Master Luminosity Masks, Chapter 01 2 Videos (7:34m)
  • 01 - Introduction to Luminosity Masks
  • 02 - Luminosity Masks vs. HDR
Master Luminosity Masks, Chapter 02 3 Videos (45:11m)
  • 01 - How to Exposure Bracket: Expand the Dynamic Range of a Camera
  • 02 - How to Use Luminosity Masks with RAW and Smart Objects
  • 03 - How to Use Our Custom Luminosity Mask Action
Master Luminosity Masks, Chapter 03 5 Videos (2:36h)
  • 01 - How to Blend Multiple Exposures with Luminosity Masks
  • 02 - How to Add Realistic Color with Luminosity Masks
  • 03 - How to Recover Bright Skies in a Landscape Photo
  • 04 - How to Blend Shutter Speeds of a Waterfall Landscape
  • 05 - How to Blend Exposures and Color from Start to Finish
Home  >  PRO Tutorials  >  PRO Photoshop  >  How to Master Luminosity Masks in Photoshop

Better than HDR – Master Luminosity Masks in Photoshop

Have you ever tried taking a photo of a jaw-dropping landscape only to have the sky be washed out or the ground be dark and without detail. Until now, HDR was the only option to get details across highlights, midtones, and shadows, but it would often create exaggerated effects. Our cutting-edge Luminosity Mask technique in Photoshop will forever change the way you combine exposures!

In this tutorial, learn how to manually blend exposures using the power and flexibility of Luminosity Masks. Create selections based on light levels and then use those selections to paint detail back into your photos. Better yet, we have included a custom-made Photoshop Action that makes this powerful process faster and easier than ever!

10 Video Tutorials|11 Sample Images|Photoshop Actions
Aaron Nace Bio Image PHLEARN
Aaron Nace
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Recover Lost Details

Learn how to blend multiple exposures to uncover hidden details in the highlight and shadows of an image.

Free Section – Luminosity Masks vs. HDR

HDR and Luminosity Masks can both expand the dynamic range of your image. However, only Luminosity Masks give you the ability to customize and refine exposures for a more realistic effect. Learn how they differ here!



What are Luminosity Masks?

An uncommon Photoshop term with a simple definition, Luminosity Masks are tools that you can use in Photoshop to show or hide areas of an image based on the brightness of that area. Have an area that’s too bright? You can make a selection of only the highlights and then use a mask to hide and replace those areas with a better exposure.

Luminosity Masks vs. HDR

HDR is an automated process performed by a piece of software such as Lightroom or your smartphone’s camera application. Luminosity Masks are Photoshop tools which let you manually blend exposures together. While both can create great images, Luminosity Masks give you the ability to customize and refine your image, often yielding more realistic results. It’s sort of like comparing SpaghettiOs to your Grandmother’s homemade pasta. SpaghettiOs are nice (and sometimes necessary) but we would much rather take the trip to Grandma’s.

Fix Underexposed & Overexposed Photos

In this tutorial, we show you how to combine multiple exposures to create one seamless final image. Luminosity Masks allow you to combine exposures to recover information from the brightest highlights to the darkest shadows. This will ensure that your photos fully capture the depth and detail in a scene. We even show you how you can take advantage of Luminosity Masks when you only have one photo available!



Working With RAW

When it comes to making adjustments to an image, nothing comes close to working with RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW. Editing RAW allows you to edit and sculpt the original information captured by your camera’s sensor. This means changes that will look ultra-realistic in the final image. For an in-depth look at RAW workflow, be sure to watch our tutorial How to Master Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop!

Create Stunning Landscape Photos

Shooting outdoors comes with its own unique challenges. You are often shooting an area that has a large, bright light source (the sun and sky) against an area that is much darker (the ground). Luminosity Masks are a phenomenal tool to help make the most out of your landscape images, allowing you to capture all the details of the sky and landscape below.

Color Adjustments

Luminosity Masks are great at helping us blend exposures but they can also be a powerful tool for coloring our images. By combining accurate selections based off of light levels with the flexibility of RAW, we can make dynamic changes to the color in our images that are both stunning and realistic.





Beautiful, Dramatic Skies

It can be tough to capture a bright, beautiful sunset and dark, moody clouds while still expecting your camera to capture all of the color and details. In this tutorial, we walk you through several examples where we take a boring sky and transform it into something extraordinary by combining multiple exposures of the same scene.

