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Working with Masks

The use of masks allows you to hide or obscure parts of an image. Masks are useful to combine the contents or results of one layer with your primary image. Layer Masks allow you to use powerful painting tools to selectively enhance your images. The more you work with combining multiple images and editing specific areas, the more you’ll use masks.


Creating a Layer Mask

If you’d like to use a mask on a layer, the first step is to add one.  Any layer (even the base) can have a mask.  Masking the base layer blends the HDR photo with the original tone-mapped image.  Masking additional layers blends with the images below.



To add a mask:

  1. Open a photo or bracket series within Aurora HDR 2019.
  2. Select the desired layer. By default, layers and adjustment layers have no mask.
  3. Click the Edit Mask icon. A new menu opens below. There are four different masking modes to choose from that we’ll explore in this chapter. The toolbar contains several controls which we’ll explore next.


Painting and Erasing Masks

Once you’ve started editing a mask, you can add or subtract using a variety of tools. Remember, to edit a mask, click the Edit Mask button to the right of a layer’s name and choose a tool to use.

  • Brush – Use a paintbrush to add or subtract from your mask.
  • Radial Mask – Creates an elliptical shape to blend between affected and unaffected areas
  • Gradient Mask – Creates a linear blend between affected and unaffected areas
  • Luminosity Creates a blended mask based on the light and dark areas of a scene  Try the Mask menu’s Invert command to reverse the mask.

Once you’ve chosen one of the four tools, a new toolbar appears so you can customize the results.  Let’s explore each control.

Global Mask Controls

The first two controls affect a mask’s properties globally.

Mask Menu.

Clicking this opens a contextual menu with additional options for working with the layer.

  • Fill – This option attaches a mask filled with white that reveals all details of the filter.  Use the Brush tool to paint with black and subtract from the mask.
  • Invert – Inverts any mask that you’ve created so that its opacity and transparency values are reversed
  • Clear Button – This option hides the results of the filter entirely.  Use the paintbrush or gradient tools to add details back to the image.
  • Copy – Copies the current mask to the clipboard To use this, create a new layer and paste it into the new layer.
  • Paste – Pastes the current mask stored on the clipboard for use on another layer
  • Show Mask – Makes the mask visible as a rubylith (red) overlay
    • Density – Controls the transparency of pixels outside a mask so that the overallmask fades into the background better
    • Feather – Blurs the edges of a mask to more naturally fade the mask adjustments into the image

Visibility Icon (Eyeball)

This controls the visibility of the mask.  It makes it easy to view the mask as a rubylith (red) overlay. You may also continue drawing while the layer mask is shown, for even more precision.


Using a Brush Mask

The first type of mask is created by using a brush. Once you’ve chosen Brush from the pop-up list, you’ll see additional useful controls.

The Brush can be used in either Paint mode or Erase mode to add to or subtract from areas of the mask. Clicking the Paint option will add white areas to the mask.  The white areas will preserve the current layer.  Brushing with Erase mode is handy for “trimming” overspray of the mask and makes your selection more accurate.

To control a brush, click the Brush Settings dropdown menu, (it’s next to the Erase option). In this window, you can configure paintbrush settings such as Size, Opacity and Softness. If you have a Pen Tablet attached, you can also configure Pen Pressure, Radius and Opacity levels.

Here’s how to use the Masking Brush tool.

    • Open an image or bracket series in Aurora HDR 2019.
    • Click the Add Layer button (+ symbol) or choose Layers > Add New Adjustment Layer.
Let’s add an obvious effect so that its easy to view.

    • On the adjustment layer, apply the Warm Landscape Look for the Landscape category.
    • Create a Layer mask by clicking the Mask button and choose the Brush option.

      
You now have two options to decide how the initial mask is created.
      • Paint – Clicking with the Paint tool fills the mask with black (hiding all of its results).  As you paint and add strokes they are added in white.  This method allows you to brush and add the results of the Adjustment layer selectively.
      • Erase – Clicking with the Erase tool fills the mask with white showing all of its results.  As you paint and add strokes they are added in black. This method allows you to brush and subtract the results of the Adjustment layer selectively.  The erased areas will show through to the image below.
    • Click the Visibility icon (eyeball) to view the mask.
    • Brush with the Erase tool to subtract the results to the layer selectively.

    • Continue painting the mask to get the desired results.  Use the toolbar at the top of the window to control the behavior of the Masking Brush tool. Click the Brush drop-down menu to control the shape and dynamics of the brush.

      • Size – Controls the diameter of the brush  You can also use the keyboard shortcuts [ and ] to make the brush smaller or larger.
      • Softness – Controls how much blending there is between the center of the brush and its edges  This can create a more gradual blend on any mask.  You can also use the keyboard shortcuts Shift + [ or ] to make the brush harder or softer.
      • Opacity – This controls the overall opacity of the brush.  A brush at 100% has full impact.  A brush set to 50% will add or subtract half of its strength.
      • Presets – In the center of the grid there are various preset brushes for quick selection.
      • Pen Pressure – If you have a Pen Tablet attached, you can also configure Pen Pressure, Radius and Opacity levels. This allows you to draw on the tablet and have the force applied to the pen transferred to the size and density of the brush.
    • Click and paint on the canvas to modify the selected mask layer or adjustment layer.
    • Toggle the mask visibility off by clicking the Visibility icon (eyeball) on the toolbar. 
    • To refine the mask even more, click the Gear icon then select Density and Feathering for the mask.  This can control how the mask is applied and helps blend results.

