New Masking Tools in Adobe Lightroom

November 14, 2021

Maybe I’ve been living in the stone ages, but up until yesterday I’ve used the brush tool in Adobe Lightroom to make selective edits to photos. Take this photo for example:

Two people on a pedestrian bridge

These are some really cool people, by the way.

It was taken during golden hour – lovely! But the sky feels a little gray. Normally I would whip out my brush tool and, like a caveman, begin a vain effort to select the sky by hand.

Here’s what that tragedy looks like:

A poor mask selection of the sky in Adobe Lightroom

Did a fifth grader do this?

As you can see, the selection of the sky (represented by the red hue) isn’t very... precise. Given infinite time, I could refine my selection to ensure it perfectly touches the boundaries of each building... but we each have approximately 80 years to live, no? So we’ve got a problem.

The issue also occurs when attempting to manually select people and objects; it multiplies when these edits need to be performed for dozens, if not hundreds of photos.

It was as I was editing this photo that I learned Adobe released an overhaul of their masking tools. Among the plethora of new features is ”select sky” and ”select subject”, which as you can guess, performs these selections for you with whatever magic lies under-the-hood.

The results, in my opinion, are nothing short of fantastic. Using sky select:

A great mask selection of the sky in Adobe Lightroom

Much better.

And using subject select:

A great mask selection of the photo subject in Adobe Lightroom

To the Adobe engineers who poured their time into these features: thank you for giving me hours of my life back. I’m serious; this is a huge boost to my workflow, and removes some of the dread of editing.

Now that I’ve seen what’s possible, I would love the following features down the road:

  1. When applying edits to a group of photos, I would love for ”sky edits” and “subject edits“ to be applied as well. (i.e. Lightroom would select the sky in each photo, and apply the edit.)
  2. If Lightroom can select a photo’s subject, could it also select arbitrary objects in the background? Like a sign, lamppost, or building? I would love a “smart select“ feature to apply edits to specific objects aside from the subject.

I haven’t been this excited about software features in a while. You could say the sky feels bluer.

The original photo with a bluer sky