Working With RAW

When it comes to making adjustments to an image, nothing comes close to working with RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW. Editing RAW allows you to edit and sculpt the original information captured by your camera’s sensor. This means changes that will look ultra-realistic in the final image. For an in-depth look at RAW workflow, be sure to watch our tutorial How to Master Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop!

Included Photoshop Action

By now, we hope you’re impressed by the potential of Luminosity Masks. But what if we told you that you can harness the power of these incredible tools AND make it happens in half the time? We have created a custom Photoshop Action that can be used on any image to quickly and accurately create several selections based on light levels in the image.



Enhance Detail in Any Photo

While landscapes are a great use for Luminosity Masks, any photo can take advantage of this powerful tool. Shooting a portrait or other interiors against bright windows? You can use the techniques we teach to make sure your subject looks great while still bringing in some of the detail from outside.

Learn Photo Bracketing

Not only do we show you the post-production process for combining multiple exposures but we also provide essential tips and tricks for capturing all of the exposures you’ll need in-camera. Learn how to optimize your camera settings for photo bracketing and take properly exposed images for the highlights, midtones, and shadows.

Instructor & Featured Artist

Aaron Nace


Aaron Nace is a photographer, Photoshop artist and founder of PHLEARN. He is the #1 Photoshop instructor in the world with millions of YouTube subscribers.

Joshua Cripps

Landscape Photographer/Educator – Featured Artist

Special thanks to Joshua Cripps for providing his incredible landscape photos in 16-bit RAW for download in this tutorial.

Not only is Joshua an acclaimed landscape photographer, he also teaches in person workshops and online tutorials.
View Joshua’s Portfolio


  1. Great tutorial. This has given me an excellent tool for my landscape photos, especially those with challenging dynamic range!

  2. Fully understand now… these were foreign for so long. this will not only help my landscapes but color grading portraits! I’m curious. You guys have a tutorial for bringing back shadows and highlights on portraits but use the apply image way, or would you use the luminosity masks?

  3. Amazing tutorial fully understand luminosity masks now

  4. Really good PS action and detailed videos on how to use them. I have been looking for this type of process to work through some of my landscape images and I’m really looking forward to trying this out.

  5. Awesome! Thank you!

  6. Great tutorial! Appreciate learning the “why” as well as the “how.”

  7. Aaron is amazing with what he can do to a photograph. This is a great learning on how to use luminosity masks for variety of different uses. I just loved this and learned so much. I have watched these video’s at least 5 times each and each time I pick up something new. I would recommend to everyone on how to use luminosity masks to your advantage. Great job Aaron, keep it up you are amazing.

  8. Thank you so much for another great tutorial! I am constantly adding new skills to my Photoshop toolbox, and my work is constantly growing and improving. I recommend this tutorial — two thumbs way up!!

  9. So very grateful for this site and the wisdom you all share with us – thank you!

  10. I have strugled some time to understand luminosity masks. Now I totaly get it. I have the Lumenzia panel as well but realy did not understand how to use it. Thanks so much Aaron to open up a whole new world of editing my images. This is so cool. This tutorial alone made the whole subscription so worth it.

  11. If you want to make your images stand out, you need this course. Easily one of the top 5 tutorials I’ve watched on PHLEARN. Thank you, Aaron, for the great tutorial and bringing Luminosity Masks to a level that even I could grasp and apply. Your actions are great too. I use your Luminosity actions and sharpen actions all the time. Again, this is a much watch tutorial for anyone who wants their image processing to jump a few levels.

  12. This was a great intro to luminosity masks. I’ve owned the Kyper luminosity tools for some time but now I have some ideas for workflow and possibilities that I didn’t have before. Good stuff!

  13. Mind BLOWN, not only dodge and burn but colour selection made so natural, a must for anyone looking to get more out of their landscapes, but is applicable to all photos where complex selections are required, without doubt most informative photoshop website on the planet

  14. Hi Aaron and Phlearn. I loved this tutorial as I always struggle to make my landscape photos pop. I knew a little about the power of luminosity masking but was always confused by it, but now it all seems a lot lot more clearer to use. I admit I still get a bit befuddled about which particular mask to use but with more practise I will get it. A brilliant tutorial as always. Keep up the superb work.

