Certain adjustments aren’t intended to affect the entire image; color corrections, sharpening, or glow effects are just a few that often are better to apply selectively to your image. This is when Layer Masks in Luminar 4 come in handy.
Using Layer Masks gives you a whole new level of control and precision in your post-processing workflow. If you aren’t using them already, they are going to change the way you process your images forever.
But what exactly are they and why are they so important to understand? Let’s find out!
What are Layer Masks?
In order to understand the power of Layer Masks, it’s important that you first understand the basics of using Layers in Luminar 4. Layers and Layer Masks are two of the biggest advantages with this photo editor and it’s something that’s going to have a positive effect on your photography.
Once you’ve learned how to implement layers into your workflow, it’s time to take full advantage by learning how to use Layer Masks.
We know that layers work as a hierarchy where the top layer is always the one visible. So what do you do when you don’t want the adjustments applied to the top layer to be visible everywhere in your photo?
You create a Layer Mask.
Layer Masks are used to conceal or reveal adjustments within your photos. The mask is white by default, which means that the adjustments made on the particular layer are visible throughout the image. A black Layer Mask, however, means that the layer is invisible.
This is you need to memorise the popular phrase Black Conceals, White Reveals.
For example, let’s say that you want to add a glow effect by using the Glow Tool. When increasing the amount to +25 the background looks great but the foreground has become distracting. We can then use the Layer Mask to remove the adjustment from the foreground.
By doing this, you’re able to introduce the glow only into the parts of your image that it’s going to be beneficial.
I know this might sound a little confusing to begin with but hopefully you’ll have a better understanding at the end of the article.
The Difference Between Adjustment Masks & Layer Masks
One of the factors that make Luminar 4 different than most other photo editors is that there are two ways to apply masks. One is the well-known method of applying Layer Masks (masks directly to the layer) but the other option is to add Adjustment Masks (mask to the adjustment).
If you’re not yet comfortable using layers in Luminar 4, the Adjustment Masks are a great feature that helps create a more selective workflow.
Adjustment Masks are added directly to the adjustments instead of layers. In other words, you’re able to create an individual mask for all adjustments, even on the same layer. This can be quite useful when editing on the same layer and don’t want all the adjustments to be visible across the image.
Layer Masks are applied to the layer itself, meaning that you can conceal or reveal all adjustments on that particular layer. This is the more common way of post-processing but combining them with Adjustment Masks can result in extra flexibility.
Luckily, the process of creating and altering Adjustment Masks and Layer Masks are the same. The only difference is that one is made by clicking the Edit Mask button beneath the adjustment and the other by clicking the Edit Mask button beneath the layer.
Let’s take a closer look at how they are made.
How to Make a Layer Mask in Luminar 4
To make this easier to follow, I’m going to only use Layer Masks in this explanation. Adjustment Masks are used the same way but are activated from the adjustment/tool instead of the layer.
The first step of creating a Layer Mask in Luminar 4 is to make sure that your adjustments are applied to an Adjustment Layer, not your background layer. It’s not possible to add a mask to the background layer as there’s nothing to reveal beneath it.
After applying your adjustments to the Adjustment Layer, click the Edit Mask button. This opens a dropdown menu where you have four options: Brush, Radial Mask, Gradient Mask and Luminosity.
Choose one of the 4 options to create your mask:
- Brush. This is the easiest way to mask an image; use brush strokes to add or subtract from the mask. Note that you want to take extra care along edges when using a brush with a strong adjustment, as haloing or other unwanted artifacts might appear. I recommend using a pen tablet for higher precision.
- Radial Mask. This is a good masking technique when you want to highlight a specific area of the image defined within an elliptical shape. You can choose to apply the effect either inside or outside the selected area. The Radial Mask can be used when, for example, creating a custom vignette or when brightening a certain area.
- Gradient Mask. A Gradient Mask creates a gradual mask where the adjustment is 100% visible at the top and 0% at the bottom. This is the go-to masking type when darkening the sky or making specific adjustments to the upper or lower part of an image.
- Luminosity Mask. This is the most complex but also the most precise way to create a mask. It creates a mask based upon a pixel’s brightness, making it possible to target very specific areas of an image.
We take a more in-depth look at the various masking techniques in our popular eBook ‘A Photographer’s Guide to Luminar 4‘.
Keep in mind that you can switch between the various masking methods whenever you want. It’s possible to combine different methods to better target specific areas.
How to Use Layer Masks
With the Layer Mask active it’s time to reveal or conceal adjustments from specific areas. In this case we’re going to look at how to use the Brush masking tool. This is the easiest and most convenient method of adjusting your Layer Mask.
Let’s say that we want to add some extra glow in the mountains of this image by using the Mystical Tool:
The problem when applying the adjustment at a relatively high strength is that, in a lack of better words, it looks over-processed; the foreground is soft and the glow has created a strange halo-like effect around the person. It looks bad.
However, the glow looks good in the sky and the background mountains, so how do we remove the adjustment from everywhere else?
By using a Layer Mask.
Create the mask by finding the active layer in the Layers Tool, click the Edit Mask button beneath it and choose Brush from the dropdown menu.
This reveals a new tab above the image where you’ll see options such as Paint and Erase. The Paint brush introduces white to the mask while the Erase brush introduces black. To remove the glow from the landscape, you need to select the Erase brush since we’re on a white Layer Mask.
It’s important to use the brush tool carefully, especially when working with strong adjustments; you want to avoid brushing over objects that shouldn’t be affected. Pay extra attention along the horizon and transitions between sky and objects.
The new tab also includes more settings that allow you to control the general mask settings, brush size, softness and opacity, and an optional pen pressure setting if you’re using a pen tablet.
I generally recommend working with a soft brush as this gives a smoother transition but if you’re refining the mask along an edge while zoomed in, it’s better to use a hard brush.
With the Erase method activated, start painting the areas you want to remove the adjustment from. As you paint more parts, you’ll notice that the Layer Mask is turning black in those areas.
You can also click the Visibility icon (eyeball) to view the mask.
When you’ve removed the adjustment from any unwanted areas, click the Done button. Hold Shift and click on the Layer Mask’s icon to see the adjustment with and without the mask applied. It can be a big difference!
The Brush Tool is relatively easy to use and is a good option when applying adjustments to areas that don’t have any hard edges. However, it can easily cause haloing when working in more sensitive areas. In these cases, combining it with a Luminosity Mask can be a more precise option.
Being able to use Layers and Layer Masks are two of the big advantages with Luminar 4 compared to similar photo editors. While these features might seem slightly confusing at first, you’ll quickly learn how implementing them gives you a more precise post-processing workflow.
The Adjustment Masks are another nice feature that makes it possible to selectively apply adjustments even without needing to understand how to use layers. This can be helpful for those of you who are just starting out with post-processing and find it all a bit overwhelming.
If you’re serious about your post-processing and would like more impressive results, I urge you to spend some time practicing and learning how to use Layers and Layer Masks in Luminar 4. Believe me when I say that implementing these is going to revolutionize your workflow.
Note: If you’re not yet a Luminar 4 user, use the promo code CAPTURELANDSCAPES to get a $10 discount.