How to setup proper color management in your web browser

You would think that more than 25 years after ICC profiles were created to support color management that all our software would automatically make our images look consistently great. Sadly, that isn’t the case. For example, if you use Firefox under default settings on a wide gamut monitor, you can expect to see some pretty horrible results, as shown in the video below.

 

Color Management: The Big Picture

Before we dive into how to setup the web browser, we need to step back and look at the big picture. Color management isn’t just one thing you do, there are several areas where photographers need to pay attention. Just because you have calibrated and profiled your monitor, that doesn’t mean that every piece of software on your system will automatically use that information correctly. A properly color-managed workflow includes all the following:

  • A decent monitor using a profile created with a hardware calibration tool. See my gear page for recommendations.
  • Proper color settings in Photoshop. See this post for details.
  • Soft proofing before printing, and hardware-base profiling of your printer if you make your own prints. See my gear page for recommendations.
  • Enable color management in your browser, so that images look correct when surfing the web. Which is what we’ll cover below.

There are a few common problems you might see:

  • Colors are weak / desaturated. This may happen when an image encoded in a wide gamut space (such as ProPhoto / Adobe RGB) is untagged, or when not properly mapped to display on a on a narrow-gamut monitor.
  • Colors are punchy / over-saturated. This may happen when an image encoded in a narrow gamut space (such as sRGB) and is not properly mapped to display on a wide-gamut monitor.

 

How to test that your browser is properly color managed:

Here are a few quick tests to help check that your browser is setup properly for color management. If you pass these tests, you should be in good shape.

Test #1: Does your browser properly render tagged images?

This test is designed to help ensure that you browser both recognizes and properly uses embedded profiles. This series of test images all start from the same flattened sRGB test image. The image was then converted to various larger gamuts, but without taking advantage of the larger gamuts so as to make a direct comparison of what should be exactly the same rendered colors. I’ve included common spaces (sRGB, Adobe RGB, ProPhoto), P3 (used by Apple and others), Rec2020 (aka ITU-R BT.2020, which in my opinion should become a major standard for photography and included with Photoshop), and ACES CG Linear (an important standard for TV/film, but included here primarily to test with a significantly different gamma).

sRGB
Image P3
Adobe RGB
Rec.2020
ACES CG Linear
ProPhoto RGB

 
Expected result for test #1: As you hover over each of the various colorspace options right of the image, the display should look nearly the same (because all of these spaces can display all the colors I used in the initial sRGB version). If the colors shift, your browser is not processing the embedded profile as expected.

However, there is some loss of quality with very low gammas (and to a lesser degree with ultra-wide gamuts) as there just aren’t enough discrete values devoted to shadow detail. There is some very minor banding present in ProPhoto here, and the ACES CG Linear version is a total mess in the shadows if you’re looking closely. The low gamma is the main issue, and switching to a linear (1.0) gamma will show serious problems even for sRGB. This would be no problem at all (for any of these) in a 16-bit image format (such as JPEG2000). But sadly, there is no file format which offers small file sizes, 16-bits, and support across most web browsers (while PNG does support 16-bits, the file size is typically 2-10x larger). For this reason, I would recommend targeting profiles with gammas 1.8 to 2.6 (ideally 2.2 to 2.4) and gamuts no larger than Rec.2020 for gammas that aren’t in the target range. That leaves many great options including sRGB, P3, AdobeRGB, or Rec.2020 when sharing 8-bit JPG images for viewing only. Momentum appears to be behind webP as a growing format, but I don’t believe there is a 16-bit specification and Photoshop does not yet support it (though most browsers do). It’s unfortunate that JPEG2000 browser support is so limited.

Test #2: Does your browser properly assume sRGB for untagged images / CSS?

This test is designed to help ensure that un-tagged images properly assume sRGB color. There are many scenarios where image tags are accidentally missing or are deliberately stripped (often to reduce image size to increase page load speed). If you have a wide gamut monitor and your browser does not assume sRGB, you’ll see over-saturated images on many websites. Just a few examples of problem areas as of the time I’m writing this: Instagram, YouTube (such as thumbnails), Instagram (regardless of embedded profile in the upload), Facebook (anything in the feed before you click to open full size and untagged uploads), etc.

