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Lightroom’s Amazing New Masking Powers

The machines are learning! And it’s made selective photo editing faster and better than ever.

As an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, I’m periodically treated to pleasant surprises. Like when I opened up Lightroom a couple weeks ago to discover its overnight update included a veritable revolution in masking capabilities.

For years, Lightroom was content to allow big brother Photoshop to handle the heavy lifting when it came to selections and masking. For many of us, that meant a workflow that relied on Lightroom to handle broad changes to whole images and batches, then exporting to Photoshop for selective editing and fine-tuning.

But then Lightroom started building out its masking capabilities. Over the last year, Adobe has added to gradient and radial masks with things like Depth Range masking that could distinguish a subject from its background, as well as Color and Luminance range masking capabilities. Then came features that allowed instant selections of subject and skies—making it simple and effective to, say, make a pale blue sky more vibrant or lighten up the brightness of a subject without affecting the background.

And now, with its latest release of version 12, Lightroom Classic’s masking ability has taken another big step forward. The new AI features feel more like the smart neural filters that Photoshop has added of late, though in Lightroom’s case they are still just masks. Don’t forget, smart masking wasn’t even a thing in Lightroom little more than a year ago.  

Lightroom’s new AI masking features offer photographers the ability to identify and select individual people in an image, then mask their entire body, their face, any visible skin, teeth, hair and more. With a single click, a user can select the entirety of a background or click and drag to identify and mask individual objects within the frame. It’s the kind of intelligent editing control that users only recently began expecting from Photoshop, much less Lightroom.

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Lightroom’s new masking tools are certainly easy to use. In the Develop module, simply look for the masking tools at the top of the module and find the dashed-line circle on the right. Clicking it opens the Add New Mask prompt, and allows you to choose from three primary options: Subject, Sky or Background. If there are people in the picture, it adds a fourth option: selection of those individuals.

It’s the people selection capabilities that I find most intriguing—though as a portrait photographer that should be expected. Click to open a new mask and Lightroom quickly analyzes the scene to identify the different people in the frame. It displays them in little circles at the bottle of the window, showing their faces for easy reference. From there, you click on the person you’d like to edit, then choose to select the entire person, or just their hair, face and even eyebrows. Let’s say you just wanted to lighten someone’s teeth. Simply select their teeth and make a mask with one click, then use Lightroom’s Develop controls to adjust brightness, saturation and color as usual. It really couldn’t be easier, and it’s sure to make editing workflows more efficient and effective by allowing photographers to do more in Lightroom without always having to switch over to Photoshop.

If you have yet to update Lightroom to version 12, open Creative Cloud and click Update to start the download. And if you aren’t yet a customer, new subscribers save 25% this week during Adobe’s Black Friday sale.

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Learn more about Adobe Lightroom Classic and sign up for Creative Cloud.

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