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Adobe Lightroom is more than just a fantastic global editor. You can also make specific adjustments to portions of your photographs with the super handy Lightroom shortcuts like brush and mask tools.

This goes beyond adjustments you can make to your whole image, such as adding contrast, adjusting exposure, and even sharpening your image.

Let’s look at how to use these awesome Lightroom features, including some that were added in the 2017 update.

A flat lay food photo of delicious chocolate dessert - using lightroom shortcuts

What Is the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom

The Lightroom “brush” tool is called the Adjustment Brush. It acts like a paintbrush to mask out and work on a specific area of an image.

You can use this brush to make a variety of changes to a specific part of your image. For example, when you want to whiten the teeth or enhance eye colour in a portrait.

It gives you control over what you want to isolate.

You can use this brush together with other tools to make localized changes to your image.

The shortcut for the adjustment brush is K. You can activate it in any of the Lightroom modules.

You can find it in the Basic panel under the Histogram. Simply click on the brush icon to activate it.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

 

To change the size of the Adjustment Brush you can use the left and right bracket keys. Use [  to make the brush smaller and ] to make the brush larger.

You can also simply scroll with your mouse.

For incremental adjustments, you can click on the numbers in the brush parameters that indicate Size, Feather, Flow, and Density and manually type a new number in.

A & B Brushes

Notice in the Brush panel that there is something called the A and B Brushes.

Sometimes you need more than one size of brush when working on any given image in Lightroom.

The A + B Brushes allow you to make presets of brushes that you use very often. For example, a soft-edge brush and a hard-edge brush.

Or you can set them at certain levels of opacity, which is referred to as flow in Lightroom. This controls the rate of application of the adjustment.

Note that the Feather slider helps create a soft-edged transition between the brushed area and surrounding pixels. The distance between the inner and outer circles represents the amount of feather applied.

The Density controls the amount of transparency of the brush strokes.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

After you have brushed in a particular set of edits, click New on the top right of the Brush panel to create a new brush.

All of your sliders will remain unchanged. Double click on Effect to set everything back to zero.

Erase Tool

The Eraser Tool is just what it sounds like. It’s used to erase adjustments you have made to an area for a more precise application.

For example, you can erase portions of a Graduated Filter that you have applied to an image.

To change your brush from an adjustment brush to an Erase tool, simply press Option on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC.

You can use the eraser brush with the same shortcuts for size mentioned above.

Adjustment Brush Effects

Lightroom already has some presets of adjustment brushes and you can even purchase additional presets from third-party providers. These are great for portrait retouching.

You can buy presets that will help you whiten teeth and make cheeks and lips rosy, for example.

To access these brushes, click the dropdown next to Effect in the Brush panel while the adjustment brush is activated.
A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

To make adjustments by dragging the sliders or clicking on Effect to activate the pop-up menu.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

Here are how the various sliders will affect the specific area of your image when you apply them using the brush tool. You can use as many of these together as you like.

Temp – adjusts the colour temperature  to be cooler (blue) or warmer (yellow)

Tint – compensate for green or magenta colour casts by adding the opposite colour

Exposure – sets the brightness of the tones in a specific area of the image

Highlights -recovers lost detail in overexposed highlight areas

Shadows – recovers lost detail in underexposed shadow areas

Whites – adjusts the white points

Blacks – adjusts the black points

Contrast – adds contrast to the mid-tones

Clarity – increases local contrast

Dehaze – reduces or increases any haze in the image

Sharpness – enhances edge definition to bring out the details in the image

Noise – reduces grain/luminance noise

Defringe – removes colour fringing along edges

Colour – used to apply a tint to a specific area of the image

When you are working with the Adjustment Brush, make sure you are applying precise brushstrokes so you do not affect other parts of your image unintentionally.

Don’t forget to apply feathering or density values that make sense with your subjects.

Some Tips

  • You can adjust the sliders at any point in your editing process;
  • Multiple brushes can be used to create layers that will allow you to go beyond 100 density;
  • You can use it to create local luminance adjustments or adjustments in hue;
  • To delete a brush, make sure it is highlighted with the black circle in the centre and hit the Delete key

Brush Shortcuts

Getting familiar with the keyboard shortcuts in Lightroom will save you lots of time. Here are the main ones for the adjustment brush.

