mode and then  click any preview button to create a selection. Use the modifier keys to add, subtract, or intersect for advanced selections.  Note that the “hide marching ants” preference is ignored in this mode, as there is no preview step to visualize the selection. Live selections will ignore the new “zone map” if visible, so you may make normal selections while using the map as a guide. (Live Selections are available on CC only).
  • New: Add, subtract, or intersect selections!  The new +/-/* modal buttons at the top of the panel allow you to add, subtract, or intersect (multiple) luminosity selections.  So you can, for example, create an L3-L6 selection to target light tones without affecting near-whites.
  • The saved selection dialog in “Sel” now has dedicated buttons to add/subtract saved selections as well.
  • New:  Set a preference to “Hide Marching Ants” in the CC 2015.5+ panel.  When this is checked, selections created by Lumenzia will not show marching ants.  You may still use <ctrl/cmd>-“Sel” to temporarily use the opposite of the default.



More ways to keep your files small and use a more non-destructive workflow

Vector Masks and expanded support for BlendIf Masks now offer even more options to keep your files lean and flexible. Combined with existing support for BlendIf masks, “Combine” and Lumenzia’s non-channel based workflow, you can dramatically reduce the size of your saved files.

  • Vector masks!  Just like BlendIf masks, these new masks are designed to keep your files very small and let you make further refinements.  And you can use them on the same layer as a layer mask, which gives the same results as a group mask, but without the clutter.  They’re an excellent new alternative to using lasso selections.  Just -click “Mask” to render any path or selection as a vector, or check the preference in CC 2015.5 or later (under the three bars icon at top right where all preferences are set).  Setting the preference allows vector mask to be used with all the orange buttons (curves, levels, contrast, vignette, sharpen, etc).  Support runs throughout Lumenzia as much as possible (when combining masks, vector masks will automatically be rasterized to layer masks).  Note that if you’d like the luminosity mask (orange preview layers) rendered as a vector mask, use “Sel” to convert it to a selection first, and then use “Mask” to apply it as a vector mask.
  • BlendIf Masks can now be automatically created when using “Contrast”. This provides a similar contrast adjustment, but with the space saving and dynamic updating capabilities of BlendIf.



Zone maps:

Many of you have asked for more options to help visualize the tones in your image. With zone maps, you can now more easily see if your image is heavy in the shadows or highlights, pick the right zone mask, etc. And it is built to be interactive, so that you can see the zone mapping of your image update live as you make changes in your image.


Other enhancements:

  • Zone map visualization.  Click the new “Map” button to show or hide a spectrum showing the various zones in the image (red = zone 0 through violet = zone 10). While the zone map visualization is on screen, the zone buttons in Lumenzia will turn colors to help serve as a reference for the color mapping.
  • Linked PSB support allows you to create files of nearly unlimited size, and still see them within Lightroom.
  • Several operations are up to 3X faster when working with large files.
  • Smart Object Sharpening.  Use a completely non-destructive workflow with this new option.  The current layers are converted to a smart object, and sharpening is added as a filter (with settings designed to help minimize halos along bright sky edges).  I find that this approach generally yields better results than high pass sharpening for landscapes.
  • Edge protection for smart filters.  When you sharpen a smart object (using the new object sharpening in Lumenzia, Nik Sharpener, etc), you now have a simple way to help reduce any halos you may find along edges.
  • Panel tips!  See helpful tips immediately at the bottom of the panel as you hover over the buttons.  This is available on CC 2015.5 or later only.  This option is disabled by default (the legacy tooltips remain the default, but may be turned off by the user).  Just click the three bars icon at the top-right of the panel and choose “Tool Tips” to change preferences.
  • Local Refine Edge.  When you click “Edge”, you will now see a new option to “paint in the refined edges via brush”. This allows you to target exactly where to refine edges, so that you don’t alter edges that are already good. It also allows you to apply different refine edge radii to different parts of the image. [Note that this feature requires Photoshop CC]
  • Support for Paths throughout Lumenzia. You can now use paths the same way you’ve always used lasso selections in Lumenzia. This is a great option for black and white architecture or other work where you need to use both luminosity masks and hard-edged masks. And your paths can be converted directly to vector masks (when the preference is enabled in settings) to give allow you to revise your path at any time.
  • New:  Lumenzia actions.  Need to create a light or dark mask/selection?  Lumenzia now includes actions you may incorporate into your own automated actions.  Great for batch processing or other repeatable/repetitive workflows.
  • A new “Optimize Photoshop” utility which runs a check on several Photoshop settings and makes recommendations that may help improve performance of Photoshop for luminosity masking and Photography in general.
  • 10 new tutorial videos showing how to make the most of new features, with many more to come over time.


