Masking 2.0 in Lightroom and ACR

Adobe just released one of the most important updates to Lightroom (LR) and Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) ever: the introduction of  “Masking 2.0”. In this tutorial, we’ll cover what’s new and what it all means. Be sure to read below for lots of details I couldn’t fully cover in the video.

What’s new in Masking 2.0?

Up until now, local adjustments in LR and ACR were mostly based on gradients and brushes represented by pins. It wasn’t nearly as easy to visualize as layer masks in Photoshop and you couldn’t customize the targeting beyond range masks and brushes. The workflow is about to get much more powerful with Masking 2.0.

Instead of a system of somewhat pins you can vaguely visualize with red overlays, you now get to visualize masks in a variety of ways. You can still use the old overlays, and additionally have several new options (I personally find the first and last options extremely useful):

  • Color Overlay: This is the traditional way we’ve visualized local targeting previously. This is a great way to see both the mask and image at the same time.
  • Color Overlay on Black & White: Shows the same red overlay, but with the underlying image as black and white. This is helpful to remove the distraction of color.
  • Image on Black and White: Shows the image, but with everything that is not part of the mask converted to grayscale. I find this one a bit hard to interpret, but may be useful for adjustments on highly saturated images.
  • Image on Black: This shows the image, but with everything that is not part of the mask blacked out. This helps see exactly what you’re adjusting and is very helpful for colorful and bright images.
  • Image on White: Similar concept, but with everything that is not part of the mask going white. This would be helpful for seeing what you’re adjusting in high-key images.
  • White on Black: This is exactly how you see a layer mask in Photoshop and is the most useful new overlay. You aren’t getting layers, but you’re getting the exact same way to view a mask, which makes it more intuitive and easier to see the details. This is a very useful new way to review the local targeting.

The new default setting to use “automatically toggle overlay” will help hide and show your preferred overlay. This may be a little confusing at first. For example, if you zero out all sliders (such as by double-clicking the only adjustment you made), the overlay will become visible again. The logic being that you should see any real adjustments, but otherwise see the overlay if there are no adjustments. I find this setting very helpful when working with the “color overlay” mode, but prefer to turn it off when working with white on black so that I’m always seeing the image unless I specifically want to see the mask.

There are new options for targeting. You still have brushes, linear/radial gradients, and color/luminance/depth range masks and now additionally can use:

  • Select Sky to help target the sky (or possibly foreground if inverted)
  • Select Subject to help target people and pets
  • Luminance range now gives you 2 controls over falloff instead of 1. The old smoothness slider has been replaced with the ability to split the ends. Just click and drag the sides of the rectangular box (the full strength range) or the triangles at the end (which designate the point at which the targeting begins).

The most powerful changes are in the new ability to manipulate and combine multiple masks, including the ability to:

  • Invert any mask. Previously, you could only invert a radial gradient. Now, you target everything which is NOT red or adjust everything but that area you just brushed.
  • Subtract and Intersect any mask. Previously you could only subtract with a brush or intersect a color/luminance/depth range mask. Now, you can do things like target a person and use range and luminance masks to isolate their skin tones from their yellow jacket. (Note that I’ve lumped these together because “intersect” is billed as a combination of subtract and invert, more on that below).
  • Add any mask. Previously you could only add with a brush. Now you can do things like adjust multiple gradients at the same time with the same set of sliders, rather than duplicating them and trying to keep the settings in sync.

Each mask is comprised of 1 or more “components”, which are the gradients, brushes, select sky, etc. You can think of a component as a sub-mask. These all get combined into the net targeting represented by the mask. Each mask type gets it own icon on the image, such as a little landscape for the sky or little portrait for select subject. I find this much more clear than a generic pin for any type of adjustment. The component icons only show for the currently active mask.