Additionally, almost all non-image content in your browser lacks colorspace information, and sRGB should be assumed (see the section below on “wide gamut CSS” for more details on this).

(1) CSS
(max values)
(2) UN-tagged image in sRGB
(max sRGB)
(3) Tagged image in sRGB
(max sRGB)
(4) Tagged image in ProPhoto RGB (matched to max sRGB)

 
Expected result for test #2: You should see what looks like one single red, green, and blue value. If you see changes in red, green or blue in rows 2-4, your browser is not properly managing color. Row 1 is a reference for non-image colors. Matching here is less critical and more a matter of your opinion on how to manage a set of less than ideal tradeoffs (discussed below), but I believe it should ideally match as well.

Note: CSS (“cascading style sheet”) is how website specify color for anything which is not an image, such as text or the generic boxes in row 1 above (rows 2-4 are real images, but the first row is actually just a “div” filled with a color). Accuracy in CSS color isn’t as important as accuracy in photographs typically. You could argue that scaling the color to the limits of the display might be ideal, but it really isn’t something you can control (outside of a bad option in Firefox discussed below). Ultimately, I’d prefer to see CSS colors rendered consistently and web standards for wide gamut CSS adopted broadly, but we are a long ways from that point. For now, just be aware that the color of non-image portions of a website may be treated differently.

Test#3: Does your browser support both v2 and v4 ICC profiles

Please go to this ICC test page and compare the top image to the references below.

Expected result: The top test image show not show any green sky. If the top image shows green instead of blue sky, you’ve got problems. Support for v4 profiles isn’t necessarily a problem (since they aren’t all that widely used), but I would still advise making changes to pass this test.

Note: ICC profiles v2 and v4 are the only versions you will encounter for photography, and many of you may never use the less common but newer v4 standard (you may see reference to a newer “iccMAX” specification, which is unlikely to be used in photography for the foreseeable future and you should ignore it). If you are using Lumenzia, you can click “Gam” and review the list of profiles. Lumenzia will tell you which profiles are v4 profiles with a special note (v2 profiles are simply unmarked). Chances are that none of your profiles will be listed as v4. Ultimately, the differences between these standards won’t matter for most photographers, but you should test that your browser is able to handle both to ensure you are ready to view all images correctly.

If your browser passes tests 1-3, congratulations – you’re in good shape (this doesn’t guarantee color accuracy if you haven’t profiled your monitor, but it does tell you that the browser is managing color correctly). If you failed some of the tests, please skip to the sections at the bottom for tips on how to optimize your browser.

 

Potential benefits of embedding wide gamut color spaces

Many new monitors are designed to display wider gamuts (with comparisons to Adobe RGB and P3 being the most common). These allow you to see more real work and printable colors than the sRGB gamut allows. This is great for editing and may also allow you to view some more vibrant content on the web (and support for wide gamut will hopefully improve in the coming years).

Test #4: Monitor gamut

Here is a comparison of the maximum gamut of various common color spaces. Unlike the similar image above, these images have been processed to use the full gamut and you SHOULD see a change in the display (assuming you have a sufficiently wide gamut monitor). The goal here is not to make comparisons of these color spaces, that isn’t really possible with a simple 2-dimensional representation, just to give a relative sense of the expanded color palette available in broader color spaces like Rec. 2020.

sRGB *
Image P3 *
Adobe RGB *
Rec.2020 *
ProPhoto RGB *

Expected result for test #4: The image SHOULD show more color with the larger gamut spaces (because I created a new gradient for each color space to take advantage of the full gamut). If you do not see any change here, then you either have a narrow gamut display or your browser is set to render everything to sRGB (see the section on customizing Chrome below).