And so much more.  There are over 100 enhancements to Lumenzia and the Basics panel. For a full list of changes, please see the release notes.

3 Common Misconceptions about Camera RAW Smart Objects

Most photographers I know try to follow some sort of “non-destructive” workflow. You probably aren’t “destroying” your image, so it might be more appropriately called a “flexible” workflow. The ultimate purpose is typically to give you the ability to easily redo an earlier step in the edit, without having to redo all the work that came after it. Camera RAW Smart Objects give you the ability to change the earliest parts of an edit, the RAW processing. Another great use is as a “rough” workflow to allow you to work quickly to initially evaluate a file, and then really dial it in later. Both purposes have merit, but you need to use Camera RAW Smart Objects the right way to get the most out of them.

When I teach Photoshop, I routinely run into 3 common misconceptions that photographers have about Camera RAW Smart Objects. Understanding these three points can help you improve the quality of your finished work.



Misconception #1: Smart Objects do not provide better quality than exporting a TIF from Lightroom.

An exported TIF, Camera RAW Smart Object, or rasterized Smart Object are all going to give you the same results (assuming you used the same RAW settings to create each of them). As far as the image is concerned, the Smart Object is exactly the same as a flat layer. The only difference is that you can make changes to recreate that flat layer. But the algorithm used in Lightroom or in Adobe Camera RAW (inside the smart object) is exactly the same and produces the same results.

So if don’t need the flexibility to make changes later, you’re probably better off skipping the Smart Objects to save a bit of file space.


Misconception #2: Not all copies are created equal

“New layer via copy” (<cmd/ctrl>-J) or “Duplicate” creates a new layer which use the SAME processing settings as the original Smart Object. If you change the contents of either (by double-clicking into one of them), you change both of them. This approach is helpful if you want to apply different filters or different filter masks to the same image. For example, you might apply Nik Color Efex to extract more detail from buildings, and then Nik Dfine to reduce noise in the sky above.

“New Smart Object via Copy” (right-click the layer) creates an independent layer which uses DIFFERENT processing settings. This approach is helpful when you want to use different RAW processing on different parts of the image. For example, you might use stronger noise reduction on on version of the image, and then use a layer mask to selectively apply that noise reduction to shadow areas of the image.

The Smart Object icon on the layers is the same either way, so be careful. The only way to tell them apart once they are created is to change one and see if any others change as well.


Misconception #3: The Camera RAW Filter does not use your RAW data!

Photoshop essentially rasterizes your Smart Object before applying any Smart Filter. Which means that the outside of your Smart Object is just like a flat TIF file. The RAW data is processed before any filter can be applied to it. In other words, using the Camera RAW Filter outside the Smart Object prevents the algorithm from working on the best possible data. The difference of these two approaches can be pretty significant for recovery of extreme details and color.

So you should never apply the Camera RAW filter to your Camera RAW Smart Object. Instead, you should double-click the layer’s thumbnail to open the Camera RAW interface. This will let you make all your RAW edits on the actual RAW data. These two approaches look nearly the same, and a good reminder is to always take a quick look at the white balance temperature slider. If it is in Kelvin (a scale from 2-50,000), you are working on the RAW data. If you get a +/-100 scale, you are not getting the benefit of the RAW data.