  15. Hey Aaron, awesome as usual! Aligning the Smart objects is tricky, I had some handheld rotation in some images which I try to align manually. So I opened them into Photoshop as layers and auto-aligned them. After which I converted each layer into a smart object. I did open them as dng files, I am quite certain I have the same information but would love your comments on this workflow. I will be reworking some of my favorite HDR enhanced images moving forward. Looking forward to your feedback, robbiek

  16. Luminosity Masks = Α-W-E-S-O-M-E !!!!

  17. This was the exact tutorial I was looking for. Almost worth the price of my annual membership by itself. The ability to replay and revisit certain chapters/sections is very helpful. Aaron is a real pro with PS and I always enjoy his teaching style. The only thing I would like to see is an additional PDF document that provides all of the Keyboard Commands / Shortcuts used in the exercises. Since I’m not in PS on a regular basis, this would be a really helpful aid. I can’t wait to see what else is in here.

  18. Good Tutorial, but I wish that they focused more on Interior photos. The Landscapes are too similar. The Blending on those Pictures isn’t that difficult. The Light Difference on Interior Photos can be really tricky if you want those Bright Rooms with awesome view. Would we awesome if you could add a free Tutorial on this Topic or include it here. Thanks

  19. Aaron, Another sensational course. When you explore a theme, you really know how to explore from end to end! I have a suggestion: I think it would be interesting to have the date on which the various lessons were recorded and the used version of Photoshop. The lessons are always valid, but some adjustments may be made by those who are watching, depending on the version of Photoshop.

  20. Its good tutorial for beguiners. Aaron in videos explain how all luminosity mask stuff works and he does great job to doing it simple so everyone can fallow. He goes through most of the techniques what you would need to have a finished image. I highly recommend to those who whats to step up their landscape photography editing skills, from just lifting shadows in Lightroom : D Only downside of this tutorial is that Aaron- digital editor, not a landscape photographer, so his editing skills and workflow could be a bit different according landscape photography editing esthetics. Like i said, its for beguiners, so if you found that its not enough for you, there are plenty other way more advanced editing tutorials out there ; )

  21. Wow!! Powerful tutorial!!! Thank you!!

  22. The actions you shared with the world opened up for me a whole new way of easily selecting multiple parts of photos at once. The technique works really well with curves, Thanks.

  23. Excellent tutorial on luminosity masking and sharpening! This was so illuminating! Ba dump dump! LOL

  24. Thanks Aaron for taking up my suggestion on luminosity mask tutorial love really to see your take on it. Specially I am really happy for the trick how to have several RAW images as smart objects in one document. Have been looking for that feature for ages thanks so much you are the true photoshop ninja master.

  25. I never thought of using luminosity masks to make a fabulous looking photograph even better. I now just have to take a fabulous looking photograph. Aaron, thank you. Your tuitions far surpass anyone else’s on the WWW.

  26. This is amazing. I had used Tony Kuper action sets before but never had a good idea on the luminosity aspect. This course has resparked my photo passion again. Great tutorial.

  27. I’ve studied luminosity masks before, but never really got them. Aaron not only teaches what they are and how to do them, but also other uses for them. I find that now I prefer using luminosity masks instead of external filters. This is the tool that I’ve been missing, and it is powerful. Thank you Aaron!

  28. Just brilliant … the best tutorial on luminosity masks .. ever! One to one tutition at its best.

  29. I purchased a membership for this course alone. It was well worth it. I powered through it this weekend and learned a lot about luminosity masks. Still have a lot to learn but now have a great foundation for it. I’ve now watched 2 tutorials here and Phlearn is 2 for 2 in my book. I can’t say that about some of the other learning sites I’ve tried. Thanks again.

  30. This one course is worth of membership! I cannot wait what else Phlearn and Aaron prepared for me! Bravo!

  31. I have learned so much from this course. I know this is one I am going to go back and repeat. I never realized the potential of a RAW file. I was frustrated with the canned products i.e. HDR tools, but this made me understand what was happening and how I can now insert my touch and make it my art. Anyone who is wanting to understand how to take a SINGLE RAW file and make it pop must take this course.

  32. Like most Phlearn tutorials, this is one you need to revise several times. So many subtle techniques are included within the broad sweep of the main topic. And then there’s the matter of developing exquisite judgement; I’m looking forward to that course.

  33. This is just great, what a new twist to editing images. I just love it. If you are wanting to be able to define specific area’s that need editing, then this is a course that you want to watch and learn. You will be glad you that you are taking the time to check this out. also the ACR course is really good to understand camera raw to learn what and how to change things in raw.

