Twice Each Day…

by Joe Bridwell

More than one delectable ingredient is needed to brew a superb stew…

Let’s choose an inimitable mountain scene, mix with Magic Hour edge of light, then create luminosity masks as visual sauce to enhance fine art magic!

Twice each day, the cool, blue light of night interacts with warm tones of daylight.  For a full hour at either end of the day, colors of light mix together in endless combinations, as if someone in the sky were shaking a kaleidoscope. 

Magic Hour is that hour around dawn and dusk. The Edge of Light occurs when cool, blue light of night interacts with warm tones of daylight. This effect takes place, not directly where the sun rises or sets, but where sun’s rays bring warm, direct light onto parts of land and sky also lit by cool, reflected light of evening.

The most interesting parts of the natural world are these edges.  Places where timberline touches the heights, where bare mountain peaks touch the sky.

Landscape photographers don’t photograph objects, but rather light itself! Where there is remarkable light, they may have a remarkable picture. When Magic Hour arrives, I search for perfect light. Then, I hunt for something earthbound to match. The best images that result from this process look like visual riddles starting with the answer then working backward. A minute-and sometimes mere seconds-can make the difference between a superb image and a mundane one.

Galen Rowell, Mountain Light, 2011, 3rd ed.

Red Mountain Edge of Light 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Red Mountain Edge of Light 2013©Chopawamsic LC

Galen Rowell looked for this visual edge, especially where it was emphasized against clouds and other light backgrounds.  In fact, his favorite way to photograph a geographical edge was to make it converge with a visual edge of light to underscore the subtle, yet magnificent difference between these two zones.

Tony Kuyper – Luminosity Masks

Luminosity Masks create a truly awesome step beyond Photoshop masking!

If you’ve spent hours trying to quick select light sky and dark foreground, luminosity masks will completely change your in-studio processing workflow.

Why? Because a Photoshop mask is either black or white. A luminosity mask creates the entire grayscale from black to white. Every pixel has a unique luminosity. White lets light through; black does not.

Several years ago, Tony Kuyper began to write about luminosity masks actions. Living in northeastern Arizona, many of his photos were of gorgeous, bare rock. Beyond that, many photos had Magic Hour elements à la Rowell. Combine magic hour, edge of light, and luminosity masks with unique southwestern landscapes – and you get resplendent light, piquant color, and texture almost beyond imagination…

No wonder such images become legendary!

Red Mountain Natural Edge of Light

To paint the gorgeous aspects of a natural edge strongly linked with an edge of light, we shot sunrise HDR images in high mountains above Silverton, Co. These images became a single image using Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2.

We collected several HDR image sets as the sun reflected directly from Red Mountain. The 1st set was dark – shows no edge of light on the ridge line. The 2nd image shows migration beginning; the edge of light moved across and down the mountain. The 3rd image catches the edge of light near the mountain base.

The fascination is enhanced by a carefully planned shot sequence – Red Mountain and edge of light reflects in a foreground pond.

Red Mountain Luminosity Masking

The image telling our story reflects the conclusion from motion of the rising sun. Several luminosity masks can create true sense of such amazing color balance.

In the Layers panel, we begin with a 6 EV HDR image from Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2. We add 2 curves layers, a basic mid-tones layer, a levels layer, 2 color balance layers, then a final curves layer.

LastEoL-LM-LayersEach luminosity mask layer uses a particular mask to decide where changes occur. For the first curves layer, we choose Dark Darks luminosity mask with multiply blend mode. We pull the curve down from 128 to some lower value. Then, we do another curves layer with Bright Lights using Screen blend mode. Basic mid-tones are increased in normal blend mode as the 3rd layer. For levels mask, we make sure black and white points do not extend the beyond histogram edges.

The color balance mask effects mid-tones and highlights with different values, removing a yellow cast and adding blue to the sky. Finally, we darken with another curves multiply layer at 50% opacity.

We’ve set our layers, channels, actions, properties, and TK_Actions in close proximity to one another in Photoshop CS6. This aids opening TK_Actions, selecting all darks, all lights, or all mid-tones to begin our luminosity masking. We then Ctrl-Click an appropriate mask to select the region to be modified.  We finally Ctrl-Click on RGB channel to start the luminosity mask.

Our last step is to click the mask symbol at the Layers panel base to create a new luminosity mask. When we click the Levels icon, the properties panel opens and we modify level (curve, or color balance) as needed. Note – each luminosity mask may take a significant amount of saved space because it is a pixel mask with varying luminosity.

You can get luminosity masks from Tony Kuyper here


The avid photographer should never forget – new software can notably enhance your in-studio developing process. Recently, Lightroom revised their raw file processor. With due concern, I redid 167 of my best photos.

The advantages of luminosity masking over Photoshop masking are quite clear. Luminosity masking gives you much more pixel control for color, texture, and luminosity. And, it provides those superior, very important feather edges…

I advise you look into Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masking. I also believe Sean Bagshaw’s luminosity masking videos will enhance your in-studio processing.

As for the Mountain’s Edge of Light development, Kuyper makes it very clear. There is no set workflow to processing an image.

You already understand as well as use dodge and burn with channel masks. Your first task is to expand your knowledge and conquer luminosity masking. You are assured of working with the entire image enhancing light. And… such masks feather the edge, rather than laborious Photoshop masking which may not. Then, reap incredible benefits as you redo past images and cleverly add impact to future fine art images…


©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!