The Power of Luminosity Masks in Photoshop

Photoshop is an extremely intricate program for which there is a multitude of ways to accomplish any one task. Nonetheless, one of the most fundamental techniques almost every photographer should know is how to create and use luminosity masks. This great video tutorial will show you how to use them.

Coming to you from Nathaniel Dodson with tutvid, this helpful video will show you all about luminosity masks in Photoshop and why they are so useful. Luminosity masks are so helpful because they allow you to create layer masks that are derived from the luminosity values in a photo. In other words, this could allow you to create a layer mask that selects only the highlights of an image and then easily blend something like a color toning effect into them or to add an adjustment of some sort to only the shadows and have it gradually blend into the midtones for a realistic transition. The best part is that they're very easy to generate quickly, making them an extremely powerful editing tool for many genres of photography that is often far more efficient than using some other sort of masking technique. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Photographers constantly complain about their photos being stolen, but will steal techniques without credit to original creators. Sean Bagshaw and Tony Kuyper in this case. They pioneered this process some 13 years ago. There were others doing it as well, but wouldn't admit to it until after digitally manipulating imagery became common practice. Whatever though, landscape photography has more or less become a tsunami of Marc Adamus copycats full of pyramid style workshops. In a social media driven atmosphere, it's all become a bit of a joke on who can out photoshop who these days.

When properly utilized, luminosity masks can do some incredible things, but in most cases it's just another tool 'photographers' use these days to make mediocre images into something overcooked and unbelievable.

Are you really suggesting that working with Channels is a technique that was pioneered 13 years ago? Channels have been around since the dawn of Film and I think a few Darkroom technicians will have a word or two on who pioneered “luminosity masks”. By the same token you may take a hint where “Adobe Photoshop” got the idea from. Also I can think of a few more sophisticated ways - let’s say systematic ways - of applying Channels as masks than in this tutorial

Oh look, someone with no link to their photography or any images on their profile is trolling a post about a photography style/genre. What else is new. Relax Nicolaus, have any of these methods or photographers hurt you personally? Also, I remember using channels to make selections in Photoshop long before they "pioneered" this process. Just because they brought the most attention to it, doesn't mean it wasn't around before, or no one else is allowed to use it now.

Photoshop is surely a magical world to enter. I use it myself, but only at a superficial level so far. I hope to achieve at least a low level of mastery of it.

I still figure that you can go a long, long way with just the basics. Composition, any one? The thrill of the chase out there in the wild, stalking those marvelous images.

Photography, in other words.

I'm with you.

I always considered Photoshop the gateway drug to the Adobe Creative Suite, or at least the sweet white wine. Because of my work, I spend most of my time in InDesign, Illustrator, Aftereffects, etc. Lately for photography most everything I do is in LR. I need to circle back to incorporate the power of PS into my workflow.

Yes, like many PS techniques, luminosity masks can be very powerful, but I find tutorials like this don't do a great job of showing how they can *improve* an image when he spends 20 minutes cranking the goddamn clarity slider and adding an unnatural level of pink to the image...


Thanks for sharing Alex. Luminosity masks are a fantastic tool, and can be used in all aspects of photo editing and all genres.

Nicolaus, channel masks have been around much longer than 13 years, luminosity masks is just a fancy term used for the tool today. What has been done, is some fantastic tools have been created, that allow us to make our selections much quicker and easily modify them to suit our needs. Most no longer use channel masks, instead they use calculations, layers, etc... which give them much more flexibility. I don't think you'll find car manufacturers today giving credit to the original car maker when they release a new vehicle. Simply find the tool that works best for you.

The best tool I have found so far for this is ADP LumiFlow. They have developed a mask creation panel that gives you multiple options for the development of masks, significantly increasing your ability to make the perfect selection for your needs.

This is an excellent tutorial. However, I feel that the speed of the explanations is too rapid and I am English ! In particular the keyboard commands used need to be described more clearly. I did not see the link to actions under the video. Is there one which is very important ? I did a web search and found lots of them !