What’s the point of the Camera RAW filter then? It’s still a great way to apply basic processing to anything other than RAW data. For example, you could use it to apply clarity to a final layered image.




More and more, I find myself trying to chase creative ideas and amazing light. It’s tempting to focus on iconic scenes, like a famous arch or mountain view in a national park. Shooting amazing subjects quickly becomes a bit of a crutch though. It can let you gloss over critical artistic elements, because it’s easy to take the easy route when a subject is so good you almost can’t ruin the shot.

Even when I head out with a shot in mind, I try to force myself to also shoot unknown subjects or try new things. Breaking free of preconceived ideas forces you to hone your compositional skills and interpretation of the light, because they become so much more important with ordinary subjects.

This image is a great example. Near this scene is a raging river and some amazing rock formations I came to shoot. As I wrapped up my intended shot, the sun started to create stunning beams of light over the clouds. They didn’t really interact with the scene in front of me, so I started searching for an interesting foreground and found this pool of still water with a perfect mirror surface.

There is nothing extraordinary about this particular place. It could be almost anywhere. The rocks and trees aren’t unique. The whole image is based on great light, balance, and post-processing. Yet it turned out to be one of my favorite images of 2017, because I forced myself to find the beauty around me.

A “lacuna” is negative space for music. A deliberate quiet in the music to create a sense of serenity. This scene feels like that to me, having stepped back from the crashing sounds of raging rapids only to encounter an intense peace just before an intense sun breaks through the sky.


They say “like father, like son”, and both my dad and I have a deep love for the American Southwest. Ok, his passion for silver and turquoise jewelry probably exceeds mine, but neither of us can get enough of the stunning red desert landscape. I shared a quick iPhone snap of this scene with my parents, and my dad asked if I could get it processed so they could hang on their wall. So there’s now a 40×60″ framed canvas of this image on its way. I can’t wait to see it on the wall, it’s always so fun to see your favorite images printed large.

I shot this image on a frosty December night with a good friend from high school. We stayed several hours after sunset to capture some of the gorgeous night sky. It may be a while before it’s ready, but keep an eye out for a completely different version of this image in the future. It was one of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever seen.  The sky became completely clear and with the dry air in high altitude, the stars were insanely bright. There were so many, you could hardly find the Big Dipper among them all. Crazy. Lots of good memories behind this image.

See more of my latest work on Instagram. This image was processed with the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop. It is a blend of two exposures, with significant tonal work for shadow detail and separation, and dodging and burning for creative effect.

Milky Way Lens Shootout: Nikon, Zeiss, Sigma, and Rokinon compared

Capturing sharp stars and the Milky Way is one of the few genres in photography where special lenses are really a make or break deal. If your lens can’t shoot at f/2.8 or wider, you’re at a huge disadvantage (though you can always shoot log exposure star trails with such a lens). Those wide apertures are required to shoot with shutter speeds fast enough to keep the moving stars sharp.

I’ve used a Nikon 14-24mm for years with great results, including 40×60″ prints. But I’ve always had a nagging feeling that I could get better nighttime image quality with another lens. So I borrowed a few well-regarded lens and put them in a head to head test.  Below, see how the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8, Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4, and Sigma Art 14mm f/1.8 compare in a field test shooting the Milky Way and night sky.

But first, I’d like to thank Brent of for loaning the Sigma lens used in this test, and B&H for loaning the Zeiss and Rokinon lenses.  Brent runs a super-convenient rental business where he ships the lens directly to you along with a return shipping label.  The process really couldn’t be simpler.  And I’ve bought the majority of my camera equipment from B&H for years, and always been happy with their prices and service.


