Turn a Good Shot Into a Great One: Essentials of Luminosity Masks

Let's just be honest here, standard HDR photo processing techniques are about as relevant as dial-up Internet these days. There are many other ways to achieve better dynamic range in the final edit of an image and one of the best ways is that of using luminosity masks.

Using luminosity masks is essentially a much, much cleaner way of taking control over different areas within a photograph so as to either edit those areas specifically or, as demonstrated in this video, to composite different sections from a metered stack of shots. If you're not already familiar with layer masking within Adobe Photoshop, then you might want to get caught up first, I'd recommend checking out “The Ultimate Guide on How to Use Photoshop Layer Masks.”

The desire to pull more out of an image for more dynamic range is a pretty natural one. The human eye can see so much more than what a camera is capable of capturing in a single frame. We have to rely on advanced techniques and even blending different exposures in order to accurately depict what we were actually seeing there in person. Granted, technology has come a long way, but it's still not quite up to the quality of the human eye. Until cameras get to that point, using techniques like luminosity masks is a great way to create the shot you actually want to see instead of merely the one that the camera was able to record. 

Do you have any successes with using luminosity masks? Make sure to share by commenting below, we'd love to see what you've created.

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6 Comments

Robert Teague's picture

I use Tony Kuyper's TKActions panel; it's powerful, but complex. I believe you can get it from the Adobe store.

Andrew Swanson's picture

Gosh I could listen to this guy all day. I like to dabble in landscape photography and this is a fantastic tutorial. Thanks for posting!

At what point do we cross the line between photograph and illustration,

Darkrooms have been used since the inception of photography in the early 19th century.

Really? I had no idea.

Jimmy McIntyre is a natural teacher. I've enjoyed his content and teaching style for a couple years now and have to say he has had a big impact on how I shoot architecture.

His biggest insight is using smart object layers in PS to create the luminosity masks. That way you can adjust the layer in ACR for the best looking mask first, and then go back to tweak it for the best looking exposure. . . all without degrading the image layer.

I no longer fear shooting into bright, sunlit windows… and all without a hint of the dreaded HDR "look."