What are Luminance masks?

See here for our advanced Luminance Mask tutorial

Luminance Masking allows you to control the contrast of your image in specific tonal ranges. In this article you will learn how to use the included set of Actions to make a quantum improvement in the contrast of your images.

Luminosity masks are the cornerstone of tone-based image adjustments. These masks provide a convenient way to select specific tones in an image which can then be altered as the user sees fit. They have the ability to overcome shortcomings in the tonal values that were captured by the camera or film and to correct tones that shifted during image manipulation. Beyond simplifying these standard adjustments, however, luminosity masks also encourage a very individual approach to interpreting light. Luminosity masks make the captured light incredibly flexible and thereby provide the artist photographer unique opportunities to use Photoshop to explore their personal vision through photography.

How I use Luminance masks!!…..

I use luminosity masks in every image I make, usually multiple times. I use these masks every time I process a photograph!

By loading a mask into the transparency layer of a levels or curves adjustment layer you can control the contrast of a limited tonal range of your image.

Luminance masking will change the dynamics of your image in many ways and they’re very easy to use guys 🙂

1– We simply download the actions from the internet,

(I chose http://cookseytalbottgallery.com because I found his Luminance masks the best)

2-Now we have these downloaded we’ll simply create an album on your hard drive for example “PS Actions”

3-Now we just open PS up and choose the image we’re going to be working on. In this example, I’m working on an image from Sacrè-coeur Basilica. Now we’re going to open the luminance mask file we just downloaded into PS.. Go to the top tool bar of PS and go into window and actions.

Now we need to upload that file from the chosen album you created. To do this you click in the right corner of the little drop down box and click load actions. This will then open up your computer’s main drive space.

Here on my iMac I’ve saved the file under PS actions and Luminance masks. You need to choose the file that is named “CTG Zone”

This file will then upload into PS and automatically load all the various channels of the image.

(Note that once you have uploaded these actions you will be able to simply scroll down in the little drop down menu and will come across the CTG Zone files. If you click the 2nd file that you may be able to see in the box 2a then click the little play button on the bottom of the little drop down menu) this will then generate those RGB masks, this is the file so you wont have to keep going through your computer storage to upload once they’ve been loaded into PS guys.

4– Now we click on channels and you will see the RGB Zones masks all created.

This is where all the awesome stuff happens guys!

So now the masks will appear to take white, grey and black forms. This is simply the luminance masks that have been created from shadows (white) mid tones (grey) and highlights (black).

5– I have clicked onto the top mask (Zone 0-lll) and by holding the (apple cmd key or if your windows it’s the command key) down and clicking on the mask I have brought up the marching ants. This will give you a feathered selection. This is basically all the shadows/contrast available to be brought out in this RGB file.

Now, keeping those marching ants on the screen, click back on the RGB channel at the very top of the layers pile and (cmd/command and J) duplicate the RGB file. If you go back into your working layer icon you will find the duplicate layer above the image but on this layer you will see just the shadows that the marching ants had selected.

(Note you don’t have to always chose Zone 0-lll you may find the shadows chosen in this mask maybe too much perhaps and want less contrast so zone 0-iv or 0-v will be just enough for your working image)

6- So now I have my chosen luminance mask, for my shadows I’m now going to play within the various blend modes in layers to see which gives me the best feel of contrast and at which certain opacity to allow it to come through on the image

(for me I usually use blending mode hard light between 35-60% depends on the image though)

Once you’re happy with that, you have to then flatten the image and go back into the channels and repeat the process with the mid tones and highlights

Again depends on the image but for me my mid tone layer I would use blending mode multiply by about 15-25% and my highlights layer I would use blending mode screen at 30-40%.


Now you should have a completely different image to work from. All of your contrast levels and mid tones and highlights are correctly chosen and are correctly visible within the photograph.

Now you just finish off all your little routines of spot heal and a little curves adjustment and your image is done.

You will find once used that luminance masking will bring out the contrast to anchor the eye to the image and at the same time the mid tone mask will pull out all of those warm colours and make the image even more pleasing to the human eye..

Luminance masking has completely changed the dynamics of my images and I really hope they do for all you fellow photographers too.

Thank you Si burns at Si Burns Photography for you continuous contributions and knowledge of PS bro!!




Guys you have to follow this guy he has really lead me down all the paths into my PS knowledge he’s the Yoda I’m just the Luke!!

Article by Alan Carter

You can see more of his work here: www.hdrmoments.smugmug.com