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.

Greg Benz Photography