Note: In order to make things as directly comparable in the creation of these images, I have used the same gamma for each of the images in test #4. I used gamma 2.2 for all versions (the only significant shift here would be for ProPhoto, which normally has a 1.8 gamma, but it is of no major significance here for comparing the gamuts. Other parameters such as illuminants were left at defaults). Had I used native gammas, the ProPhoto version would be harder to compare as the brightest and darkest segments of this image would have been much smaller due to interaction with gradient layers (this is not a factor in the similar images above, which were a direct conversion of a single layer).

Test #5: Real-world gamut

Webkit (that organization that creates the open source software powering Safari and other browsers) has a large set test images that help easily compare sRGB vs wider gamuts to get a sense of how this impacts real images.

  • Just move the slider back and forth to reveal the sRGB (left side) vs wide gamut (right side) versions of each image.
  • In an ideal world, we'd be able to easily share images with wider color gamuts. But due to ongoing limitations and inconsistent support, it's still better to share images as sRGB these days.
  • However, this is a good demonstration of why you should keep your original layered "TIFs" in a wide gamut colorspace. For vibrant images, they will look better on your monitor, they make better prints, and hopefully some day you'll be able to share them without having to convert to sRGB. So keep that great color!

Expected results for test #6: If you are viewing these images on a wide gamut display, you should see better color and detail when sliding to expose the wide gamut version. If you do not, you may be viewing with a narrow gamut monitor or your browser may be rendering all content as sRGB (see the section on configuring Chrome below).
Keep in mind that while the wide gamut images will look great on a wide gamut display, you may still wish to share your images after converting to sRGB to avoid color management issues that may exist on your viewer's computer/phone..

Test #6: Support for P3 in CSS (expect to fail this)

While you can ready view wide gamut images now with a properly configuring computer using a wide gamut monitor, support for wide gamut beyond images is far less developed at this point. As discussed above, non-image colors on websites are specified via "CSS". While not as critical as color management for photographs, the status quo is a messy set of tradeoffs between assuming all this color uses the narrow sRGB gamut or you can just throw management of this color out the window. The browser can assume sRGB to create consistency, but then anything that is not an image is limited to a more dull set of colors than many computers can display. Or the browser can toss color management out the window and map the RGB values to the limits of your display, sacrificing accuracy for vibrancy. And in the midst of this is a question as to what the designer of a particular website intended (do they understand color management, did they design for accuracy, do they want the most vibrant color possible?) The ultimate solution to this problem is to specify colors in a specific color space with a wide gamut.

Unfortunately, wide gamut standards and support are still at an early stage. There are proposals for support for P3, REC2020, LCH, and LAB color specifications, but at this point I think support is limited to P3 on the Safari browser. Aside from limited support, many monitors can display colors outside the P3 gamut already (#6 in P3 below is not as vibrant as #5 above in ProPhoto on my Eizo monitor, there's a huge difference in the maximum red and green values - I'd personally love to see broad support for REC2020). This isn't something you can really control at this point without creating other issues, it is what it is (you can set gfx.color_management.mode = 2 in Firefox for more vibrant CSS RGB colors, but this will cause horrible over-saturation with untagged RGB images and is therefore not a good option).

(3,repeat) Tagged image in sRGB
(max sRGB)
(6) CSS (in P3) ***
(max values)

 
Expected results for test #6: If you are using a supporting browser (Safari) AND a wide gamut monitor, you should see #6 shows more vibrant red and green values. Most of you will just see a blank row for #6, as support for this new standard is very limited.

*** The P3 CSS row will show up blank for browsers which do not support this new standard (currently only supported by Safari to the best of my knowledge). If you don't see color, your browser does not support this new specification.

 

How to configure color management in Firefox:

If you use Firefox, you likely need to make some changes to pass the tests above.

Do the following if you can't pass the main tests above.