K – open/close the adjustment brush tool
H – hide/show pins
[ and  ] – to adjust the size of the adjustment brush
O – show/hide the overlay
Shift + O – to cycle through a red, green, or white overlay
Alt/Option – change the adjustment brush to an eraser
Ctrl Z/Command Z – to undo adjustment history

Auto Mask

Auto Mask is a feature that helps you target specific areas of your image and keep the brush from spilling over into areas you don’t want to affect.

It can be found when the adjustment brush, graduated filter or radial filter are activated. The Auto Mask works the same, regardless of which tool you’re using.

After you use one of these tools to make an adjustment to your image, use a brush with the Auto Mask feature checked on to include or exclude any part of the photo by painting over it.

The + inside the tool brush functions as your guide. Be sure to keep it on the area or tones you want to edit.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

 

The New Range Mask Tool

The Range Mask tool is a new feature that came out Lightroom Classic CC 2018.

In the past when you wanted to make adjustments to areas containing the same colour or tone, you had to paint them individually.

With the Range Mask tool, you can apply it at once, which really speeds up your editing process.

In Lightroom, there is sometimes more than one way to approach an edit. The Range Mask tool can be one approach that can help you increase the efficiency in your workflow and make more precise local adjustments for greater creative control.

There are two ways to apply the Range Mask: there is the Colour Range Mask and the Luminance Range Mask.

Let’s look at these individually.

Colour Range Mask

The Colour Range Mask limits the local adjustment tools to a range of colours or tones.

You can find it in Radial Filter, Graduated Filter, and Adjustment Brush. It will be greyed out until you select make a local adjustment to your photo.

In the image below, I found the cocoa powder was reading too orange. I wanted to desaturate the colour and make some other adjustments to the tones in this part of the image.

I began by making a quick, initial masking selection with the Radial Filter tool. You always want to think which tool will be suited for the task.

For example, if I wanted to work on the background of this image and make it look less blue, I would have chosen the Graduated Filter.

A flat lay food photo of delicious chocolate dessert - using lightroom shortcuts

I chose the Radial Filter and made a selection of the bowl with the cocoa powder.

Screenshot of editing a flat lay food photo of delicious chocolate dessert - using lightroom shortcuts

I checked off Invert.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

Now since we just want to affect that certain colour, we head over to the Range Mask Tool and select Colour.

Then we select the Eyedropper Tool to assist in choosing the colours or tones that we want to target.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

There are a couple of ways we can do this. We can click and drag on the colour to select and area, which will be signified by a white box.

Or you can hold Shift + click on the areas you want to affect.

Screenshot of editing a flat lay food photo of delicious chocolate dessert - using lightroom shortcuts

Once I have made my colour selection, I can adjust the sliders as needed.

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

I brought the saturation down and made adjustments to the contrast, highlights, shadows, whites and blacks.

Now my cocoa isn’t as orange, but I have retained the copper tone of the tray.

A flat lay food photo of delicious chocolate dessert - using lightroom shortcuts

Luminance Range Mask

The Luminance Mask applies local adjustments to a chosen area based on the brightness range of pixels that you select. For example, you can apply a local adjustment to the highlights or shadows

Here I chose the graduated filter to work on the luminance in a close-up shot of chestnuts.

Screenshot of editing a flat lay food photo of chestnuts - using lightroom shortcuts

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

Select the Eyedropper fromt he Range Mask Panel. Click and area on the photo you want to adjust. This tool is an option shortcut to refine the Range slider.

Check off  Show Luminance Mask to view the luminance information in a black and white representation.

The red area shows the actual area masked, which is where the luminance and local adjustment has been applied.

Use the Smoothness slider to adjust how smooth the falloff is at either end of the luminance range.

Screenshot of editing a flat lay food photo of chestnuts - using lightroom shortcuts

A screenshot of how to use brushes and masks in Lightroom

And here is the final image.

Final Image of chestnuts on blue background editing with Luminance Mask applied

Final Image with Luminance Mask applied

Conclusion

Many people think you need Photoshop to make localized adjustments to your image, but you can quickly and easily do a lot with brushes and masks in Lightroom.

The next time you edit your pictures, play around with these tools to see how various local adjustments can enhance your images and give you more creative control over your results.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

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Thanks again for reading our articles!

Darina Kopcok

Darina Kopcok is a writer and professional food photographer who shares her recipes and photography tips on her blog Gastrostoria. Her latest work can be found on OFFset, as well as her online portfolio at darinakopcok.com.

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