  34. Finally! A straightforward and clear explanation of luminosity masks that does not skip some of the basics that “everyone knows”. Aaron does not assume you know things already and does not delve into the science of it all. I just want to know how to use them. Very refreshing. Thank you for making it available.

  35. Great Course!!!!! Great to be able to see your artistic workflow. Thanks

  36. This is absolutely awesome. I think I am getting better and better with the luminosity mask. Thank You Aaron for this outstanding tutorial. I only have two things about this tutorial which I kept having to pause and look at your flow because you kept changing the flow but never really told us what the flow is so I kept having to pause glance and go back and do more of the luminosity. Also if anyone is new about saving large files since this project is a large file. Go to Photoshop Save As a PSB file. Hope that helps. Looking forward to the next tutorial.

  37. Most complete coverage of Luminosity Masks I’ve been able to find. Very informative and use of examples helped clarify techniques. Well worth your time to watch.

  38. This was a new concept for me and I learned a lot. Aaron’s classes are all good but this one knocked it out of the park. It was a fun and interesting class from end to end.

  39. Loved it! Super useful

  40. Lumisosity mask are really PRO! Thsat’s one of the best training I saw. I think even the best on this subject! Thank you and congratulations Aaron!

  41. I am sure it will take me some time to master luminosity masks, but this series of videos has given me a great start. I am looking forward to applying these principals to many of my own shots. Aaron, you make learning simple and fun. I am glad I subscribed to your pro classes. Thank you.

  42. This is really a great tutorial. I learned so much. Thanks.

  43. Finally! A tutorial series that makes understanding and applying luminosity masks a pleasure to learn. As an architectural photographer, I’ll be using this technique on a regular basis for both interior and exterior photos. Although I’ve been doing exposure bracketing for several years, luminosity masking will simplify the selection process and provide far superior results compared to HDR. Thanks PHLEARN! P.S. And I really appreciate the Photoshop actions!

  44. Wow. Every time I watch Aaron perform his Photoshop magic, I learn a TON. Aaron and his Phlearn team produce some of the best Photoshop tutorials on the planet. Each is created with a rich & complex synthesis of talent, personality, vision, guts, and finesse (well, OK, looks too). Thanks.

  45. I’ve been waiting for a tutorial just like this. All of the other ones used plugins to create the luminosity channels and never explained them. You always take the time to make sure your audience understands the whys and how’s. Fantastic

  46. This tutorial series reminds me exactly why I signed up. Aaron has taught me to take my photos to a whole other level. Thanks!

  47. Another treat tutorial, one of the best I have ever followed, even in here. The way you presented the luminosity mask technique is quite understandable and make the approach much easier. Congratulations for this piece of art!

  48. yet again, another excellent selection of tutorials, to further my progress ,to become competent, in the use of photoshop

  49. This tutorial is very technical – not made for anyone looking for quick/simple editing solutions. However, it is GREAT! I had been looking for ways to control different lightings without creating a hallo effect… THERE it is! It’s time consuming, but worth it at the end!

  50. This was great. It was easy to follow.

  51. I have been implementing your tutorials for a long time. Your Tutorial(s) have expanded my abilities above and beyond and I feel very confident in all that I do in post. The only comment I have on this luminosity masking is that you never addressed actually making the masks themselves. You did give us an action but I would have liked to know how to create the luminosity masks themselves for my future reference. The other techniques you put forth along with this technique has once again really changed my work in Photoshop and my understanding of the whole process Thank you.

  52. Great presentation Aaron; everything we’d always wanted to know. I have one request. I find I’m stopping and starting frequently as I try to work along with you. I might re-run some sections two or three times just to get the hang of it before going on. What would really help would be some way to stop, start and rewind really quickly. Pressing the space bar generally will stop and start the video but the arrow keys do not rewind or forward as they can do on some You Tube videos. Right now, I have Photoshop on one screen and you on the other. Consequently, I’m diving from one to the other.

  53. I’ve been waiting for you to do luminosity tutorial for YEARS! I am serious! I think I even tweeted you about it once a few years back! Finally it is here! and it is great. All the other luminosity actions I bought were so convoluted and confusing, not fun! This is a simple approach that brings extraordinary results! I love HDR, but I hate the software… This is exactly what I”ve been looking for… Thank you!