  1. Copy / paste the following into the address bar (just like any website URL): about:config
  2. Click to acknowledge the warning
  3. Important: Search for gfx.color_management.mode and set it to 1 (this enables color management for all images, including ones that are missing tags)
  4. Important: Search for gfx.color_management.enablev4 and set it to true by double-clicking it (this enables v4 profiles)
  5. Optional: You may set the rendering intent via gfx.color_management.rendering_intent. Set it to either relative colorimetric (1, my recommendation) or perceptual (0, perfectly reasonable but may reduce saturation for the few images where the difference here matters). Saturation and absolute colorimetric should be avoided. I honestly don't understand the automatic option (-1), as I am unaware of whatever tag they are referencing and have no idea if it gets any real use, but I am not a fan of relatively undocumented features that may introduce variability across images. Picking between the best options here is probably not of much consequence as most content you view online won't be outside your monitor gamut and with matrix-based profiles (which is most of what you'll use with displays), perceptual and relative colorimetric would be treated the same.
  6. Restart Firefox and run the tests above again.

Optional (not recommended for most users, I cannot think of a good reason to do this): If you need the browser to use a profile other than the default you've set in the operating system, you can specify something else by providing a file path via gfx.color_management.display_profile
 

How to configure color management in Chrome:

Chrome doesn't offer as much flexibility, but you shouldn't need it and Chrome generally runs well by default. It does have one interesting option, and that is the ability to force Chrome to output to a known gamut (rather than just rendering the colors as is under your current "default" monitor profile). This is a change to how it renders its output, not how it interprets the content on the site. Leaving this as default is generally best to take advantage of the best display possible on your monitor, but you could change to a smaller gamut like sRGB if you wish to get a rough "soft proof" of how something might look on a narrow-gamut monitor. To limit the output space for Chrome:

  1. Copy / paste the following into the address bar (just like any website URL): chrome:///flags/#force-color-profile
  2. The best option should be "default". However, if you have problems, you may wish to try "Display P3 D65" to force a relatively wide gamut or "sRGB" to force a smaller and more controlled gamut.
  3. Relaunch Chrome

 

How to configure color management in Safari:

Safari should also be OK under default settings, and does not offer options to customize.
 

How to configure color management in Windows Edge:

Edge appears to be OK under default settings, and offers the same customization option as Chrome. Navigate to edge://flags/#force-color-profile if you'd like to force a particular output gamut.
 

How to configure color management for iPhone / iOS:

Each browsing app may have its own settings, but I am not aware of any configurable color management settings for the browsers nor any any browsers which support use of a hardware profiling device for accuracy (unlike for example the ColorTRUE app from X-Rite to display standalone images accurately).

The main control for accuracy is to set a reasonable screen brightness, as this heavily affects your ability to see shadow detail, etc. It may also involve disabling the iPhone's (Settings / Display and switch True Tone off), though TrueTone is meant to show color more consistent with ambient lighting conditions, as this will affect your perception of the screen.
 

How to configure color management for Android phones:

I don't have much experience with Android. Android 8.1 and higher include support for color management, but I understand there may be some watchouts for wide-gamut images rendering incorrectly, which still wouldn't surprise me for a mobile phone in 2021. And apparently roughly 20% of Android phones are still running operating systems older than v8.1.

If you're reading this on an Android device, please comment below on what you see in test #1 above (please note the model of phone you're using and version of Android you are using).

 

Summary:

  • Profile your monitor and be sure to leave embedded ICC profiles in your images. Without this, all bets are off.
  • Use the tests above to confirm your browser is properly using those profiles and best managing any un-tagged content on the web.
  • Watch out for Firefox. If you are sharing images with clients, you may wish to recommend they view the with Chrome or Safari to improve the chances that they will see your artwork with the expected color.

Announcing Web Sharp Pro:

I’ve just released “Web Sharp Pro” to make it easy to ensure that your images look amazing wherever you share them online.

This Photoshop extension panel offers:

  • 1-click exports of any image that take care of cropping, resizing, sharpening, and the other key steps for making a web-ready JPG for you
  • Batch processing to convert an unlimited number of images all at once
  • Social media templates to easily optimize for popular sites
  • Advanced options such as support for Instagram slidersletterboxing, etc
  • Crop overlays to use multiple custom crops / settings on any image
  • Template editors to customize for all your needs
  • Add watermarks / copyright to promote and protect your work
  • And much more that I’ll be sharing soon

Learn more and download via gregbenzphotography.com/web-sharp-pro-panel.

