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How to Make Local Adjustments Fast With Color Masking in Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom includes powerful features to adjust and edit your images, including local adjustments that refine areas of an image so that you have precise area control.

To save time while selecting those areas, in this tutorial you'll learn how to use color masking: this feature selects areas of an image based on color for faster masking and more precise adjustments. 

Local Adjustments in Adobe Lightroom

Have you ever needed to make a local adjustment while editing an image? Maybe you needed to remove a stray hair or blemish. Or, maybe you wanted to desaturate a certain part of an image so that other colors stood out.

These are local adjustments, image edits that only impact an area of an image. Local adjustments are useful for image corrections, of course, but they can also be a powerful tool to make creative and stylistic changes by selectively emphasizing or de-emphasizing specific parts of an image.

Lightroom mask previewLightroom mask previewLightroom mask preview
In this example, I've used a mask with the help of the Adjustment Brush to make a local adjustment.

Precise Changes in Lightroom

In short, a color mask selects parts of an image based on a color range. It's the perfect option when you want to adjust the clarity of a sky, or the contrast of a green grassy landscape, for example.

Lightroom doesn't work with images at the pixel level like old-school raster image editors, (Adobe Photoshop, for example). Instead, you're applying adjustments to an area of an image, even if that area is very small. That doesn't mean that the tools lack power or flexibility; with the help of features like the adjustment brush and gradient filter, it's easy to adjust part of an image. But because Lightroom doesn't use pixel-level adjustments, precision can sometimes be a bit challenging. That's why masking is so powerful. It allows you to carefully select parts of an image.

These tutorials will teach you more about the magic of general masking. Read on to get deeper into color masking, or head to the next section for a step-by-step how-to.

How to Use Color Masking For Local Adjustments in Adobe Lightroom

Instead of spending time painting the adjustment brush with painstaking precision, this option makes it easy to make a selection based on color. Let's learn how.

1. Visualize Your Edit

Before you start working with tools in Adobe Lightroom, it's important to pause and think about your desired edit. Otherwise, you might spin your wheels and waste too much time making tweaks. 

In my image example, here's what I want to do. I want to draw more focus on the planter boxes in the image in the foreground. To do that, I'll remove focus (saturation and detail) from the gravel between the boxes. 

Visualize edit LightroomVisualize edit LightroomVisualize edit Lightroom
Start by visualizing the adjustments you wish to make, ensuring that the tool you choose for the job (in this case, color masking) is the right one.

This image is an ideal technique for color masking. Each of the boxes that I want to adjust has a green hue that color masking easily selects.

2. Paint a Basic Mask

Color masking works with several of the masking tools—adjustment brush, radial filter, and gradient filter. In this section, we'll work with the adjustment brush tool and refine it with a color mask.

In the Develop module, start by selecting the adjustment brush tool. It's the far-right icon below the histogram, shaped like a paintbrush. Use the Size and Feather options to set the size and shape of the brush.

Press on your keyboard or check Show Selected Mask Overlay. Then, start to brush over the areas to adjust.

Masked areas updatedMasked areas updatedMasked areas updated
Paint over the general area using the adjustment brush; remember, we'll refine the selection using color masking.

Remember: you don't have to select the area perfectly. The entire point of color masking is to expedite the selection process. 

3. Apply the Color Range Mask

Now, we're ready to add the color mask with the same area still showing as selected, click on the Range Mask dropdown on the right side. Choose Color from the dropdown.

Click on the eyedropper icon left of Range Mask. Now, click on the areas of the photo that you want to adjust. In this case, I'll click on the gravel area. You'll see the area refined to the color-similar parts of the image.

Color range updatedColor range updatedColor range updated
Use the eyedropper and the Amount slider to refine the areas covered by your Color Mask.

You can also hold Shift on your keyboard and click on other areas to add them to your selection. The idea here is to only select areas with common colors so that they'll adjust independently. The red area that shows your mask will adjust as you do so.

Finally, you can tweak your selection with the help of the Amount slider. As you pull it up and down, watch the red areas refine. In my example image, the green areas are de-selected because we haven't included them using the Range Mask.

Our mask is set nicely now. In the image example above, it took me less than thirty seconds to brush a mask and then refine it. That's far faster than attempting to paint it on my own.

4. Dial-In Your Adjustments

The hard work is finished. With the help of the color mask feature, you've selected a specific part of an image. Now, it's time to have fun with the adjustments.

Once you're comfortable with the area you've selected, turn the mask preview off by pressing on your keyboard. Then, use the sliders on the Adjustment Brush panel to make your adjustments. In my case, I pulled the saturation and texture down to de-emphasize the gravel areas.

Finished with maskFinished with maskFinished with mask
Turn off your mask preview by pressing O, then apply adjustments using the sliders.

And that's it. Remember: you can apply adjustments—not just adjustments that affect color—with the help of this range mask. The color masking only serves to help you select areas of an image based upon color.

The Best Source for Creative Adobe Lightroom Presets and LUTs

If you're reading this article, you're looking to get the most from your digital images in the editing process. But it takes time to develop your own style, and even more time to apply those styles to image after image.

Thanks to Adobe Lightroom presets, it only takes one click to apply a new style to an image. And while the web is full of free options, it's better to source the professional Adobe Lightroom presets from Envato Elements. 

Envato Elements Lightroom presetsEnvato Elements Lightroom presetsEnvato Elements Lightroom presets
Use Envato Elements to source unlimited Adobe Lightroom presets for a flat rate.

With the help of Elements, you won't waste time sifting through results to find a workable Lightroom preset. Instead, the all-you-can-download subscription includes curated Lightroom presets that have been reviewed for quality and ease-of-use.

Here are a few favorite Lightroom presets that are sure to supercharge your edit workflow. They're all included as part of Elements' flat-rate subscription:

Elements is the one-subscription source for all kinds of creative assets, including Adobe Lightroom presets. The simple, "all-you-can-download" model gives you everything you need.

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