How You Can Create Award Winning Photos Using CFAM

by Joe Bridwell

Light, not Objects, is the Source of Color!”  Isaac Newton, c 1700

CFAM Creating Fine Art Magic depends on Luminosity Masking. LM helps you process light in Photoshop. Your subtle ‘artistic’ lighting becomes award-winning fine art…

‘Lavender Dawn’ is really White Sands at Dawn…

Lavender Dawn

Creating Fine Art Magic deals with digital photography from capture to a final fine art image. Perhaps the most intriguing point of CFAM is the artistry you apply during final masks while processing.

To carefully control such artistry, I strongly prefer Luminosity Masking (LM). LM is a development process where you take the available light and enhance it to create dramatic impact for your viewer.

Direct and Indirect Light

When you take a normal daylight picture at White Sands, sand dunes appear like their name! If you want to add impact, choose to take that picture at Magic Hour. In this case, we were shooting at dawn.

All the pre-sunrise light was indirect. That’s to say, “No dawn light shined directly on White Sands.” Because light was indirect, it had a bluish tint. So, we were able to capture a truly marvelous Lavender Dawn…

Luminosity Masking

Here’s a direct screenshot from our principal Photoshop workspace for Luminosity Masking. We’ll show the Channels panel later…

Luminosity Workspace – Image and Panels

On the left, we have an image with a specific mask on top. The mask is shown by marching ants. In the center, we show Properties and Histogram panels. On the right, we show the Layers panel.

We’ll discuss why some layers are turned off and some turned on later…

Step 1 – Here’s a picture of the Channels panel with Kuyper Lights mask available. When you click on that mask and hold down Control key (CMD key/Mac), this step places a Lights mask on the image.

Channels Panel showing Lights LM

In later CFAM tone mapping workflow descriptions, we’ll show you how to expand this Channels panel. It usually appears directly above the Layers panel.

There is a ‘make your choice’ method for examining where each mask interacts with each image you’re working on. You may want to ask, “Do I want to use this mask here and that mask there?” For more advanced LM users, that’s usually the case…

But, for purposes here, we’ll just show this panel once.

Step 2 – Let’s take you through vital recast and revival of one of my favorite images.

Lavender Dawn with Lights luminosity mask

Lavender Dawn was shot as a JPEG late February, 2006. In 8 years since I took that shot, both software and skill set have advanced significantly.

I use Photoshop CS6. I also use Tony Kuyper’s Luminosity Masks.

This image has only had slight revision. The sky within marching ants has been darkened to reduce any option for blown highlights (BHL).

As of now, while pretty, the image is really soft and lacks impact.

In the next few pages, we’re gonna show you a preliminary Luminosity Mask Workflow to improve that impact.

We call this process Creating Fine Art Magic!  We think you’ll find tone mapping use of CFAM a distinct advantage in your final fine art result.

So, let’s go through that CFAM workflow…

Step 3 – Our Properties, Histogram, and Layers panel shows the 1st Curves layer. The Curves properties show a Histogram. That Histogram is darkened slightly. The darkened region is shown below in a Luminosity mask.

Properties, Histogram, and Layers panel for Lights mask

Chiefly, we’ve darkened the upper half of mid tones and highlights (see Luminosity Mask). Note: there is a slight difference between horizontal axes of 2 histograms. The Properties bottom axis is smaller than the Histogram axis. Yet, you can estimate the region you’re affecting by comparing these 2 histograms.

Curves, Vibrance, and Brightness Contrast (B/C) tonality controls all pass through a Kuyper Lights mask on the Layer group.

Vibrance nor B/C layers are presently turned off.

I think you’ll find this workflow layout quite a bit of help. Once you learn how to control LM buttons and sliders, you can visually see how much of the image is improved.

Step 4 – Here, we complete use of Expanded Mid Tones (EMT). We’re emphasizing the orange part of what’s becoming direct dawn light in our image.

Lights mask : Brightness and Contrast

Step 5 – You’ll note there is a Layer group called Lights. It contains Curves, Vibrance, and B/C. It also has the Lights mask on the Layer Group itself. Each luminosity masking change in the layer group must feed through that Lights mask to affect the final image.

Setting Brightness and Contrast

For the image above, when you click on the half lit circle between the eye and the word brightness, you bring up B/C Properties panel.

If you lower brightness -21% and increase contrast 20%, you pop just the region shown in the Lights luminosity mask above.

Since original dawn light is fairly subtle, we’ve minimized our saturation. By slightly emphasizing vibrance, we had a significant richness in tone. That richness is only seen in the region where the Lights mask controls our process.

Step 6 – We’re nearly done with our luminosity masking. Here, we show the limited effect of Make It Glow. Make It Glow is one of Tony Kuyper’s advanced TK_Actions. It adds a luster on top of the vibrance in the image…

Apply Kuyper’s Make-It-Glow : Reduce Opacity

Step 7 – The TK_Actions panel (not shown in this tutorial) allows us to impart a Make It Glow tone map to the entire image. In the layers panel, that’s called Smart Glow.

Lavender Dawn Darken Bright Lights

You’ll note to specific controls for Smart Glow. The 1st is Gaussian blur. I set the Gaussian blur control to one pixel. The 2nd is opacity. Originally, the opacity was 100%. I looked at it there and it was much too strong. I lowered it to 66%; it was still too strong.

Finally, at 30% I found the soft, subtle shading I wanted for indirect light. And it’s just that subtlety which creates the awesome impact of artistic light for Lavender Dawn.


Our CFAM efforts:

  1. In-depth tutorials with clear tone mapping step of LM workflow.
  2. Google Plus posts.
  3. WordPress blog.
  4. E-books.
  5. Videos.
  6. We will have Hangouts of:
    1. Teaching Workshops.
    2. Private Tutoring.
    3. Providing Critiques.

If you would like a copy of this tutorial as a free eBook, please send us your email request.

Prerequisites: Lightroom, Photoshop (CS5, CS6 or CC), TK_Actions, a working knowledge of layers, masking, and channels.


Here’s clear, exciting visual proof; you can create really superb fine art with skillful application of luminosity masks.

This tutorial uses Photoshop CS6 as base to apply luminosity mask plug-ins. Each image will tell you about different light. As you learn how the image talks of light, you also learn which mask to apply to create the fine art your eye recalls.

We’re at a point where we can begin to show you how to apply tone mapping CFAM techniques. Lavender Dawn is a relatively simple image. We didn’t have to do a lot of creative tone mapping to bring out its truly salient fine art.

We typically work with high dynamic range (HDR). 1st, we clean up HDR images (Lightroom). Next, we combine them in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro 2 and save as a 16 bit TIF. Finally, we use that TIF in Photoshop and apply CFAM luminosity masks techniques!

As Paul Harvey said, “And now, The Rest of the Story!

Stay tuned for more clear descriptions of luminosity masking as we dig deeper.

Let us hear from you about Luminosity Masking and how it might add to your skillsets?

Would you do this work with a different workflow? How do you use LM to enhance more complex images? We look forward to interacting with you…

Please comment and share with other interested fine art digital shooters…

©2014 Chopawamsic LC, Bridwell,,

Blog ~, Business Brand CFAM

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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!