Web Sharp Pro v2-2-0

Three kinds of Smart Objects in Photoshop

I make mistakes in Photoshop, all the time. I’m also improving all the time, and sometimes what used to look great is no longer my best work. I’m guessing you probably do too. All of these reasons to make a change to your image make “non-destructive” workflows true life savers. Layers, layer masks, and adjustment layers are all critical aspects of such a workflow, but they are incomplete. They won’t let you reprocess the RAW image, edit something you did before warping the image, change the filters you applied to the image or anything else that would directly change the pixels themselves. At least not without starting over. But “Smart Objects” can do all of that and more.

At the same time, Smart Objects can be a little tricky to understand and use sometimes. One of the reasons for that is that there are multiple different kinds of Smart Objects, and they all look the same at first glance. But now with the Basics panel in Lumenzia v9.1, you can easily tell which is which.

The three kinds of Smart Objects you are likely to use or run into are:

Camera RAW Smart Objects

This is perhaps one of the most incredible tools Adobe offers. RAW Smart Objects give you full access to the RAW data right inside Photoshop. You can go back and make changes anytime. This gives you the full power of LR/ACR’s ability to extract the most from your RAW image and combines it with Photoshop’s ability to make intricate selections and masks to reveal those changes locally. This is a powerful way to enable multi-processing of a single RAW file, improve the quality of your exposure blends, apply RAW corrections with a level of precision that is not possible with the radial/gradient/brush tools in LR/ACR, as well as make any adjustment in LR/ACR locally (HSL, color grading, tone curves, camera calibration, etc). If you aren’t using Camera RAW Smart Objects routinely, you probably aren’t getting the most out of Photoshop.

Regular Smart Objects

Any Smart Object that isn’t a RAW Smart Object. While the value of RAW Smart Objects is that you can change the RAW processing at anytime, these regular Smart Objects have more general benefits. Typically, you would use them when you want to work non-destructively when adding adding a filter (Gaussian blur, Nik Color Efex Pro, etc) or warping the image (transform, perspective warp, etc). You’d probably put multiple layers into one Smart Object, but there may be times when you just want to apply a non-destructive change to one layer.

Dependent Smart Objects

This overlaps with the above categories, both RAW and regular Smart Objects can be either independent (unique) or dependent (not unique). A “dependent” Smart Object is 2 or more layers which contain the exact same contents. Not copies, but literally the same content. If you edit any one of them, then they will ALL update. You cannot change one without changing another. Why would you want to do that? Probably so that you could apply different filters to different parts of the same Smart Object, since you cannot create multiple Filter Masks on a single layer.

This isn’t something you are likely to use much, and possibly never, in photography. But it’s still important that you are aware of them, because you will almost certainly end up accidentally creating unwanted dependent Smart Objects at some point because the normal shortcut <ctrl/cmd>-J or Layer / New / Layer via Copy both create dependent Smart Objects. Whether you create them the right way or the wrong way, they will look exactly the same in Photoshop until you try to edit their inner contents (such as changing the sliders in a RAW Smart Object).

The way to get the preferred independent Smart Objects is by right-clicking and choosing “New Smart Object via Copy”. Or you can simply <shift>-click the “PreBlend” button in Lumenzia or use the “SmartObj” button in the Lumenzia Basics panel.

How to tell which kind of Smart Object you have?

With Lumenzia v9.1, just make the Smart Object active and then look at the color of the “RAW” button in the Basics panel. You’ll see one of the following:

  • “RAW” will be green if the active layer is an independent RAW Smart Object.
  • “RAW” will be yellow if the active layer is a dependent RAW Smart Object. This is generally unwanted and probably a sign that the active layer was not created correctly.
  • “RAW” will be red if the active layer is a regular Smart Object (not a RAW Smart Object, though it may still have one inside it).
    • This is normal if you intentionally put multiple layers into a Smart Object.
    • However, if your intention was to open the image as a RAW Smart Object to preserve the RAW data, this is probably a sign of trouble (ie, you may be seeing this because you opened the image and then converted it to a Smart Object, which does not preserve the RAW data).
  • The “RAW” button will not show any color if the active layer is not a Smart Object, there are multiple Smart Objects selected, or there are no layers selected.

