Real Estate Photo Editing: A Guide to Using Luminosity Mask

The Photoshop luminosity mask is an advanced technique for making precise selections based on the brightness values of an image. This technique can be time-consuming if you're doing it on your own, particularly in high-contrast real estate photos. Here's how our editors use luminosity masks to enhance real estate photographs for our clients.

Photoshop Luminosity Mask

The process of using Adobe Photoshop luminosity masks begins with creating bright channels, refining the selection, and setting the shadows or dark channels. After making midtone masks, you can layer the masks using channels and use the Brush tool for fine-tuning the dynamic range. 

Understanding how to use luminosity masks in real estate photo editing gives precise control over different tonal ranges within the entire image, enabling subtle and impactful adjustments.

What Is a Luminosity Mask?

Photoshop luminosity masks are selections made to edit the luminosity levels in an entire image. A particular mask can work based on predefined ranges of brightness which you can choose and control to be able to affect certain areas only. 

For instance, when working on the darkest shadows, luminosity masks can pre-select the darker exposure you want to work with, and any changes will only impact areas with such tones. When post-processing with a layer mask, you can see that the white reveals, black conceals, and the opacity changes.

Why Should I Use Luminosity Masks in Real Estate Photography?

There are tools that can configure the brightness of an external shot in sources for picture editing for commercial real estate. So, why do we still need luminosity masks? 

Using luminosity masks remains among the most advanced techniques for achieving precise, natural-looking adjustments in complex images where traditional editing methods fall short in targeting specific color and tonal ranges.

Apply Targeted Adjustments for Exposure Values

Imagine being able to do a sky replacement for an outdoor shot. The sky looks beautiful, it’s warm and sunny. However, it's important to blend it with the property to make it seem cohesive.

A luminosity mask enables editors to blend both the foreground and background such that they seem like they are being shone equally by the sun, not leaving hints of changes.

Blend Multiple Images With Uneven Exposures

These luminosity masks help our editors combine bracketed images. The masks will target specific tonal ranges to reveal details in both highlights and shadows without introducing unwanted effects like haloing or harsh edges.

This technique offers a sophisticated approach to image blending in Photoshop by using a quick mask to work on tonal ranges and uneven exposures. 

Fix Luminosity in a Single Image

Working with only one image? Luminosity masks edit one photo in such a way that both foreground and background come to light together. 

The technique is a good way to surface the details you need, especially when you can't get bracketed shots.

Bring Out Details in the Shadows

By adding a Curves adjustment layer and applying luminosity masks, editors can selectively brighten shadow areas without affecting the rest of the image. 

This targeted approach allows editors to extract more detail in the darkest shadows of each mask while maintaining image contrast and avoiding an artificial look.

How to Create Luminosity Masks in Adobe Photoshop?

Creating luminosity masks in Adobe Photoshop is an advanced post-processing technique that generates different masks based on an image's tonal values. These are the steps our editors implement to make precise and targeted adjustments to specific brightness ranges using a mask.

Steps and actions to take in creating luminosity mask

1. Create Bright Channels

Luminosity masks work by utilizing the RGB channel in Photoshop to create selections based on brightness values, enabling precise adjustments during post-processing.

  • Press CTRL/CMD and click the RGB thumbnail in the Channels panel.
  • Save the selection as a new channel.
  • Check for "marching ants" surrounding the area.
  • Rename the new channel to "Brights" or "Highlights".
  • Deselect the selection by pressing CTRL/CMD + D.

2. Refine the Selection

To use luminosity masks effectively, repeatedly select and intersect channels to create increasingly refined bright masks.

  • Activate the initial "Brights" layer mask using CTRL/CMD + clicking its thumbnail.
  • Create a more refined luminosity mask using Shift-Alt-CTRL/CMD and click the thumbnail again.
  • Save and rename the new mask selection (for example, "Brights 2").
  • Repeat the process to create additional different masks using a new exposure adjustment layer (Brights 3, 4, and so on).
  • Check for "marching ants" that define the selected area to indicate an active mask.
  • Continue refining until you have five to six channels or as needed for your image.

A living room with plants, furnace, and some furniture

3. Make Dark Channels and Shadows

To create dark or shadow luminosity masks, invert the initial bright selection and refine it further. These steps will make it easier to apply targeted adjustments on the darker areas of the image using layer masks.

