Lumenzia: Luminosity Masking Made Easy
Often, adjustments are needed in one part of an image that would be detrimental if applied to other parts. In landscape photography, the areas needing to be worked on are often those that are either too bright or too dark. Luminosity masking in Photoshop is a great way to target just these areas, but requires multiple steps and can be time consuming even for experienced users. If only there was an easier way.
As a brief refresher, "masking" is really just another name for "selection." You can use the Lasso tools, Magic Wand or any of the other selection tools to define an area over which an adjustment will be made. Those "marching ants" show you the boundary of your selection. But portions of an image can be partially selected too. The boundary you see merely means that what's inside is at least fifty percent selected, and what's outside is less than that. Any adjustment you make based on that selection will apply proportionally to the percent selected of each specific area.
Sometimes a hard-edged selection is appropriate, but more often you will want a softer edge to blend your fixes into the surrounding image. At least in my work, I'm not trying to change what was there or to add or subtract from it, I'm just trying to overcome the limitations of image capture with current cameras and photo gear. As amazing as modern cameras are, they have a long ways to go before approaching the imaging capabilities of human vision.
It's hard to see just how well a given selection will blend into the rest of the image though since graphically all you can see is that fifty-percent selected marching ant line. This is where masks have a distinct advantage. Any select is really just a mask, and any mask is really just a selection. But a mask lets you see the degree of selection much more definitively. A mask looks much like another image layer, but in grayscale rather than full color. Any area in the mask that is completely selected will appear as white. Any are not selected at all will appear as black. Shades of gray in between those extremes represent areas selected proportionally to the shade of gray, darker through increasingly lighter.
But even still, it's nearly impossible to create a good mask by hand. Let's face it, we're photographers not painters. I like to think I can take a pretty reasonable photo of Mt. Rainier. Ask me to paint a picture of Mt. Rainier though and it would be a disaster. Ask me to manually paint a mask to optimize a photograph of Mt. Rainier and I'll probably do better, but not as well as that image probably deserves.
Luminosity masking can give me that way. If you kind of squint at an image and imagine it as grayscale, you'll get the idea of what the technique of luminosity masking is all about. Basically, it involves using an image itself as the source for the mask. The concept is nothing new and has been around for quite a while now. I wrote about it extensively back in 2006. It's not even that difficult, but the steps involved do require at least a reasonable working knowledge of Photoshop. If you're looking for the "luminosity mask" button, there isn't one. The technique involves using several of the tools that Photoshop does provide, but in ways likely not originally intended by the engineers at Adobe that designed them. If you want to do this by hand, you'll need to spend some time learning how first. Even once you've mastered the technique, it can be time-consuming.
That's why I was excited to come across Lumenzia, a Photoshop extension written by photographer Greg Benz, a photographer who currently calls Minneapolis, Minnesota his home. I've never met Greg, but that's what's cool about the Internet era we live in. We can learn from each other and make connections across distances previously unthinkable. Purely by accident, I stumbled across Greg's remarkable Lumenzia extension panel for Photoshop CS6 and above. Thanks Greg!
To use Lumenzia, you'll first need to license it. Although Greg does offer other free extensions, Lumenzia will cost you $39.99. If you're already a fan of luminosity masks or if I've tempted you to become one here today, the price for Lumenzia is fair and will save you at least that much in time and effort going forward. As mentioned, you'll also need Photoshop CS6 or Creative Cloud. You'll also need to install the Adobe Extension Manager if you haven't already. It's included with your Photoshop license but is an optional component.
Once you've purchased your copy of Lumenzia from Greg's website, you'll need to unzip it into a folder. The download comes as a zip archive file that includes a number of files within it including installation instructions in both Microsoft Word document and Adobe Acrobat pdf formats if you need more guidance although the process if fairly simple. Open Photoshop but be sure not to have any images open. Then simply drag the "Install Lumenzia 1-4-1.jsxbin" file from the unzipped installation folder on top of the open Photoshop window and drop it there. You'll be prompted to acknowledge you've read the licensing terms and accept them. They're contained within another file in the same unzipped folder. When you click on "Yes" Lumenzia will be installed. It's that simple. Restart Photoshop and you're in business.
Once you do, you'll find Lumenzia under the Window >> Extensions menu, or attached to the Panel dock to the right of the main image area. The dialog box for Lumenzia is a bit dense since it crams a lot of functionality into a small area. You will probably need to go through Greg's documentation or watch his helpful instructional videos on YouTube, and play with it a bit to get the hang of it. But once you do, it will become a huge time saver.
Basically, Lumenzia automates the otherwise tedious process of creating luminosity masks for various purposes. If you decide you don't like the mask you created with Lumenzia, you can always tweak it or replace it entirely at any point. But from what I've seen so far, Greg gives you great starting points.
Here's a quick example image. After doing some basic adjustments in Lightroom, I wanted to work on the washed out trees along the shoreline to add a bit more contrast. I could have done it with targeted adjustments directly in Lightroom, but painting on the image to address only what I wanted could get tedious. Opening the image into Photoshop, I used Lumenzia to create a mask for just the trees based on brightness. I used this mask for a Curves adjustment layer. I then Alt-clicked on the resultant mask and painted out the foreground foliage with a black brush that also got selected to remove it from the mask. I then adjusted the curve into a classic S-curve that was automatically constrained based on the contrast that was present in the trees to begin with. So with just a few clicks I was able to do a much better job of improving the trees along the shore than I could have done on my own with quite a few more clicks.
Mt Rainier after basic Lightroom adjustments
Shoreline tree contrast easily improved via Lumenzia
There are a growing number of available extensions out there for Photoshop. Most of them I can easily do without. But Lumenzia is one that really I like. Highly recommended, and not just for landscape photographers.