Lightroom Range Mask: A Hidden Gem

Lightroom Range Mask: A Hidden Gem - Mastin Labs

Adobe has a knack for packing its software with more tools and functions than you could seemingly use in a lifetime. It's easy to stick to the familiar tools and tasks that you rely on to get the job done, and there's nothing wrong with that, but you're often just one click away from discovering a new tool that might revolutionize how you work.

For Lightroom users, even seasoned ones, I'd like to point out a little gem that there's a good chance you've never seen. It's called Range Mask.

Within the Gradient, Radial, and Brush tools, hidden in plain sight at the very bottom of the menus for those tools is some blacked-out text that says "Range Mask: Off."

Once you activate whichever of these three tools you're using, the option will become available for selection.

What is a range mask? What does it do?

A range mask is a tool to select specific criteria within an image to affect or not affect, leaving the rest of the "un-masked" image unaltered.

This is typically the type of editing task that you would move your image over to Photoshop for, and though this native tool may not be quite as powerful as its Photoshop counterpart, it has loads of uses without ever leaving Lightroom.

The Lightroom Range Mask works within two fields: Color and Luminance. This means that you can apply and direct the application of your alterations to specific areas of the image using either the color or light in the image as a guide for the mask.

Want to bring the drama back into your sky in an image? Here's an example of how to use the Luminance Range Mask to do just that.

I applied the Mastin Labs Kodak Ektar preset and adjusted the exposure.

It looks pretty good, but with the exposure adjustment, I lost a lot of the detail in the sky. If it were a clear horizon on a flat plane, that would be a pretty simple brush or gradient fix, but with the palm trees in the horizon line, it's a much more complicated situation. Without a smart-mask of some kind, it would mean zooming in and delicately brushing in all around those palm branches. Yuck! No thanks.

Using the Range Mask, I was able to do this in about 20 seconds:

before/after Range Mask

After the Range Mask is applied to the sky.


  • Select either the Brush Tool (K) or the Gradient tool (M) and roughly select the sky in the image. (I used the gradient tool for this one.)
  • Press the (O) key to toggle on/off the red overlay, which displays the area that you've selected.

  • Once you're happy with the overall selection, press the (O) key again to remove the red. At this point, don't worry too much about a super-precise selected area.
  • To easily see the area you're working with, drag the tool's exposure dramatically down.

  • Scroll to the bottom of the tool menu, click where it says "Range Mask: Off" and change it to "Luminance." This brings up two sliders—Range and Smoothness—which are what you will adjust to hone in the mask's selection.

  • First, just slide them all around to see what they do to your selection before resetting them to their original position.
  • Click the checkbox labeled "Show Luminance Mask." This shows the image in black and white and adds a red overlay on your image. This shows what is currently affected by your selection.

  • Slide the left side of the Range slider toward the center until the red is only in the sky and not displayed on the parts of the selection that you do not want to change. In this case, it's the palm trees.

  • Once there is no red where it shouldn't be, uncheck the box again, which will return the color and remove the red overlay.

Your image is still going to look odd at this point, but don't fret! This is because your exposure is still dramatically lowered. Just go back and reset it.

  • Now, simply adjust the tool's settings until the sky detail pops and matches the rest of the image well. Here are the settings I used for the example image:

  • Once you have it tuned to your liking, press enter/return to finalize the change. You can go back and adjust it any time if you wish.


In this example, I will use range masking to bring depth and richness to the grass that the subject is standing on. First, I applied the Mastin Labs Kodak Gold preset, adjusted the white balance, and did a level correction. See the before and after below:

Before/After Preset. Edited with Mastin Labs Kodak Gold 200 preset

I like the outcome, but I really want the grass to have a lush quality to it. I could make this change using the HSL sliders, but that would make a global adjustment and have a negative effect on the skin tones. I'm going to use the Brush Tool (K) and the Color Range Mask to select only the grass. Here's how:

  • Select the Brush Tool (K).
  • At the bottom of the brush toolbar, adjust the flow to 100, and I recommend a medium feather.
  • Press the (O) key to toggle on the red overlay, which will allow you to see where you're painting.
  • Roughly paint the area which you want to alter. In this case, that's the grass. Don't worry too much about overlap. This is to be done quickly.

  • As in the previous example, click the Range Mask option, but this time select "Color."

  • Now, click the eyedropper tool and select the color you want to change. You can add additional points and selections by holding the shift key and clicking more points with the eyedropper.

Add multiple points by holding the shift key.

  • You may also select a color area by clicking and dragging the eyedropper.

Click and drag with the eyedropper to select multiple ranges.

  • Use the Amount slider to increase or decrease the area of selection.
  • Once the red overlay is only showing on the areas you want, press the (O) key again to remove it.
  • You may now make your adjustments, which will affect only the selected area.
  • When you're happy with the adjustments, press return/enter to finalize. You can always go back to make changes, if you wish.

Adjustments made to Range Mask.

I also made an adjustment to the sky using the luminance technique from before. See the image from RAW to finished below.

Left - RAW, Center - Kodak Gold, Right - Range Mask Applied. By Chris Daniels, edited with Mastin Labs Kodak Gold 200 preset

In closing, the Lightroom Range Mask tool may not keep you out of photoshop for everything, and it may not be something that you use regularly, but it is quite powerful and is an excellent addition to your editing arsenal. 
We would love to see the ways you put this tool to use! Share your results with us on the Mastin Labs Facebook community page!