Luminosity Masking and Image Recovery

by Joe Bridwell

Six years ago, I took 6 HDR shots with a 6 megapixel Nikon D70. At the time, Lightroom was doing 2003 raw conversions. Photoshop masking with the selection tool created a poor black/white mask. I was quite frustrated with masking trees against the skyline. So this HDR image sorta went by the wayside… The tools were not adequate to address neither its richness nor complexity!
With Luminosity Masking, you examine every pixel in the HDR result to create a grayscale mask. You get tree edges against sky. You also get automatic self feathering – which adds strong drama.
I’m now on a very interesting path. I’m redoing all my classic landscape images with Tony Kuyper’s luminosity masking actions.
I resurrected the original HDR images. I submitted them to Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2. I took that HDR image and began applying luminosity masks.
Finding incredible detail in Cave Towers is like landing on the moon.
Your eye glories in a forgotten cornucopia of color, texture, and detail!

CaveTowers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Cave Towers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Thank you, Jesus…

Suggested Luminosity Masking Workflow

CaveTowers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Cave Towers 2013©Chopawamsic LC

This image shows a relatively standard luminosity masking workflow.
1.    I shoot HDR and usually submit images as is to Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2.
2.    With each result, I remove noise and dust spots, then sharpen in Lightroom.
a.    The resulting HDR image passes from Lightroom to Photoshop to become the    background layer for luminosity masking.
3.    My luminosity masking process first creates a Threshold icon (base of Layers Panel) to accurately depict black and white points.
a.    Choose Eyedropper tool (Color Sampler), click on Properties icon, move triangle to left until small black block on screen, and place 1st marker. Move triangle to right for small white block;  place 2nd marker.
b.    Open Curves Layer w markers on screen. Choose Black point tool and click on 1st marker. Choose White point tool and choose second marker. You have set the white and black points for the image.
c.    Label curves layer ‘threshold’. Delete threshold layer.
d.    That step constrains the Luminosity range, increases Contrast, and begins to point towards the real image content.
4.    Then it’s time to examine detail definition in the darks.
a.    Detail definition a.k.a. sharpening is done after picking a mask which will most affect the area of interest.
b.    In this case, here it’s Shadow Darks 30 Pixel Blur mask.
c.    I may test the other shadow darks layer – if it contributes little or nothing I throw it away to keep the file size small.
5.    I then test to see which mid tone layer will provide the most emphasis.
a.    If you Control Click on the mask, marching ants come up to show you where you’re going to be influencing the image.
b.    Here, the best luminosity mask was Expanded Midtones.
c.    Basically, I darkened the shadowed midground and everything right of the cliff edge.
6.    Because the setting sun dappled the cliff top, I used a Kuyper action called Make It Glow, setting blur radius at 5 pixels to add some sparkle.
7.    As my last pass, I chose Cloud Sharpening.
a.    Unfortunately, I forgot to remove dust spots in Lightroom.
b.    After I started all over again, the final image results from careful luminosity masking using Tony Kuyper actions!
8.    At each step, be sure to throw away unneeded masks. They take the same disk space as the image…


When I first started on this image years ago, I gave up in disgust. At the time, I didn’t realize future software improvement could provide such a drastic impetus to recovering truly classic shots.

Then, I came upon the Tony Kuyper luminosity masking software. Within a short time, I realized, “Joe, you’re not going to have to spend the inordinate amount of time you used to spend separating a dark foreground and light sky in Photoshop. Inherent characteristics of luminosity masks do that ‘simple’ job quite well!”

There’s one little object in the foreground of this image; do you notice you can see every spine on those little cacti?
‘Nuff said…

2013© Chopawamsic LC,,

About Joe 

Photographer, author, teacher with enhanced skill creating Award-Winning Photos. Joe uses Luminosity Masking and CFAM-Creating Fine Art Magic for his work!