Using Masking Tools on Your Photos

April 28

19 min. to read

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Need to move the model to a different backdrop? Changing the background, the color of the sky, eyes, hair, and skin now is very easy. Do you want to sharpen just the face of the character, and separate the subject, but not the surroundings? It's easy to edit photos with Photoshop tools and plugins with image masking.

Language has evolved to the point where we use photoshop as a verb describing the process of photo editing. We often hear phrases such as “photoshop something into the picture” or “try photoshopping it out” that relate to the workflow. This primarily means using masking tools and layers in photo editing software to transform an image. Photoshop software has indeed given the world a powerful set of tools to transform images in unbelievable ways. It has led photography to a whole new world of possibilities used in photo editing. However, now there are a lot of editing software applications besides Photoshop that offer a variety of helpful masking techniques, taking the editing process even further. Luminar Neo gets the same result, with its friendly clutter-free user interface and all the options you need, is a great photo masking tool. It’s also an example of how you can go beyond the basics and conquer new horizons when masking photos.

As soon as you need to adjust some part of the image rather than the whole image, masks come into play. Let's find out in detail what is image masking, how to use it, and how to customize the tools that work with them in non-destructive editing.

What is Image Masking in Editing?

A mask is essentially a stencil that is applied to an invisible layer. It is up to you to manually choose what is visible and what is hidden. Masking in photography is used when you want to create a combined image, cut out objects for use in other documents, or limit editing of a certain part of a layer. You can add black, white, or gray to the layer mask. To do that, you can paint over the layer mask.

Types of Image Masking in Photo Editing

With the mask, you can cut out any element of the photo and hide the rest. For example, you put a mask on a portrait photo and want to hide the background (about how to work with a mask in the next section). Then you, as a viewer, will only see the model on the transparent background.

Why is it better to cut with a mask? Why when there is an eraser? While using this technique, the mask doesn't remove pixels, it just hides them. At any time you can redo the result, and refine it in different areas of your image.

You will also be able to selectively change the color, saturation, tinting, and sharpness. Suppose you want to change the color of a model's eyes from green to blue. If you add a layer that will change the color, you will have achieved your aim, but besides the eyes, the skin, hair, background, and all objects in the picture will also become blue. Using photo masking, you can show the effect only where you want it. In this case, on the irises of the eyes.

With images masking, you can affect only portions of an image. You can sharpen just the face, increase the contrast on the model only, or make the background less saturated so it is less conspicuous and the emphasis is on the hero. Or all together - an opacity mask can be applied to each layer, and the number of layers is unlimited. For example, with the graphics software Luminar Neo you can use such tools:

  • Gradient mask.

  • Luminosity mask.

  • Radial mask.

  • Brush.

Also there is Mask AI in Luminar Neo that can detect and mask automatically up to 9 elements in a photo. It is possible to add a mask to a layer and use it to hide its areas and display the contents of underlying layers. Masking editing is used to merge photos into a single image, as well as to remove a person or object from different images. So, why do you need a masking photo?

Why use masking?

Non-destructive transformations

Masking is non-destructive. This means that you can undo the changes you make to a photo and portions of images. Also, professional photo editing software usually has the option of adding layers. Any changes, including masking, can be made on a new layer on top of the existing photo, leaving the original untouched. That’s why masking is a great tool to use on different layers of your photo, which allows you to experiment with your photo’s final look. Masking photography is a great way to see changes and go back if you don’t like them, all without damaging the original photo.

Compare changes

By clicking the eye button in Luminar Neo, you can see even the slightest changes that you’ve made after masking an image. You can also use the split screen option to see your progress, and decide which areas you need to change next. Any photo masking software will let you easily see the difference between the original and edited versions of your photos.

Edit only certain areas

Was the sky cloudy on the wedding day? This is also where the masking image comes in handy. If so, you can use masking tools and transform the sky to look as beautiful as the rest of the scene. Rescue your photos and change them into works of art.


Your imagination knows no limits with masking images. You can edit someone in or out of a photo and add objects, animals, and landscape elements, altering reality completely. Masking photos allows you to become a god.

Luminar Neo tools

Vector masks allow you to hide or obscure parts of an image. They let you combine the contents or results of one layer with your base image. Layer masks allow you to use powerful painting tools to control the results. The more you work on combining multiple images, the more you’ll use masks.

Luminar Neo offers five types of masks. To access them, create a new adjustment layer and click on the brush.

Using Masking Tools on Your Photos Image1

Gradient mask

You can apply a gradient mask to create a gradual blend, or gradient, between two areas on an image or two different layers. Gradient masks are defined by a horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line from which the mask is gradually applied, helping you make the transformation smoother. By clicking the visibility button you’ll see the area where the gradient has been applied.