  • Press CTRL/CMD + click the RGB thumbnail.
  • Invert the selection by pressing CTRL/CMD + Shift + I.
  • Save and rename the inverted selection as Dark 1.
  • Refine the dark mask using the same process as with bright masks.
  • Use these luminosity masks to target darker shadows in adjustments.
  • Apply the masks to layer masks for precise control over darker image areas.

Note: The "marching ants" selection outline may not be visible for subtle luminosity masks, although the selection remains active.

4. Set the Midtones Masks

Creating a midtones luminosity mask involves intersecting bright and dark masks to target the middle tonal range of an image with varying degrees of precision.

  • Select the entire image by pressing CTRL/CMD + A
  • Subtract Brights 1 mask using CTRL/CMD + Alt/Option, then click on its thumbnail.
  • Subtract Darks 1 mask using the same method.
  • Save and rename the resulting selection as "Midtones 1".
  • Refine further by subtracting brighter or darker masks as needed.
  • Use the "marching ants" as a guide in adjusting the middle gray exposure range.

5. Applying a Luminosity Mask as a Layer Mask

You may also use luminosity masks as layer masks for precise adjustments to specific tonal ranges. Check that white reveals and black conceals the effects on different parts of the image's dynamic range.

  • Press CTRL/CMD + click on the thumbnail to select the desired channel. 
  • Create an adjustment layer using the Curves adjustment layer to apply the selection as a layer mask automatically.
  • Using the "marching ants" as a guide, adjust the layer to affect only the selected tonal range.
  • Delete unused channels to reduce file size, as channels can significantly increase it.

A house with driveway and closed garage

6. Combining Luminosity Masks With the Brush Tool

You can also use the Brush tool to combine luminosity masks. Fine-tune the layer mask by painting with black to conceal or white to reveal adjustments. This technique provides precise, targeted adjustments by selectively revealing or concealing effects based on tonal values.

  • Create luminosity masks for different tonal ranges (highlights, shadows, and midtones masks).
  • Apply a desired mask to a Color Balance adjustment layer.
  • Select the layer mask and use a black or white brush to refine the selection. See the layer mask with the channel selected.
  • Apply exposure blending using the Curves adjustment layer.
  • Paint with black to conceal the adjustment in specific areas (darker exposure).
  • Paint with white to reveal the adjustment where needed (brighter exposure).
  • Check whether the black conceals and white reveals when fine-tuning.

A man editing on his laptop

Related Questions

How to Do a Luminosity Mask in Photoshop?e

To create luminosity masks in Photoshop, open the Channels panel, then CTRL/CMD + click on the RGB channel to select the brightest areas. Save this selection as a new channel and use it as a mask for a Curves adjustment layer. Refine the luminosity masks to add contrast.

What Does a Luminosity Mask Do?

Luminosity masks can implement selective adjustments based on the brightness values of an image. A mask can target specific tonal ranges, from the brightest highlights to the darker shadows. This technique applies precise edits that blend seamlessly with the entire image.

What Editing Situations Can I Use Luminosity Mask?

Luminosity masks work well in various post-processing scenarios, particularly when fine-tuning contrast, color, and exposure. You can apply a mask to Curves adjustment layers, Color Balance adjustment layers, Hue/Saturation adjustments, and photo filters. These layer masks can balance high-contrast scenes and make localized adjustments without affecting the entire image.

Are Luminosity Masks Worth It?

Using luminosity masks is worth the effort for photographers and editors seeking precise control over image post-processing. These masks can significantly improve the entire image quality, especially when you need to add contrast or balance exposure in challenging lighting situations.

Are There Third-Party Plugins for Luminosity Masks?

There are third-party plugins that can simplify the process of creating and using luminosity masks in Photoshop, including Raya Pro 6 and the TKActions V4 Panel. They offer automated tools for generating luminosity masks and targeting specific tonal ranges, including the brightest highlights.

A living room with brown flooring, furniture, and clean ambience


Photoshop luminosity masks make targeted adjustments with surgical precision, producing more polished and professional-looking images. As our real estate photo editors use luminosity masks in Photoshop, photographers like you can overcome challenging lighting situations and bring out the full potential of your shots.


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