The mask logic is built using the components from the bottom-up. For example, if you have 3 components and the middle one shows the “-” icon, then the final mask will be built as: start from the bottom component, subtract the middle component, and then add the top component. The indicators for how the components are combined are a bit subtle and include:

  • A subtracted component gets a “” on its icon
  • An added component simple does not have an indicator, like a default state
  • An inverted component also has no indicator on its icon AND its preview does not show inverted! But it is indicated in a couple of places: there is a checkbox in the mask option (which appear next to the tools, not the mask) and the “invert” menu option is checked (under the … icon). The mask will show the impact of the inversion, which should be pretty obvious in most cases.
  • While you can find an “intersect” option on some platforms (yes in LR Classic, no on mobile), there actually is no inverted component. Mathematically, it’s the same as subtracted the inverted component, and that’s what you’ll get. So look for both the “-” and “invert” being checked to confirm that you’ve intersected something.

If the mask panel is open but none of your mask components are selected, then you can see a pin representing each full mask if you have selected “Show Unselected Mask Pins”. This can be handy to hover and quickly review each mask. Note that as you hover, the respective mask’s name will become a little brighter to help identify it.

If you already do most of your edits in LR, this should be a huge boost for you. This will make the more complex aspects of LR faster and easier to understand, while unlocking some new capabilities such as select sky/subject and the ability to combine masks. But what about those of you who spend a lot of time in Photoshop (PS)? Should you do more work in LR before heading to PS? Are there cases where you can skip Photoshop entirely?


Which workflows will this replace?

Once you’ve had time to get comfortable with Masking 2.0, I think you’ll find that you can more quickly and easily target your local adjustments in LR. You might even move a few steps from PS back into the RAW processing. But on the whole, I think the split of work between LR and PS is likely to remain similar to where it is now. Ultimately, the intention of these changes are to make LR/ACR easier to use and a bit more capable and Adobe delivered that very well. They aren’t meant to give you layers in LR, expand the adjustments you can make in LR (only the masks), or match Photoshop’s most advanced capabilities.

Most of you following my blog are very interested in Photoshop and luminosity masks and are probably wondering if this will let you replace any of those workflows. For some simpler edits perhaps, just like Range masks allowed a few more things to be done in LR/ACR. I find that this new approach makes the adjustments I was already making in LR/ACR faster and more intuitive. I may use the sky targeting for some subtle work on certain images. I’m thrilled to see these updates. At the same time, this won’t replace hardly any of the advanced workflows I use and these updates were never intended for that purpose.

To put things in perspective, you still cannot do the following with Masking 2.0:

  • Combine multiple RAW images or use layers of any kind.
  • Create highly precision luminosity masks. The range mask controls are similar to BlendIf in Photoshop, which is insufficient for advanced edits.
  • Use a selection to paint a mask (this is foundational to the precision of luminosity masks in Photoshop).
  • Make local adjustments with any RAW tools you couldn’t already use. So you cannot use these new masks with vibrance, tone curves, HSL, color grading, lens corrections (for targeting chromatic aberration to avoid unwanted effects) or camera calibration.
  • Use any of the tools exclusive to Photoshop (anything on the filter menu, warps, selective color layers, precision cloning and healing tools, etc).

As a result, the following is either impossible to do or better done in Photoshop:

  • Exposure Blending (including multi-processing of a single RAW due to a much larger range of local tools and more precise masks).
  • Advanced dodging and burning. Photoshop offers much more precision with luminosity selections, its simpler to work with color, you can apply multiple different strengths of dodging and burning with a single adjustment, and it’s simpler to manage a multi-layer dodge in PS than the equivalent in LR.
  • Focal-length blending: no layers.
  • Time blending: no layers.
  • Perspective blending: no layers.
  • Advanced black and white: Cannot apply different color conversion settings to different parts of the same image.
  • Use 3rd-party plugins like Lumenzia, Web Sharp Pro, Nik Color Efex Pro, etc. There is an interface for plugins in LR, but does not provide access to the capabilities of PS.
  • And there are far too many more examples to list.

So the bottom line is that Masking 2.0 is (a) an awesome and very welcome improvement to LR and (b) not the end of Photoshop. For most of you, I expect you’ll need a couple weeks to get comfortable with the new interface and then generally find it makes local changes in LR faster and more intuitive.