Luminosity mask

A luminosity mask is based on the brightness of pixels in the image. It automatically applies light to lighter areas while keeping the darker areas dark. And it does so in a subtle way. You can start by applying any preset you like to a photo. Then you can use a luminosity mask to start masking the photo. This may take a few minutes. Use the eye icon or the split screen to see the difference.

Radial mask

A quick and easy way to highlight an area of your photo is by using a radial mask. A radial mask can be applied to a layer and creates a circular mask radiating from the point on the image where you apply it. You can make a radial mask oblong or stretch it as you need for your photography.


Use a brush to correct the finer parts of masks or to apply your filters so they cover only certain areas. You can use brush strokes to add or subtract from a mask. In order to see where you’re applying changes, you can click on the eye icon. This will show you in red the areas of your photo to which the mask is applied.

Mask AI

A handy tool that allows for quick masking. It is very easy to use. All you have to do is perform the following steps:

1. Open an image in Luminar Neo.

2. Select the Edit tab on the Top Toolbar to reveal the Tools pane and scroll down to the Creative tools.

3. Choose the Dramatic tool and increase the sliders to high values.

4. Click the Masking Tab within the tool.

5. Choose the MaskAI mode in the mask tool.

6. Select the masking elements.

Practical guides

Here are some practical guides on how to use masking tools to your advantage. With some simple steps you can create images like those in magazines.

How to use layers

In any masking software, layers are your canvas. You don’t have to apply changes directly to your photos. When you have a layer, all changes can be done on it so you can see how different effects will look on the photo in a non-destructive way. You can add a new image layer (your own photo) or a new adjustment layer (making changes to the existing photo).

How to use masking software

In order to apply filters to specific areas of your photo, you can use masking layers and brushes. Some of these tools and their specific effects are all listed below. In order to apply a mask to a layer, add a new adjustment layer and start working.

Using Masking Tools on Your Photos Image2


This option of masking pictures lets you fill the area entirely with the details of your filter, creating a mask over your image. After that, you can use the brush tool to paint over the mask and subtract from it.


This option of masking edit inverts the opacity and transparency values of any mask that you’ve created. Look at the little mask icon next to your photo and see how the values of transparency change when you click it.


This is the opposite of the fill option with gradient tools, which completely unmasks your image. After clearing the mask, you can use a paint brush or gradient tools to add details back to the image.

These are only some of the picture masking tools you can use.

How to edit someone into a picture

When editing someone into a picture, remember that both of the pictures that you’re trying to merge should have similar exposure, lightning conditions, and so on. Ideally, they should be taken in the same type of landscape and weather. Select a particular photo that best fits your needs. A sunny face will look bad edited into a dark room. Technically you can merge any two photos, but the results may look unnatural. When you have two visually compatible pictures, for example, a landscape and a shot of a person outside, you’re ready to start working on masking photos.

Follow the steps below to edit someone into a photo:

  1. Open the picture you would like as your background.

  2. Click the + icon in the Layers tab and select Add new image layer. Or click Layers > Add new image layer from the top menu bar.

  3. Then, select the photo of the person you want to edit into your background picture.

  4. Click the little brush icon on the new layer and choose the Brush tool.

  5. Start to paint over the person and you’ll see them gradually appearing on your background.

  6. Regulate the Size, Softness, and Opacity of your brush to paint the contours of the person and make them as realistic as possible. Correct any damage that was done and change the opacity so everything appears natural.

  7. Export your photo.

How to replace a background

Let’s suppose that your picture is perfect apart from the background. Want to apply something new? Maybe the sky wasn’t ideal on the day you were taking shots or you weren’t able to wait for that perfect sunrise. Removing the background solves this problem. There’s a way to salvage your shots.

  1. Open a photo that needs a new sky.

  2. Click the + symbol at the top of the Layers panel and choose Add new image layer. Or click Layers > Add new image layer from the top menu bar.

  3. Navigate to an image on your computer that has a sky you want to add and click the Open button to add this image to your document.

  4. To add the sky image, one technique is to apply a gradient mask, which will have the effect of pulling in the sky with more emphasis on the upper part of the image.

  5. Resize or move the gradient as needed for the best fit and click Done to apply it.

You can experiment with masks as you like. For example, this image was made with the help of the radial mask.

Also this can be done automatically with Luminar Neo's new Extension called Background Removal AI.

Using Masking Tools on Your Photos Image3

Using Masking Tools on Your Photos Image4


What’s the best photo editing software for masking photos? That’s a matter of preference for each photographer. It all depends on your photography habits, how easy it is for you to work in a particular piece of software, and what tools you need to edit your photos. The Luminar Neo interface is friendly and clutter-free for masking photos. It allows you to use masking tools in different ways and easily achieve splendid results. If you want to try masking photos for free before you consider buying Luminar Neo, click on the button below. Luminar Neo might just be the app you’re looking for, even if you don’t know how to mask an image.

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