Often you want to apply an effect or adjustment to a whole picture, but not always. Sometimes you only want to apply it to part of the picture, and this is where the Luminar mask tools become really useful.
Masks are a way of applying local adjustment to an image, and while masking can occasionally turn into a delicate and complex science, it doesn’t always have to be that way. Very often, masking can be a really fast and simple process that doesn’t require a whole lot of finesse.
There are two places you can create masks in Luminar. One is when you are applying individual adjustments and filters. The second is when you want to apply a mask to an entire layer. Here’s an urban portrait that can show both of these in action.
01 The background needs desaturating
I think that’s one of the keys to making this photo pop. In the unedited photo both the subject and the background are full of vibrant color, but I think the background needs toning down a little. That’s easy enough to do by reducing the Saturation value in the Color panel (Essentials workspace). Naturally, this reduces the saturation across the whole image, so I need some way to mask out the main subject.
02 Add a mask to the filter
The Color panel, like many of the adjustment tools in Luminar, can have a mask added. In many programs the only way to apply a mask is to a layer, or adjustment layer, but in Luminar they can be applied to individual tools. So what I need to do here is click the Edit Mask button at the bottom of the Color panel. The best tool to use here will be the freehand Brush tool.
03 Erasing (masking) the effect
I need to set the Mask tool to Erase, choose a suitable brush size and softness and then paint over our subject where I want to mask out the effect of the Saturation reduction. There’s no reason to be particularly precise here, because gradual saturation changes from a soft brush are barely noticeable.
04 How to show a mask
The effects of masking can sometimes be TOO subtle, and often it’s useful to see where you’ve actually painted the mask to make sure you’ve covered all the areas you need to and that there’s no overspill. To do this, click on the ‘eye‘ icon on the top toolbar. The red areas show where the adjustment is applied while the clear areas show where the effect has been removed. The way to remember this is that the red areas are where the effect will be applied and you add to them with the Paint option enabled, and the clear areas are where the effect will not be applied and you can create these with the Erase option.
05 When you need an adjustment layer not a single filter
So far I’ve used a single filter, but now we want to do something more advanced and apply one of Luminar’s Looks to our portrait subject – but not the background. Luminar’s Looks use a whole range of different filters in combination, and it would be impractical to mask them all individually. The solution is to apply the Look to a new Adjustment Layer and then apply a mask to that.
06 Adding a Look to an adjustment layer
With the new adjustment layer active, I can display the Luminar Looks palette (there’s a button for this on the top toolbar) and choose one. The Mystic Land Look is really effective here, giving our subject a hyper-real ‘editorial’ look. Right now, it’s applied to the background too, though, which isn’t really what I want.
07 Masking an adjustment layer
So now I can mask the whole adjustment layer in the same way I masked the Color filter earlier. There’s an Edit Mask button for each adjustment layer in the same way that there is for individual filters, and the mask options in the drop down menu are the same. So I’ll go for the Brush tool again.
08 Brushing out the background
I want the Mystic Land Look applied to the subject but not the background, so with the mask mode set to Erase I simply paint over the background. Again, it’s not necessary to be too precise here because it’s the sort of adjustment that can be blended in gently.
09 Checking the mask
Just to make sure, I’ll make the mask visible again with the ‘eye’ button. This time, our subject is highlighted by the mask, to indicate that this is the area affected by the filter, which is exactly what I want. That’s it, the job is done. What I haven’t covered in this walkthrough is how to blend image layers with masks, but while tools are the same, the techniques for combining images subtly and effectively can be a little trickier and will need a separate walkthrough.