What could be better?

While on the whole these changes make LR/ACR more intuitive, there are a few things which may confuse people:

  • The preview for an inverted mask is not updates. This can be a bit confusing, so keep an eye on the net result and the “invert” checkmark status. I hope to see this changed in a future update.
  • The implementation of intersected masks as subtraction of the inverse may be confusing, especially when trying to replicate previous use of range masks. Or perhaps I just think differently on this as a developer, I’d be curious to hear what others think in the comments below.
  • The parameters for the components (such as range for color targeting, feather for a gradient, etc) aren’t grouped with the masks, but rather above the adjustments (which may be hidden depending on how you’ve scrolled the right-hand column).

I’d also like to see a couple tweaks for efficiency:

  • Zooming into the image to check mask quality is very important, as finding artifacts after a bunch of processing would cause a lot of unnecessary work. Unfortunately zooming into the mask is not simple and intuitive, as the keyboard shortcuts change when viewing masks (for example, you can’t use <Z>).
  • There does not appear to be a way to copy and paste the tool settings from one mask to another. Being able to copy and paste could be very helpful for example if you wanted to compare results between using a sky selection and a linear gradient intersected with a luminance range to see which gave better results. You can duplicate a mask and then swap out the components, but this would be a cumbersome workaround.
  • I also wish there were a faster way to toggle between the red overlays (like Quick Mask in Photoshop) and “white on black” (which is the conventional way a mask appears in Photoshop). Both are very useful because one lets you review the mask in relationship to the image and the other lets you review the mask as clearly as possible.

On the whole, these are little things and I would expect Adobe continues to improve on this already excellent starting point.


The fine print:

There are some little details to this change that may be of interest:

  • Select Sky and Select Subject are NOT based on the unadjusted RAW but the current processed version of the image. This is fine because the mask is fixed and won’t change after creation, but you should be aware of this if you need to optimize the mask. Try this: set all the sliders from exposure down to blacks as far left as they can go and add a sky mask. You will most likely see a pure white mask. So if you’re making extreme adjustments, you might want to consider when you select the sky (before or after big changes).
  • On the other hand, range masks ARE based on the unadjusted RAW. This is ideal, as it means that the targeting does not move around as you adjust the image. But it might also mean that the targeting looks different than you expect. For example, if you make increased exposure quite a bit, you might find the highlights for luminance are more in the range of 70-80 than 90-100 because that’s where they started.
  • The new masks work based on “process version 5” (which you can see in the Camera Calibration tab. If you use the new masks on an image using version 3 or 4, it will be updated (as there are no impacts to image appearance). However, if you try to use the masks on an image using process version 1 or 2, the new masking options will be greyed out. This is because updating from 2 to 3+ changes the image and Adobe is trying to protect you from unwanted changes. However, the newer versions are great and I would recommend going to the Camera Calibration tab to update to v5, then go to the Basics tab and review slider settings to keep the look of the image you want and then add your masks. Of course, if you don’t like the impact on the image, you can just go back in the history tab to revert to the old version.
  • Luminance masks which were created in the old version of LR will show an “update” option, but they don’t migrate consistently. I’ve seen some massive changes, so just review carefully if you decide to update this as you’ll probably need to adjust the sliders to keep the same look.
  • The LR mask data is saved in the file with an lrcat-data extension. If you’re backing up or migrating your catalog, be sure to grab all the LR files (and do this when LR is closed, as some of the files are just working files that don’t exist after LR is closed).
  • The traditional gradients are just “vector” masks, which means they take up very little space. However, the new Select Sky and Select Subject masks are bitmaps, meaning they are grayscale images which take up space. In my quick testing, it looks like about 1MB for every 3-4 images from my D850. It will certainly very with image content and resolution. (Note that I’m not always seeing the lrcat-data file get smaller when I delete sky masks and optimize the LR catalog. It will shrink if you step back in history and do the same, so it seems that the mask is kept if there is a history state involved even if the mask is not actively in use.)
  • LR v11 does not carry over your previews when upgrading your catalog. This means you’ll have to regenerate previews and Smart Previews (under Library / Previews) if you want to see your images quickly and when the source file is not connected to the computer (such as content on an external drive which is not connected).