If you don’t have Lumenzia, you can do the following tests:

  • If you double-click the Smart Object and it opens up like a new document, then it is a regular Smart Object.
  • If you double-click it and it opens the ACR interface, it is a RAW Smart Object.
  • Either one of these could be independent or dependent. The only way to know is to make a change and see what happens. A simple test is to make some dramatic change and close ACR or the newly opened tab (which saves the changes back to the parent document) and see if other layers changed or just the one. You can then undo this step and move forward now that you know what you are working with.

Learn more about Lumenzia v9 here.

Learn more about Smart Objects here.

How to make dramatically smaller layered files

Luminosity masks and general layer masks are incredible tools for creating beautiful images and using non-destructive workflows. But like any tool, they can also be over-used. That can lead to unnecessarily large TIF files and some limits to your flexibility to make changes later. There are a number of situations where other approaches can yield the same or similar results as layer/luminosity masks, and give you other benefits when they are suitable.

Specifically, I’m referring to using BlendIf instead of luminosity masks, vector masks instead of simple layer masks, and combining group masks to eliminate extra masks. This can save substantial file space, allow you to save and re-open files more quickly, and enable more flexible workflows for non-destructive editing.

Lumenzia includes built-in tools to not only help you get the most from you luminosity masks, but also use alternatives when they are suitable. In this tutorial, you’ll learn about several of them in depth.

When to use BlendIf instead of luminosity masks

BlendIf is effectively a form of luminosity masking. It is quite limited in comparison to luminosity masks in general, but it can do a very good job of replicating generic light and dark masks, as well as midtones (to a lesser degree). This applies when you would directly apply a luminosity mask to an image, not when painting through a selection to create the mask (which offers substantial local control that BlendIf cannot come close to replicating). So this means that BlendIf is almost never a good alternative for exposure blending, but there are several other luminosity masking uses that it can replace quite well.

Color grading, protected vignettes, and more basic dodging and burning are all good candidates for using BlendIf. You can frequently get results which are just as good, but with some added benefits: smaller files and a more non-destructive workflow. While luminosity masks are grayscale images which can increase the size of your file by as much as 33%, BlendIf has absolutely no impact on the file size. Zero. That means less disk space used, faster saves, and faster re-opening of the image later. And the non-destructive benefits are also very useful. Whereas a luminosity mask does not adapt to future changes, BlendIf does. So if you use BlendIf to target highlights for color grading, you could later retouch the underlying image without having to worry about updating a layer mask.

Using BlendIf with Lumenzia is simple, but here are a few tips to get the most out of it:

  • Use BlendIf from the start where possible. Trying to convert a luminosity mask to a BlendIf later likely will require some other tweaks to maintain the same look. It’s much easier to do it once.
  • The fastest way to use BlendIf with Lumenzia is to <shift>-click the mask you wish to use, such as “L” or “L2”. Once you have created it, use the blue sliders in Lumenzia to customize (if the sliders are grey, you probably have an active layer mask on the layer, just deselect the mask or delete it so that the sliders are blue, which indicates that the BlendIf is the target for the sliders).
  • You can also create more advanced BlendIf by switching Lumenzia to the If:under or If:this modes via the dropdown at top-left. The “under” mode is the best choice most of the time (and is the only one you should use when working on an adjustment layer).
    • You can target color by clicking the swatches at the top to target the red, green, and blue channels (the others are combinations: yellow is really red and green).
    • The “not” BlendIf masks can be incredibly helpful for targeting color. Remember that targeting a color channel is not the same thing as targeting color. The highlights of the red channel include red, purple, yellow, and white. If you want to just target red colors, you should actually use “not L” green and “not L” blue (because red colors do not have significant amounts of green or blue). You could then target red highlights if you want to limit your reds to the brightest rests.

