Auto Mask: My Favorite Feature Since Moving to Lightroom
At the beginning of January I decided to make the switch from Aperture to Lightroom. It has been a series of highs and lows as I struggles to modify my streamlined workflow to the new platform. My initial impression, like many others, is that the user interface is a bit clunky and Digital Asset Management tools are lacking. I find myself saying quite the opposite when it comes to editing my images in the Develop Module. I can see why Lightroom users have thought they had it good… in terms of image editing tools, they certainly do!
One example of a more powerful implementation is the brush tool in Lightroom. In Lightroom the brush tool allows you to apply more then one adjustment at a time. You can apply adjustments like exposure, clarity and hue all in one go. To do this in Aperture you would have to use multiple brushes to achieve a similar effect. In Lightroom you can also use the brush multiple times, each time with a different set of adjustments. This lets you apply effects as pseudo layers on top of your photos. For this reason the brush tool is extremely powerful and much more versatile than the brushes implementation in Aperture. I've spoken to a few different Aperture users and one area of confusion with this tool is that the brushes are in their own seperate panel and not tied to the basic adjustments like we we are used to in Aperture. I agree at first this was very confusing to me, but once I saw the power of being able to separate brushes from a single adjustment and instead apply multiple effects in a single pass it made a lot more sense.
Using Auto Mask in brushes
If you want to take brushes even further, there is a check box at the bottom of the brush panel labeled Auto Mask. By turning this feature on it enhances your brush by using color and contrast to detect the edges within your image. As you paint, it searches for similar tones to what the center of your cursor is on, and only applies adjustments to areas that are similar. You can quickly turn this feature on and off using the keyboard shortcut “A” while using the Adjustment Brushes.
When the Auto Mask brush misses spots
Sometime when using the Adjustment Brush with Auto Mask turned on, I have found adjustments aren't always applied completely to an area of the photo. Lightroom misses little spots because it determines the tones don't go together and it believes these areas are supposed to be edges. To correct this I always check my mask using the “Show Selected Mask Overlay”. With the overlay turned on you can see the little spots in your adjustment mask. To fix this simply turn off the Auto Mask feature and paint using a small brush over the missed areas. This will paint over everything and smooth out those little spots, applying the adjustment completely.
Examples of how I've used this tool
I've found Auto Mask to be useful in a wide range of photographic subjects. I shoot a lot of products and I use the Auto Mask tool often to select areas around my products and apply finishing touches for delivery. In the example below I used the mask to select the area that is supposed to be pure white. I have the Show Selected Mask turned on so the area in pink is the area of the photo where the adjustment effects will be applied. Using the adjustment brush panel I was able to push the exposure to the right making sure the background was pure white.
Another example of an area that I've used this tool for is in my landscape work. I recently was working on an image of a sea stack formation on the Oregon coast. As I was working on the the image I wanted to apply clarity and white balance adjustments to the subject without it bleeding into the sky. By using Auto Mask I was easily able to apply those adjustments to only the areas I wanted to effect.
These are just two situations of many that I have used the Auto Mask in Lightroom to finely tune how I apply adjustments and effects to my images. If you haven't given this feature a try I highly recommend it, and find it to be a very powerful and versatile tool.
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