Kudos to the ACR / LR teams at Adobe for creating such an incredible improvement. Learn more about these new features via Adobe’s masking post and the new features page for LR and ACR.

Coming Soon: Lumenzia v10

Update: Lumenzia v10 was released October 27, 2021

Many of you (including myself) are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new Apple Silicon (“M1 Pro/Max”) MacBook Pro. The speed, battery, and display all look incredible.

As you may be aware, Apple Silicon is a huge technology shift where software which is optimized for it can run faster. That naturally raises questions about my own software, which means migrating to Adobe’s UXP platform to run natively for best speed. Web Sharp Pro is already a UXP panel and runs natively on Apple Silicon. Lumenzia v9 is already 100% compatible with Apple Silicon (under Rosetta).

I’m happy to announce that Lumenzia v10 will become available starting Oct 27th as a beta (with official release by the end of the year). This is a FREE upgrade for all Lumenzia customers (even if you bought 6 years ago) and will be a UXP panel which runs natively on Apple Silicon for an extra speed boost and simpler installation.

This launch will be different from previous ones because the Adobe APIs required to support Lumenzia’s needs have only recently become available. It will therefore be going through a beta phase to provide access as soon as possible. To avoid sending too many emails, I will not be sending regular notification of new betas. Instead, you can stay informed and try the beta by checking the Lumenzia beta page I have created. I anticipate the beta phase will last for 3-4 weeks, where I plan to rapidly address any reported bugs. Upon completion of the beta testing, I will email all customers to notify you the official Lumenzia v10 is officially available.


I’m adding some questions and answers here, but please comment below if I can help clarify anything for you.

Q: When will Lumenzia v10 be available? What is the latest version?

A: Please see the Lumenzia beta page for the latest information on timing/versions and how to get the beta.


Q: Is this a free update?

A: Yes. If you’ve been a customer since v1, you’ve received >1500 new features, updates, and fixes for free and I’m happy to continue offering free upgrades as thank you for your support and loyalty.


Q: What is required to run Lumenzia v10?

A: PS v22.5 (I anticipate raising the minimum soon based on the public PS beta, as it addresses some issues that were in the initial release of the new UXP APIs in v22.5). Lumenzia v10 will run on both Mac and Windows (it is not specific to any computer hardware, just the version of Photoshop).


Q: What’s new in v10?

A: In order to launch a UXP version as quickly as possible, the initial release is focused on migrating existing capabilities. This is a complete top-to-bottom rewrite of 7 years of code, and has been in progress for over a year now. Future updates will be built on this platform, and there is enormous potential with UXP. The immediate benefits of v10 are primarily faster speed on Apple Silicon, a simplified installation, and a more modern look and feel to popup dialogs from the panel. There are some other minor enhancements coming as well, which I’ll detail when the official v10 becomes available later this year.


Q: Who should install and use the beta?

A: I encourage anyone to try it. You can install both v9 (the CEP panel) and v10 (the UXP panel) at the same time without conflict. Apple Silicon users should see a roughly 20% speed boost if you switch off Rosetta.


Q: Can I use Lumenzia on older versions of Photoshop?

A: Yes, Lumenzia v9.2 runs on CS6 and all recent versions of CC. Lumenzia v9.2 will remain available in perpetuity for compatibility. Lumenzia will continue to run fine on older versions of Photoshop, and this includes all the functionality that is available today.




Making the Desert Glow

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Some of my favorite shots come from the most unexpected moments, like this long-exposure image taken long after sunset. Often times, if you’re patient, you’ll get a second chance at color. The original sunset fades, and then there is a late burst of color. It may be vibrant or somewhat subtle, but often creates some of my favorite soft images.