Do not use BlendIf for exposure blending, anytime you need to paint through a selection (most dodging and burning), when you need to customize the mask for precision, or any other time BlendIf yields inferior results. In general, you should be using luminosity selections to create luminosity masks for nearly all advanced work, and BlendIf is not a good substitute for any local work like that.

When to combine luminosity masks

Group masks (putting a masked layer into a group with its own separate mask) are a great way to help non-destructively reveal only portions of a luminosity mask without altering the luminosity mask in a permanent way. They are extremely useful for getting the perfect mask. Sometimes you need to keep them to be able to make refinements later, and sometimes you know you won’t need that capability any longer. If you don’t, then the extra mask is just consuming disk space unnecessarily. Lumenzia’s “Combine” button allows you to easily combine the grouped luminosity masks to save space.

To use it, just make the group layer active and click “Combine”. Lumenzia will do all the work for you and create a result which is identical. This will work even if you have several layers inside the group, which will save you additional file space. This is also a helpful tool to better understand how the grouped mask really affects the image, as you will now be able to see the exact mask being used.

Do not use “combine” when you will likely need to revise the group mask later. The flexibility is well worth the extra file size when needed.

When to use a vector mask instead of a layer mask

Unlike BlendIf, vector masks do not support any luminosity targeting. They should never be used to replace luminosity masks. But they are excellent replacements for simple masks created from lasso or marquee selections. This includes such masks which are subsequently feathered. Just like BlendIf, vector masks take up absolutely no space and can therefore save substantial space compared to a layer mask. If you are saving an uncompressed file, these potential gains are just as great. If you are saving compressed files, these simple layer masks do compress much better and the savings won’t be as great – but there is still much to be gained.

In addition to saving space, vector masks are paths which can be easily revised in ways that layer masks cannot. So if you are comfortable with paths, the pen tool, or direct selection tool – you can easily make non-destructive changes to vector masks.

Vector masks can also reduce clutter, as you can place both a vector mask and layer mask on the same layer. So instead of needing a group mask, you may be able to do everything on one layer (with a layer mask or BlendIf to target by luminosity and a vector mask to localize to a general area of the image).

Vector mask support is built into Lumenzia and here are a few tips to get the most out of it:

  • Anytime you are creating a mask from a lasso/marquee selection or using a vignette, consider creating a vector mask. These are all excellent times to use them.
  • When you use any of the buttons to create a mask in in Lumenzia (such as “Mask” or “Vignette”) and have an active selection or path, Lumenzia will ask if you would like to create a layer mask or vector mask. Just choose vector. If you previously choose layer and to remember that choice permanently, you can instead <shift>-click Mask to see all the options again or go to the menu (three bars icon at top-right) and reset popup notifications to be prompted again.
  • Lumenzia will feather vector masks by default. You can always change this later via the slider in Lumenzia. Make sure the vector mask is targeted (has white corners around it), as the slider will target a layer mask or BlendIf if they are on the same layer and the vector mask is not active.
  • To refine a vector mask’s shape, use Photoshop’s “direct selection” tool. This is the white arrow, which you can activate by clicking <shift>-<A> to toggle between the selection tools. **
  • Never try to create a vector mask from an active luminosity selection. This will not create useful results and can take a while to process while Lumenzia tries to make sense of the complexity of the luminosity selection.

Do not use vector masks instead of luminosity masks or when you need custom brushing, this is just a replacement for simple lasso/marquee selections.

** Note: Photoshop treats feathering of layer masks and vector masks fundamentally differently at the edges of the image. As a result, a feathered vector mask (unlike the otherwise identical layer mask) will cease to affect the edges, which would create problems for vignetting (as the edges would suddenly get light again instead of showing the expected result). The fix is to move edge points further outside the image canvas, and Lumenzia will do this for you AUTOMATICALLY when you create a vignette. There is nothing you need to do, but in case you wish to revise your vignette vector mask (path) later, you should just be aware that this is done on purpose to ensure a proper vignette so that you can refine it properly. The reason for this is that vector masks can extend beyond the edges of the visible image, while layer masks cannot – so Photoshop treats them differently at the edges.