  54. Incredible technique. I really enjoyed this tutorial!

  55. After never touching channels and dodge and burning by hand, the idea that i could get non-chunky selections from my channels in this way just blew my mind. I can’t wait to use this on my next set of photos to see how I can really push my images! Also the delivery and teaching style is so dang friendly and approachable, and I love that he even “messes up” sometimes as he experiments (much like I do) to find the path from A-B, it makes it so much more relateable.

  56. Absolutely brilliant. A must-have technique to get the most from any picture.

  57. There is not much to say that has not already been said! Luminosity masks were always something I know I needed to get into but any other tutorial just confused me. After going through this tutorial a light was switched on, the pace and the way the information was presented made everything much more clear. Thank you and keep up the great work.

  58. Hi Aaron, thank you so much for your tutorials and your advice to make better photos. Phlearn tutorials are outstandingly good.

  59. Love you tutorials and this one is fantastic: going in depth but keeping it light and down to the point. Continue with greatness!

  60. Another great tutorial. Really amazing the power of luminosity masking and the creativité it gives. Only one regret: I would have loved to learn how to record the actions you provide for luminosity masks (I think we can learn more by doing it by ourself). Thanks for your job Aaron

  61. This is another great tutorial from Phlearn! I’ve never used Luminosity masks before, but now im hooked!! I want to use them on every photo now! I can’t wait to take my photography to the next level! Onto the next one! 🙂

  62. I’ve been shooting for over twenty years and currently teach photography to grade school through college aged students. I love Phlearn and use it as an excellent resource for myself and my students. He is entertaining and makes the material approachable and fun.

  63. Excellent tutorial. This was just in time for learning the details of this technique as I was photographing a lake home with three levels of windows overlooking the lake. The inside light and outside light were very far apart, and luminosity masking brought the exposures together to make a natural looking image. In the processing of the job, I combined images of differing exposures and also created various exposures from one image file. I learned how to do that from this tutorial. When the magazine publisher saw the final images, she replied, “Stunning! Great work – so impressed!” Thank you for making this tutorial. I look forward to learning from many more. I would encourage others to subscribe to Phlearn. The value far outweighs the investment.

  64. This tutorial helped me more than any other information I have seen on this subject. Aaron’s passion for this art shines through brilliantly on this video.

  65. All the tutorials I’ve watched have been helpful to one degree or another but, as a landscape photographer, this is the one I’ve been waiting for. Thanks soooo much.

  66. Great tutorial yet again! I’m just wondering why, when I paint white on my black layer mask, I can paint outside the marching ants of my selected clouds when tryin to enhance clouds in my picture!

  67. Aaron, I have just completed your tutorial on luminosity masking and I am sitting here totally amazed! It took me a little time to grasp the fundamentals (this I put down to my 67 years of age). I went through the lessons slowly at first but soon got up to speed. The quality of your presentation made it so easy to follow the workflows involved ain all aspects of this course. From now it will be my first port of call in post processing. Astonishing is an understatement. You have made it so much easier for me to to make masterpieces (?) from my meagre Raw images. No longer do I have to sit looking at my my pics in ACR wondering what to do next. Much appreciated, cheers, Roy.

  68. Thank you so much for pulling this altogether. The actions are a gift that will keep on giving. As always, Aaron’s presentation is so simple and straightforward. I wish I had seen this before spending so much money on other systems and software . . . it not only is far less expensive, but it is easier and gives me much more control.

  69. What more can I say that has’nt all ready been sed. So clear as you went a long. Repeting thing, time again. Luminosity is my to go.

  70. Many thanks for a brilliant tutorial! So well explained and instructive.

  71. This is one of the best tutorial you have produced. A must for landscape photographers. Keep up the good work. BRILLIANT !

  72. Super job Aaron. Never left a review before for any tutorial but this deserves one. I have bought other Luminosity Mask panels (and their tutorials) however this is, by a distance, the best tutorial on Luminosity Masks out there. Clarity of explanation was super. Editing in time with you made a huge difference for me. 👍

  73. Brilliant tutorial. I have tried some other Luminosity Mask systems but the Phlearn one is so good because at the end of it I really understood how the masks are created and how they can be tailored to my own needs

  74. Great tutorial! Thanks, Aaron! You made it easy to understand. I had to replay parts to get it right, but now I think I have a good understanding of it, I just need to use it more on my own photos so it sinks in. I think this is your best tutorial so far, although I haven’t watched all of your Pro tutorials yet. Keep up the good work!


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