I’m posting a quick summary and some 100% crops from the top-right corner of each lens below.  For a much more thorough comparison of image quality, be sure to see the video. There’s much more to the story than this single group of images can tell, including: performance across the full width of the image, color quality, vignetting, and focus performance.

This test is designed to reflect real-world image quality based on performance in the field. My conclusions below are based on shooting each of the lenses under the most comparable settings I could. I shot each at the exact same settings at f/2.8 in the same lighting conditions, and additionally shot the Sigma and Rokinon at their maximum apertures to test their unique capabilities. All lenses were manually focused on bright stars via the LCD on a Nikon D810, which is the method I most use in the field. As manual focus is an imperfect method, I took several shots (refocusing several times) to help minimize the risk that my focusing technique would skew the results. But ultimately, that’s the best gauge of the results I can truly expect with this lens.


Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

This has been my go-to lens for years. It’s great, and I’m definitely keeping it. But for wide-angle night skies, it can’t achieve the excellent stars that the other lenses can.


  • Autofocus for daylight shooting
  • Can zoom to 24mm
  • Quality/Durability:  Rubber weather seal between lens and camera and some seals inside for better dust and moisture protection.


  • The most difficult to manually focus at night. Manual focus extends well beyond infinity, making it hard to even find bright stars to start focusing. And the f/2.8 maximum aperture does not offer as good a live view as the Sigma and Rokinon. There’s also a bit of slack in the focusing ring, which can make precision adjustments a little more tricky. Focusing on stars manually is always difficult via live view, but I found the Nikon was most difficult. That’s a real detriment to image quality, as some images will likely be focused imperfectly. Reviewing the images carefully on the LCD is important with this lens to make sure you got the shot in the field. Thankfully focusing is easier with the new Nikon D850 (due to lower LCD noise), but I felt much more confident focusing the other lenses in this test.
  • Image quality is good across a broad range of conditions. But lack of sharpness and coma in the corners puts it behind the rest of the lenses in this group for astrophotography. On overall image quality, I would say that all three of the other lenses outperformed in this test.
  • Weight:  2.26lb.  Fairly bulky, but then you are shooting with the capabilities of an autofocus zoom lens, and it is lighter than the Sigma.
  • Available for Nikon only.

Price in US: ~$1897. Aperture range:  f/2.8-22.



Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4

This is the lens to get if you want to save money or weight. I would shoot this lens at f/2.8 for best image quality, unless you need a little more speed for the Aurora.


  • Excellent value for the money and the cheapest of the group.
  • Weight: 1.73lb.  The lightest of the group, and it feels quite nice.
  • Image quality is generally excellent, but the vignetting is a bit heavy.
  • Manual focus stop just past infinity helps quickly find stars.  The focusing ring is fluid, which helps manually focus precisely. The f/2.4 aperture provides a slightly improved ability to evaluate focus on the LCD.


  • No lens profile support in Lightroom or Photoshop. Third party profiles are available for Canon, but I have yet to find one for Nikon. Given this lens has noticeable distortion, it’s an import consideration, especially if you also wish to shoot architecture or other clearly straight lines.
  • Significant vignetting, but not as bad as the Zeiss.
  • Manual focus only.
  • There is no weather sealing, but this lens feels solidly built (and you aren’t going to run into a lot of water on most Milky Ways shoots).
  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Aperture range:  f/2.4-22.

Price in US: ~ $999 for Nikon or $799 for Canon mount. (While I didn’t test it, the non-SP version of this lens is generally well-reviewed and outright cheap).

Available for Nikon and Canon.



Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art Lens

I love everything about this lens, except the weight. I found the image quality was the best of the bunch, if you shoot at f/2.8 for best image quality. It also offers the ability to shoot at f/1.8 for faster shutter speeds, which would be beneficial for shooting the Aurora Borealis. Note that the Sigma showed a slightly smaller angle of view than the Nikon or Rokinon, even though they are all 14mm lenses.


