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How to Mask Windows Using the Range Mask Tool in Lightroom CC

January 3rd, 2019

This is a guest post by John DiStefano of Bayville, NJ on masking windows in Lightroom CC. Click the GIF to the right to see John’s example images.

Recently, I was playing around with Lightroom CC and learned how to fine-tune a masked area and have greater control with the new Range Mask tool using both color and Luminance masks to help target areas within a mask to apply specific effects. I thought this might be a great way to do window pulls instead of going back and forth to PS, or dealing with flash. Here is a quick summary of what I found that yields pretty good, quick results that you don’t have to apply highlight correction to the entire room and avoids the dark areas around the window frame and mullions. Perhaps the readers can improve on the process. The example I used was a 3 shot bracket, 2 stops apart, that created an HDR merged image within Lightroom. These images start out looking very flat but have tons of room for adjustments.

Here are the steps:

  1. Draw your mask around the window in question using the adjustment brush/gradient filter/radial filter. I used the adjustment brush. (Select “Show selected mask overlay” to help) This mask can be rather rough. Don’t worry much about getting the mask on the walls or curtains, frame, etc.
  2. Select the new feature Range Mask: Luminance Mask.
  3. Below the Range Mask selector, a few new tools will pop up: Show Luminance mask, Range and Smoothness sliders.
  4. Grab the left slider on the on the Range tool, (this corresponds to the black tones on the left side of the histogram) and push it to the right until you see the mask disappearing and only masking the window perhaps into the 80s. Push it too far and all the mask will fade away
  5. Grab the smoothness slider and push it almost all the way to the left to fine tune. You should now be left with a mask that only effects the window glass. Sometimes, some areas within the mask are quite difficult to highlight due to their luminance I suppose. These can be addressed using the Color Range mask. If there are still some stubborn areas that are masked, you can select the Erase brush and fine tune.
  6. Now you can start selecting the local adjustments. Deselect “Show selected mask” overlay and add in your adjustments. Temp, Highlights, Dehaze, Saturation, etc.

The results look pretty good; you have full control as to how much you want to pull and you can do it all within Lightroom.

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15 Responses to “How to Mask Windows Using the Range Mask Tool in Lightroom CC”

  • Nice. I like that it is a simple, easy maskin LR. More control than a normal adjustment brush adjustment and good results. Not a full replacement for PS widow pulls but for basic editing it is great.

    Cheers

  • wow, that’s a cool feature! I missed it somehow. Just tried and it did a better job of pulling windows than with just brush or radial. Thanks!

  • Wonderful, perfect, exactly what I was looking for.

    I nominate this for the tip of the year… if there was such a thing.

    Also great writing for an explanation.

  • Thanks John, really appreciated- it will do it for some listings and in some situations. Very helpful.

  • This is a great find. Are there specific Flow and Density settings you recommend on your brush?

  • I’ve been using 100% on both flow and density also leaving Auto mask On. In other range mask applications users said they had better results leaving auto mask off. I have not see that yet. I also tried sliding the highlights tool full scale left and right before adjusting the range. Mixed results there.

  • Excellent. Thank you John.

  • The whole “view pulling” thing has always boggled my mind. I find it truly fascinating that people will actually do extra work to show a poster print view of a Walmart parking lot, or a patchy grass yard filled with dog shit and kids toys, or the brick wall of the house next door, etc.

    Why are we doing this? Are we sure that potential home buyers want this? Are we positive that our clients want this? Or are we just doing this because that’s the way it’s always been done?

    It Reminds me of the “Pot Roast Story”:

    A mother was preparing a pot roast for her family’s Easter meal while her young daughter helped. Knowing her daughter was very curious, the mother explained each step. As she was preparing to put the pot roast in the oven, the mother explained, “Now we cut the ends off of each side of the meat.” As young children often do, the daughter asked, “Why?” The mother thought for a moment and replied, “Because that’s the way it’s done. That’s how your grandma did it and that’s how I do it.”

    Not satisfied with this answer, the young girl asked if she could call her grandma. The young girl called and asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends off the pot roast?” Her grandma thought for a moment and said, “Because that’s the way it’s done. That’s how my mom did it and that’s how I do it.”

    Still not satisfied, the young girl called her great grandma, who was now living in a nursing home. “Great grandma,” she said, “Why do you cut the ends off the pot roast?” Her great grandma said, “When I was a young mother, we had a very small oven. The pot roast wouldn’t fit in the oven if I didn’t cut the ends off.”

    That said, I get it… It’s totally reasonable to show a breathtaking view of a mountain, or the countryside, or the ocean, or an exceptional landscape!

    Just some food for thought.

  • @Barry MacKenzie. A brick wall three feet from the window doesn’t need a good view. If the Eiffel Tower is part of the view, it must be shown. The middle ground is a matter of what the customer wants. If there is a pool, seeing a bit of it out of a window is a nice touch. I had a home last year with a sunroom that looked out on some very nice landscaping and I worked on getting a good balance to show how nice and peaceful that room felt.

    I’m with you on not bothering if the view doesn’t have any value. If I’m dealing with direct sun on the window, I might do a window pull so I can tame the exposure and have a little detail left in the window and blinds/curtains without going so far as to show much outside. If I were just filling in with a big strobe, the image can get too flashy.

  • @Barry MacKenzie. Attention to detail is less about “because my pot roast wouldn’t fit in the oven” than it is about taking pride in one’s work regardless of what others might think/want (craftspersonship).

  • @Gary, what does pride on one’s work have to do with anything? You’ve clearly missed the point.

  • I have to agree with Barry. Unless there is a spectacular view out the window or there is an important part of the property that you want to show as part of the view from the room, almost all of the time, the view out the window is not worth showing. And remember, you will be shooting exteriors that show the view far better than any view from a window.

    It is just my impression, but I think that far too many photographers expend far too much energy and time trying to get a decent window pull of the house next door, or a green lawn with run of the mill shrubbery. If the view through the window is the house next door, 30 feet away, I would argue that you might be better off not showing it at all.

    I once had a conversation with the executives of a prominent real estate photography company and at one point we were talking about window pulls. I advocated my position as stated above. They adamately argued that they could never get away with not showing the view out of every window, even if it was just the blank wall of the house next door????? And, their photographers were struggling to make that happen.

    I have been shooting RE photography for 10 years, five of those in Savannah, GA and five in the NJ suburbs of Philadelphia. In both locations I have had the privilege of shooting for some of the top agents in each location. There have been situations where it was important to show the view out the window and I worked hard to get it. But the vast majority of times, the view is not worth the trouble. Not once have I had an agent complain about the lack of window view.

    It is important to know how to do a good window pull for the few times that it is needed, but, unless your agent or the market demands it, you may be able to save a lot of time and anguish by not struggling to grab the window view.

    Just a final note. In the OP’s image for the above article, I would definitely work to obtain a good view out of the window so as to show the marina.

  • Sorry. In my post above I failed to say that John DiStefano’s masking method in the original post is a good and easy tool to help with window pulls. Thanks John!

  • So this is only for HDR? Thanks for the tips, I don’t shoot HDR and will still be able to apply this at times.

  • @EE – No, this has nothing to do with HDR this is just a feature in Lightroom to mask and adjust an area in your image.

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