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How to Mask in Lightroom Using the Range Mask Tool

Published: 05/04/2021

Are you going back and forth from Adobe Lightroom to Photoshop while editing window pulls and images with flashes? To save time, we're going to teach you various masking techniques in Lightroom so that you can fine-tune masked areas with greater control when applying certain effects.

How to Mask in Lightroom

Masking is a versatile feature in Lightroom that masks out areas you don't want to sharpen, similar to the mask tool in Adobe Photoshop. With Auto Mask, Adjustment Brush, Range Masks, Color Range Mask, and Luminance Range Mask, you can control the amount of masking effect in your photos.

Let's go deeper into how you can use these masking tools to improve your real estate photography post-processing time and methods. 

Auto Mask

The Auto Mask feature is one way you can control and make localized adjustments in a photo, saving you a lot of editing time. Go to the bottom of the Brush Tool panel, and then tick the checkbox to either enable or disable the Auto Mask command.

Once enabled, the brush would automatically choose pixels with the same color and brightness to mask certain portions. Its selection would also depend on the exact point where you click on the image.

For example, you can dodge the dark portions of a property while brightening certain parts of the sky.

Person with a camera and laptop editing photos on Lightroom

Adjustment Brush

Even if the Auto Mask option serves as a good starting point, there are cases where you won't see the results you want. Since Auto Mask won't give you total control over the selection, it would be better to pair it with the Adjustment Brush.

The Adjustment Brush tool allows you to selectively set exposure, brightness, and clarity adjustments over particular masked areas. For example, you don't want to alter the background, yet you would like to bring out more details in the foreground.

  • If the Auto Mask's effect isn't perfect, click and drag the pin until the Adjustment Brush creates the most accurate result. 
  • To make incremental adjustments, you can manually type the brush parameters for the Size, Flow, Feather, and Density
  • There are A + B Brushes that let you make presets of brushes you often use.
  • You can also erase the unwanted masks applied in other portions.

Range Masks

If you want to work on areas with the same tone or color in a photo, you would usually have to paint them individually when using Auto Mask and Adjustment Brush.

In contrast, using the new Range Mask tool enables you to create a more detailed masked effect in images, giving you more creative control even in the most complex situations.

Color Range Mask

Unlike Auto Mask, which just automatically selects the surrounding colors, the Color Range is a better option if you like to make a more detailed selection of the colors in a specific area.  

  1. Select Color as the mask type. Click on the color selection Eyedropper.
  2. Click and drag to choose the color you want in the mask. For more precise control, hold down the shift key when making multiple selections or choosing additional colors.
  3. The Color Range option would limit the adjustment tools to a range of tones or colors, including Radial Filter, Graduated Filter, and Adjustment Brush.
  4. Select the Adjustment Brush if you want to edit an image with depth information in the Develop module.
  5. Choose the Graduated Filter if you want to adjust specific areas for a more even gradient.
  6. For desaturated colors or putting a bit of pop in a particular area, use the Radial Filter for quick, initial masking.
  7. Tick the Invert box when you want to apply the filter inside the specific area and not outside.
  8. Check off Invert after you set the highlights, shadows, contrast, and clarity.

Luminance Range Mask

As opposed to the Color Range that depends on color, Luminance targets specific areas based on the brightness range of your chosen pixels. This is ideal to use when you need to apply a local adjustment to shadows or highlights.

  1. Choose the Eyedropper from the Range Mask panel.
  2. Click the part in the image you want to adjust.
  3. Tick off Show Luminance Mask to see a black and white representation of the photo. The red area indicates the masked portion, which is where you applied the local adjustment.
  4. Use the Smoothness slider to fine-tune the smoothness falloff. 
Woman sitting on the bed using a laptop to edit in Lightroom

Combining Various Mask Tools in Lightroom

This is a sample process in Lightroom coming from John DiStefano of Bayville, NJ. For this example, the 3-shot bracket starts out looking very flat, yet there are tons of room for adjustments to create an HDR image within Lightroom.

You can also experiment a bit to see if this process would work well for your post-processing style and improve your real estate photography workflow.

  1. Draw your mask around the window in question using the Adjustment Brush/Gradient Filter/Radial Filter. Select Show Selected Mask Overlay. Don't worry much about getting the mask on the walls or curtains, frame, etc.
  2. Click on the Luminance Mask option. Below the Range Mask selector, the Smoothness slider and Range slider will pop up.
  3. Grab the left slider on the Range tool, which corresponds to the black tones on the histogram's left side.
  4. Use the Smoothness slider and push it to the left to fine-tune.
  5. Use the Color Range Mask to mask stubborn areas. You can also select the Erase brush.
  6. Start selecting the local adjustments. Deselect Show Selected Mask Overlay and add in your adjustments to even out Temp, Highlights, Dehaze, and Saturation.
  7. Use the Amount slider to fine-tune the edit. Move it to the left to decrease the range of the selected colors, or slide it to the right to increase the range of colors selected.

The results look pretty good since you have full control of how much you like to edit. Unlike working in Photoshop, doing this in Lightroom means you don't have to apply highlight correction to the entire room and avoid the dark areas around the window frame and mullions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should Real Estate Photographers Use Masks in Lightroom?

Masking allows real estate photographers to make isolated adjustments with even greater precision. When correcting an overexposed sky, you can mask and edit the area without altering the rest of the landscape in the image. Hence, you gain better control over exposure, hue, saturation, clarity, and white balance.

Why Can't I See the Mask Tools?

You should see the masks at the local adjustment panel. If you're not seeing them, check if you have the most current Adobe Lightroom process version, which is Version 4.

Conclusion

After learning how to use masks in Lightroom, you don't have to edit every element in Photoshop before applying presets. Now, you have a new way of doing everything on one platform, saving you post-processing time and letting you focus more on your real estate photography shoots.

17 comments on “How to Mask in Lightroom Using the Range Mask Tool”

  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. @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.

  7. @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).

  8. 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.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. @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.

  12. I moved from Lightroom Classic to "Photoshop Lightroom CC" a couple years back. I updated my "Photoshop Lightroom CC" today to version 2015.14 ... but I don't have the Range Mask option under the adjustment brush or gradient filter, etc. Is this feature ONLY available in Lightroom Classic?? I also have Classic installed, but never use it. If I open up Classic and point to one of my catalogs, it wants to "upgade" the catalog. So I'm guessing that if I have an image that I want to use the Range Mask feature on, I have to import that one into Classic JUST to use that one feature ? Or am i completely missing something here : - ) Thanks for the step-by-step, this feature will be awesome if I can just FIND it !
    http://www.headleyimages.com

  13. Zooming out the photo then using adjustment brush usually work for me. Using the Luminance mask looks promising. Do you think it would automatically choose the same color and brightness?

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