  • Excellent image quality, the best of this group at f/2.8. (However, image quality suffers at f/1.8, and shooting wide open should be reserved for situations where shutter speed or image noise is a high priority.)
  • Minimal vignetting.
  • Manual focusing at night is relatively very easy with the wide f/1.8 aperture.
  • The f/1.8 aperture is a huge advantage for shooting the Aurora, which requires faster shutter speeds than stars.
  • Autofocus is very responsive and accurate for daylight shooting.


  • Weight: 2.53lb.  The heftiest of the group, you really feel it.
  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Price in US: ~$1599. Aperture range:  f/1.8-16. Available for Nikon, Canon, and Sigma.



Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8

This is a great lens, but I see no compelling reason to buy it at this price. It just doesn’t stand out for astrophotography, and the vignetting was disappointing.


  • Image Quality is very good to excellent, but there is significant vignetting in the corners.
  • Manual focus “lock” makes it easy to initially find stars for focusing.  Zeiss is known for the “lock” at infinity focus.  Zeiss even warns in the instruction manual that the focus is designed to allow over-travel (beyond infinity focus) to allow for temperature camera flange distance variations.  In other words, there is no single lens that could guarantee proper infinity focus on all cameras in a variety of temperatures.  However, the tighter range of over-travel is still useful, as it gives you an easy way to quickly get close to proper focus – so that you can at least see the stars well enough to manually focus.
  • Weather sealed.
  • Offer threads for filters (95mm). However, given existing vignetting without a filter, I have some reservations about how useful this feature may be.


  • Expensive
  • Significant vignetting at f/2.8. Deep enough to cause color issues with the Nikon D810 (the D850 should perform better, and the color cast can be corrected). If you are shooting with this lens, be sure to capture an extra frame for the foreground. That’s generally a good idea anyhow, but noisy corners could be problematic with this lens under night sky conditions if you don’t blend images.
  • Manual focus only.
  • No 16-24mm coverage.

Price in US: ~$2699. Aperture range:  f/2.8 to f/22. Available for Nikon and Canon.



All of these lenses were great for astrophotography, and I’d happily shoot with any of them. They all feel high quality and offer very good to excellent image quality. While I have some strong preferences when pixel peeping the results side by side, I would be proud to print images from any of them – including my Nikon, which was ultimately showed the least impressive results. Looking back on things, I wish I had also tested the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8, as that lens is likely also a good choice. However, I’d be shocked if it beat that zoom lens could beat the image quality of the prime Sigma Art lens, and I prefer its wider 14mm field of view. But it’s definitely an option to consider if you’re leaning towards a zoom like the Nikon.

It’s important to note that test focused specifically on shooting the night sky. I did not get a chance to shoot the Zeiss and Rokinon in sunrise/sunset conditions, so I can’t say how they might hold up for flare. I assume the Zeiss is excellent in that regard, and I wish I’d had an opportunity to test the Rokinon for flare. I found the Sigma was consistent with the level of flaring from direct sun that I see with the Nikon (or better). I captured a beautiful sunrise image with the Sigma that has me impressed that this is an excellent all around lens for landscape photography.

I would recommend the Sigma if you’re looking for the best wide-angle night image quality, the Nikon if you want the flexibility to shoot up to 24mm, and the Rokinon if you’re on a budget or want a lightweight lens for hiking. I really can’t think of any reason to choose the Zeiss – its image quality did not outperform the Sigma, and the price is substantially higher.

Personally, I ended up buying the Sigma after this test. I love it. The image quality was my favorite of the group, the wide aperture gives me lots of options for shooting auroras, the wide aperture helps get manual focus at night, the autofocus makes it easier for daytime shooting, and the price was reasonable. I’ll definitely be keeping the Nikon for for situations where I expect to zoom to 24mm. And I’ll always be a little envious of the light weight of the Rokinon.


Note:  All weights listed above were measured on a postal scale and may not match official manufacturer specifications.

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