      • Density – Controls the transparency of pixels outside of a mask so that the overall mask fades into the background better.
      • Feather – Blurs the edges of a mask to more naturally fade the mask adjustments into the image.
    • If you choose to remove a mask, right-click on the Mask icon in the Layers panel and choose Clear to remove it.
    • Refine the Opacity of the Adjustment Layer as needed to get the desired effect.

Using a Radial Mask




A Radial Gradient Mask is a quick, easy way to highlight the sun, a face or anything else on your photo.  You can create an ellipse or circular shape that makes its easy to create a gradual blend between two states.  It can also be used with an image layer to add ramping transparency.  For an adjustment layer, it’s useful to create a blend between the modified and original state.

Here’s how to use the Radial Mask tool:

  1. Create a Layer or Adjustment Layer mask as previously discussed in this chapter. 
  2. Click the Edit Mask button on the layer.
  3. Select the Radial Mask option from the Tools dropdown.
  4. Click and drag to create a circular gradient. 
  5. Click the Visibility button in the top toolbar to make it easier to visualize the gradient.

  6. The tool offers simple controls to refine the gradient.
    • Drag the middle of the gradient, (the dot) to place its center.
    • Drag the inside circle’s radius to affect the size of the gradient.
    • Drag the outside circle’s radius to affect the feathering of the gradient.
    • Drag a handle on the outside circle to adjust the aspect ratio to create an ellipse shape.
    • Drag outside the outer circle to rotate the gradient mask.
  7. You can change the mode of the mask if you need to change how a mask is applied by clicking the Invert button. By default, the Radial Gradient mask that is created will “protect” the center of the circle/oval and any enhancements will be applied outside of the inner circle. Click this button to invert the mask so that effects will be applied to the inner circle.
  8. When satisfied with the mask, click the Done button. 
  9. If using an Adjustment Layer, adjust the Filter controls as needed.  The mask will control how its results are applied. If using an image layer, you can control the opacity and blending mode of the layer.



Using a Gradient Mask

The Gradient Mask Tool is useful for creating a gradual blend between two states.  It can be used with an image layer to add ramping transparency.  For an Adjustment Layer, it’s useful to create a blend between the modified and original state. The Gradient Mask is a favorite tool of landscape photographers that allows you to adjust images smoothly with effects only applied to the gradient.



Here’s how to use the Gradient Mask tool:

  1. Create a Layer or Adjustment Layer mask as previously discussed in this chapter. 
  2. Click the Edit Mask button on the layer.
  3. Select the Gradient Mask option from the drop-down.
  4. Click the Visibility button in the top toolbar to make it easier to visualize the gradient.
  5. Click and drag to create a linear gradient. 
  6. The tool offers simple controls to refine the gradient.

    • Drag the top bar or bottom bar to expand or contract the gradient.
    • Drag the middle dot to position the gradient.
    • Drag the bottom bar to move the end of the gradient
    • Click and drag just outside the centerpoint to rotate the gradient mask.
    • Drag a handle on the outside circle to adjust the aspect ratio to create an ellipse shape.
    • Drag outside the outer circle to rotate the gradient mask.

  7. When satisfied with the mask, click the Done button.

  8. If using an Adjustment Layer, adjust the Filter controls as needed.  The mask will control how its results are applied. If using an image layer, you can control the opacity and blending mode of the layer.

__________________________________________________
TIP

You can edit the results of a Gradient mask by clicking the Edit Mask button.  This lets you add or subtract from the mask using the Brush tool for greater control over the mask.
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Luminosity Masks


A Luminosity Mask is a fast and easy way to create a new mask based on the brightness of image pixels.  When selected, the command will fill the active layer with a mask based on the brightness of image pixels. The transparency for the layer is directly related to the brightness of the pixels.

This command works very well to mask an overlaid image such as a cloud or texture layer. You can also mask a copy of a layer to enhance only part of an image. For example, if the sky and clouds are bright, you can create an exact mask for that area of the image only and then enhance them.

Here's how to create a Luminosity Mask:

  1. Open a photo or bracket series within Aurora HDR 2019.
  2. In the Layers controls click the + button and choose the Add New Image Layer option.
In this example a texture layer was added.

  3. For the desired layer, click on on the Edit Mask button and choose Luminosity. A new mask is created based upon the brightness values of the image.

  4. If the mask is showing unwanted areas, you can right-click on the layer’s name and choose Mask > Invert.
  5. You can also re-run the Create Luminosity Mask command multiple times to generate different masks each time.
  6. Use the layer’s blending mode and opacity sliders to blend the layer to taste.


Masking Options

Here are some extra techniques you can use when masking a layer or adjustment layer.

  • While masking or erasing, right-clicking the mouse causes a context window of parameter settings for the brush and includes additional controls for pen pressure sensitivity.
  • For handy reference, in the Layers panel on the upper right side of the Side Panel, you’ll see a thumbnail image of the current mask.
  • To quickly switch between Paint and Erase modes, use the shortcut key X.
  • To quickly change the Diameter of the brush, use the shortcut keys [ and ]. This is very convenient and greatly speeds up brush work.
  • To quickly change the Softness of the brush, use the shortcut keys Shift + [ and Shift + ].
  • If you hold down the space bar in Painting mode you can switch to a Move Image mode.  This is very convenient when zoomed in for detailed brush strokes.

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