When I realized this was going to happen, I raced to setup another shot with a 2-minute exposure to help ensure smooth clouds. The RAW file looked a bit flat and the color is weak, but with the right processing, dodging & burning, and a few other little tricks I was able to extract an image that lived up to the awe of the moment taking in the last light of that gorgeous day.


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Don’t let this hidden setting RUIN your RAW smart objects

Camera RAW Smart Objects are hands-down one of the best features of Photoshop. If you don’t know why, first check out my previous tutorials: 3 Kinds of Smart Objects and 3 Common Misconceptions. The beauty of these special smart objects is that they always give you access to alter the RAW processing while keeping the highest-possible quality… unless you overlook this one critical (but hidden) setting.

If you have a RAW Smart Object embedded in an image set to 16-bits and Pro Photo RGB image, you’d assume that that’s what the RAW would give you. After all, you can output any RAW file with those settings. But that’s not the whole story. It is true that you will have a 16-bit, ProPhoto RGB layer rendered from your RAW Smart Object. That’s true even if you were in another color space or bit depth, as the layer is reprocessed as needed.

The problem is that Camera RAW Smart Objects contain their own color space and bit depth. Without them, you wouldn’t get a proper preview, RGB readings, or accurate histograms and clipping warnings inside ACR. More importantly, these settings are applied, no matter what the settings are in your document. So your ACR settings are applied, and then the layer is converted to your image’s settings externally. So if you have a RAW set to say sRGB and 8-bit, the layer will be converted to that FIRST and then converted to say the 16-bit ProPhoto RGB of your document. So yes, you will technically have the requested settings, but it’s just a conversion from a smaller color space and bit depth to a larger one. You’ve already lost a LOT of quality.

To preserve full quality, your Camera RAW Smart Object should use settings which are as good or better than the document’s color space and bit depth. This would ideally be the same settings, but you probably won’t see much difference if you RAW is set to ProPhoto inside an Adobe RGB image.

To avoid problems, there are some settings to check and update in both Photoshop and Lightroom. It’s important to check both, as you can get different results with different workflows. If you use Lightroom’s Edit in / Edit as a Smart Object workflow, you’ll open an image using the settings from Lightroom. If you instead open the image directly in Photoshop (basically any other method which invokes the ACR interface when opening the image), then the Photoshop settings will be applied.

Lightroom settings:

  • Go to Preferences / External editing
  • Change the color space to either Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB
  • Change the bit depth to 16 bits

Photoshop settings:

  • Go to Preferences / File Handling / Camera RAW Preferences / Workflow
  • Change the color space to either Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB **
  • Change the bit depth to 16 bits

** Note that Photoshop (unlike Lightroom unfortunately) lets you choose any color space to render your Smart Object. So you could use something like Beta RGB or REC2020 if you prefer. However, you should be aware of a limitation with color spaces in ACR. They are not embedded, just referenced by name. So if you choose something non-standard and open the image on another computer where that ICC profile is not installed, you could run into an issue. The image will be fine initially. However, if you double-click into the Smart Object to edit it and its previous profile is not available, ACR will use your default PS preference for you without warning (this applies to the color space, not bit depth). So simply opening ACR and clicking OK could convert from BetaRGB to Adobe RGB (or is set as default on that computer).

When you open an image, whichever defaults above apply (depending on on how you open), those settings will be set inside the Smart Object as well as on the document. So checking your document setting at import is a quick way to confirm that things worked internally as expected. You can change those settings afterward, but they will match when the RAW is opened the first time.

The good news is that if you didn’t know about this before, you can still fix your existing work (as long as you haven’t rasterized the Smart Objects). If you have the wrong settings inside the Smart Object, you can update them anytime. For example, if the Smart Object was internally set to 8 bit, you can switch it internally to 16-bits and you’ll get back the lost data. Just double-click the Smart Object, click on the text link at the bottom showing these details, update as desired, and click OK to save the Smart Object.

How much can you improve an old edit?