 

Making smaller layer masks in compressed files

While I did not demonstrate this in the video above, there is yet another way to save on file size. When you save your image as a compressed TIF (or PSD / PSB, which are compressed by default), the amount of detail in the layer mask matters. So painting a solid black or white color on unused portions of the mask will help your image compress to a smaller size. This is a great option when you might be tempted to use “Combine”, but still want to retain some flexibility. In this case, you just remove areas of detail you would definitely not use (rather than removing everything you aren’t using right now).

There are a couple of quick and easy ways to do this:

  • In Lumenzia, just draw a rough lasso selection around the area you would like to keep, make your masked layer active, click the * button at the top of the panel, and then click “Mask”. The * button will intersect the selection and mask, which means it will only keep what’s inside the lasso selection. It is best to not feather the selection here when asked.
  • Alternatively, you can just manually brush on the layer mask. Be sure to paint all the way to black or white. Leaving a very dark or very bright area with detail will still consume a lot of space. I would recommend using the first method with Lumenzia for simplicity and guaranteed results.

Luminosity masking is easier than ever with Lumenzia v9

Version 9 of the Lumenzia luminosity masking panel for Photoshop is now available as a free upgrade for all customers. It’s never been easier to create the perfect luminosity mask or selection to make beautiful photos. And the updates have been designed to avoid changing any existing workflows, so you can jump right in. Be sure to see the highlights and initial demo videos below (more to come in the months ahead).

 

Hear me discuss new v9 features with Jeff Harmon on the Master Photography podcast.

New features in Lumenzia v9 include:

  • Automatically create subtracted selections just by double-clicking the “-“ button. This helps quickly and easily get better shadow detail in your photos.
  • Create special selections, channels, or layers based on HSB, HSL, LAB, CMYK, or RGB values. This includes a preview interface for trying different blend modes when creating layers.
  • Out of Gamut masks. Take more control over your conversion to sRGB, prints, or other strong colors that may need adjustment.
  • Reload the last orange preview layers. This includes any customizations, such as tweaks to the sliders, levels layers, color targeting, etc.
  • Automatically crop or fill transparent edges when aligning exposures via PreBlend to ensure great-looking edges in your blends.
  • Fade slider in the Basics panel. Quickly and easily dial in just the right amount of the last brush stroke, etc. Click the slider to set the exact amount you need.*
  • “Sky” button offers enhance Sky selection and replacement (Basics panel):*
    • Control whether the results are based on the active layer or sample from all layers.
    • Choose on-off sky replacements without having to import them to the PS library.
    • Select foregrounds
    • Guidance to avoid common issues (with hidden layers, adjustment layers, etc).
  • “Vignette” results have been substantially improved.
    • <shift>-clicking for BlendIf now automatically helps protect shadows.
    • When using vector masks, edges are now expanded so that the vignette is darkened all the way to the edges (to get the same as when using layer masks, but with more flexibility and smaller file sizes).
  • Enhanced “SmartObj” in the Basics panel:
    • Improved organization and clarity with named smart objects.
    • Copy channels to the new Smart Object.
  • Improved optimization, including customized menus, toolbar, and workspace. Available via “Optimize Photoshop” in the Utilities menu (top-right of the panel or ctrl-click the “Tutorials” button in CS6).*
  • And much more. These are just some of the highlights. There are 170 new features, updates, and bug fixes compared to v8.5.1. See the release notes for full details.

* Note for CS6 users: While Lumenzia v9 includes hundreds of enhancements for CS6, some updates are limited to Photoshop CC or work somewhat differently in CS6. This is unfortunately due to limitations of the >8-year old CS6 platform. Differences are primarily in appearance or workflow. Functional capabilities generally remain nearly the same. And of course, you automatically have access to the CC panel if you ever update to Photoshop CC.

Buy Lumenzia v9 now.

Existing customers can download any time via the links on this page (which is also linked from the bottom of all my newsletters).

Note: Lumenzia v9 is compatible with Photoshop CS6 and CC (including PS 2021), Windows, and MacOS (including Big Sur and M1 / Apple Silicon).

Greg Benz Photography