Thursday, June 20, 2013

Luminance Masking & Blending in Photoshop

I’ve been learning more about luminance (or luminosity) masking, and wanted to share some tutorials I have found useful. What’s so powerful about these techniques is that they allow you to make precise selections and masks, and to target adjustments, based on the luminosity information of the image you are working on. Using luminosity masks, you can select particular tonal ranges for adjustment, dodging/burning, or blending. Because they are based on the luminosity information in your image itself, these masks can create seamless and natural looking adjustments and blends. They require no special plugins (beyond Photoshop), and there are various sources for PS actions that automate the process of generating the masks for you.

First and foremost, I recommend Tony Kuyper’s tutorials on these techniques. Tony is extremely knowledgeable, he’s a natural teacher, and his instructions are thorough and clear. Tony's approach  takes a little time to work through, but it’s not overly technical and its the one source I keep going back to when I need to brush up or find the answer to a question. Tony sells a complete set of actions (embedded in a nifty custom photoshop panel) to automate the process of generating the masks (and related techniques), and I’ve found Tony’s actions really useful, but there are other sources online where luminosity mask actions are available for free. Alternatively, you can follow the detailed instructions in Tony’s written tutorials and record your own actions.

Marty Kesselman has a short tutorial based on Tony’s techniques and available as a handy PDF.

For a video course on luminosity masks, I highly recommend the collaboration between Tony Kuyper and Sean Bagshaw. Although it’s not cheap, their video instruction is remarkably thorough and clear and will boost you up the learning curve quickly. I found this to be money well spent in terms of developing my PS skill set.

Not quite as useful for basic instruction, in my experience, are the videos produced by Jimmy McIntyre.  His first introductory video on luminosity masks is a bit of a muddle, especially compared to the careful and clear introduction by Kuyper & Bagshaw. The real strength of Jimmy’s videos is not basic instruction, but the subsequent workflow videos where he demonstrates how he uses these techniques to extend the dynamic range and enhance the impact of several of his own images. Jimmy also sells his own masking actions along with his video set.

If you’re not ready to pay for a complete set of video tutorials, there are also free videos on YouTube. For example, Matthew Norris has both introductory and somewhat more advanced videos that are worth a few minutes of your time.

I’m sure there are other resources as well, but these are the ones I’ve tried.

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