If you want to improve your photography, one great way to do that is to review your old images and reprocess them. Starting from scratch can reinforce important lessons as you compare the new version to the old. You might be surprised how hard you find it to recreate some of your best work sometimes. Or you can take the old image and try to improve it from where it is. I find this latter approach to be very powerful, as it gives me a way to keep the look and feel of an image as I improve it. This allows me to easily improve an image for print, while still delivering a result that’s fully consistent with the client’s expectations. It also helps me to learn better ways to correct problems after the fact, which can save time later instead of redoing an image.

I processed this image 7 years ago, so naturally there are a number of details I would process differently now as I’ve grown more skilled as an artist. I still enjoy the image, but upon close inspection feel that the following could be improved:

  1. The sky shows a fair bit of haze, which I’d like to minimize.
  2. The flower highlights are a bit blown out. In keeping with the very high contrast ratios here, I don’t need to restore everything, but I do think some improvement is warranted.
  3. The reflection of the flowers shows HDR artifacts. I processed this back at a time when I was still relying on HDR much more than exposure blending with luminosity masks and HDR often shows such “ghosted” results when water creates movement from one exposure to the next. There are some artifacts around the same reflected flowers from my D800, which shows lines extending from some of the highlights in the water. That wasn’t a common issue for me with the D800, but it certainly didn’t handle dark skies nearly as well as my D850.
  4. Some of the trees lit with bright yellow behind the flower are a bit too hot. The color separation is good, but the light source isn’t as obvious as the neon flowers and I think they could stand to be slightly dimmer so as not to compete with the main subject.
  5. The ambient lighting under the trees to the far left and right was constantly changing colors and not synchronized. There are two better options here. I could make the trees on the left purple to match the colors on the right, which would emphasize the character of the long walk through this park. Or I could make the trees on the right green so as to further emphasize the main subject. I think they’re both great approaches, but I’m going to go with the latter.

Here’s the approach I used to address each of the issues:

  1. I already had a darker exposure in my old image, so I can just mask more of it into the sky. I created a luminosity selection specific to the sky area to help me paint white onto the existing mask. The selection needed to target dark areas of the sky, so I used the Quick Selection tool to target the sky roughly, clicked D for a darks luminosity preview, and then feathered the quick selection slightly when clicking “Sel” to help ensure a smooth transition at the edges.
  2. The flowers needed some exposure blending with a new exposure I imported from my original shoot. This is pretty consistent with other blends I’ve demonstrated, but in this case there’s a twist. My processed image is a few pixels smaller than the new source material and I’m importing a Smart Object, so I had to manually align the new source. When adding the new layers with “PreBlend”, I just checked “check alignment (difference)” to put the layers into a blend mode that would make it easy to align. Just activate the move tool and click on the arrow keys to nudge the layer pixel by pixel until the result looks as dark as possible (difference blend mode shows generally very dark when things are perfectly aligned). Then just create a lights luminosity selection and start painting on the mask to reveal the improved flower details.
  3. The reflection is a bit different. It’s more of a local replacement than a blend because the working image has those artifacts (HDR ghosting and the lines in the RAW). I grabbed a source image which had both good details and a shutter speed that rendered the water in an ideal way. In addition to processing for details, I also needed to remove the camera artifacts. By using strong noise reduction in ACR and negative texture coupled with a boost in clarity, I was able to nearly eliminate the D800 artifacts and generate a great-looking reflection. As the water in both versions matches and lacks detail, I simply used a soft white brush to reveal the better layer.
  4. The background trees are also a little different. In this case, I wanted to darken the yellow trees without darkening the green/magenta/white flower, so I just clicked “Color” to make a selection based on yellows and brushed through it to reveal the darker trees. I added a BlendIf to target the lightest pixels. I don’t typically use BlendIf for blending, but it works just fine in this case. I then reduced opacity so that the result was a subtle correction.
  5. The tree color is a bit tricky. You could use an HSL adjustment, but I found better results by just replacing the color. I added a solid fill layer with the desired hue and saturation and set it to color blend mode. I then used “Color” to create a Blue/Magenta mask and then added an additional mask to target only the blue/magenta colors in the trees on the right side of the image.
Greg Benz Photography