5 Lightroom Masking Techniques to Improve Your Landscape Photos

In his latest video, landscape photographer Michael Shainblum shares five of his favorite techniques for using Adobe Lightroom’s powerful masking tools.

Technique #1: Radial Gradient Vignettes

The easiest way to add a vignette to an image in Lightroom is to use the software’s vignette tool. However, as Shainblum says in the video above, this tool is extremely limited. A much more versatile and flexible way to add a vignette to an image is using the radial gradient masking tool.

Michael Shainblum landscape photo editing

“I recommend just starting from the center, dragging it outward. I usually drag it a little further than the canvas, and then we take the exposure down and click invert so we affect what’s on the outside of the circle and not what’s in the inside,” Shainblum explains.

This is better than the vignette tool because it includes many additional controls, including highlights, shadows, black levels, and more.

Technique #2: Sky Select Technique and Variations

Lightroom has a “Select Sky” button in its masking menu that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to select and mask the sky in a photo automatically. While it is useful in and of itself, it can be superpowered by combining additional masking tools.

Without modifications, Select Sky can lead to odd and unnatural results along the horizon. For example, as Shainblum demonstrates, when darkening the mask of the sky, the entire sky is equally dark.

Michael Shainblum landscape photo editing

To deal with this stark, odd-looking contrast, Shainblum clicks the “Subtract from Mask” button and uses the linear gradient tool. By dragging this upward from the ground into the sky, it is possible to soften the transition.

It is also possible to invert a sky selection to create a mask of just the ground, allowing photographers to edit everything but the sky in a photo.

Technique #3: Color Separation Using Color Range

Another way that photographers can create masks in Lightroom is using “Color Range.” Once selected, users take an eye dropper and click on the color they want to isolate. For example, in Shainblum’s case, he uses the eye dropper on the blue area of the sky, which allows him to quickly darken the blues without impacting the rest of the image. This mask can be dialed in with a “Refine” slider, and like all masks in Lightroom, it can also be tweaked using the add or subtract buttons.

Michael Shainblum landscape photo editing

Technique #4: Object Select

Lightroom’s Object Select tool is very powerful when photographers want to locally adjust small parts of the image that are not easily selected using “Select Sky” or general mask shapes. Users can roughly draw over the area they want to adjust, and Lightroom will automatically generate a mask of the area it believes someone wants to select.

Michael Shainblum landscape photo editing

This masking method is an excellent way to make precise, complex masks without manually drawing pixel-perfect boundaries. The AI in Lightroom handles the nitty-gritty details. Is it as good as Shainblum says? He gives it a few more challenging tasks later in his video.

Technique #5: Curves and Combining Multiple Masks

While each masking tool in Lightroom is useful in specific cases, the true power of masking is most obvious when combining multiple tools on a single image and using more of Lightroom’s image editing tools, including the software’s curves adjustments, which provide direct control over a photo’s shadows, midtones, and highlights.

Thanks to Powerful New Tools, Shainblum Uses Lightroom More Than Ever

Shainblum says that he uses Lightroom more than he used to and that, over the years, he is spending less time in Photoshop.

“When I started, I was probably 80% Photoshop, 20% Lightroom. Now that’s really reversed. We’ll just have to see what happens in the future with it all.”

Michael Shainblum has many more excellent landscape photography editing tutorials on his YouTube channel. Michael has also written numerous articles for PetaPixel, including ways to capture landscape photos in overwhelming locations, a deep dive into wildflower photography, tips for scouting locations, ideas for photographing abstract landscapes, and ways to shoot epic landscape images from above the clouds.

Michael Shainblum’s photography is available on his website and Instagram.

Image credits: All images © Michael Shainblum.