How to Create Luminosity Masks in Photoshop

You ever wish there was a way that you could tell Photoshop to add color back into a bright sunset, add some contrast to give a building some more pop, or add detail back into dark shadows?  Luminosity masks give you that control over your images.  I use them all the time take a decent landscape or cityscape image and turn it into a stunning image.

The basic idea behind luminosity masking is to create layer masks based on the brightness in the image itself.  That not only gives you a way to select highlights, shadows, or specific midtone ranges in-between; but it also creates masks that are subtle and blend naturally.  If you just tried to use standard Photoshop tools like the magic wand, Photoshop will either select a pixel completely or not at all.  Feathering the mask won’t yield a natural transition most of the time, so the selection edges create awkward adjustments that detract from the image and make it obvious that it’s been “Photoshopped”.  So the real power of luminosity masks is that they can select pixels to various degrees, resulting in the ability to adjust parts of the image without obvious boundaries where the adjustments were made.

I’ve created a set of free PS luminosity mask actions that you can use to create your own luminosity masks.  In the first video below, I demonstrate how to install the actions and generate the masks to get started.  In the second video, I show how to apply them to an image of the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Using luminosity masks; I was able to easily burn (darken) some distracting highlights, add some contrast for pop in key parts of the image, and reduce saturation in a distracting light.

 

Installing and applying the luminosity masking actions:

 

 

Demonstration using luminosity masks:

 

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