Masking in Adobe Camera RAW

Subject masking in ACR 14.2

Spending a lot of my working life as an editor means that I get very worked up about changes to the software that I use. A couple of months ago I mentioned the fact that masking in Adobe Camera RAW 14 had become simultaneously better and more complicated. I have been asked to talk about what I mean and about why it is better.

In the past you could pick a linear gradient or radial gradient straight from the tool box and apply those relatively simple options to an image really quickly. You could also use a brush to painstakingly paint a mask onto an image in order to carry out local colour, tone or contrast corrections to the masked area. The two most common functions were quick and simple whilst the more complex functions were, well, complex. I grumbled about why you couldn’t have the best of both worlds because the method for selecting the simpler ones had changed from a single mouse-click to three mouse-clicks.

It turns out that in ACR 14.2 you absolutely can.

Our old and trusted favourite the keyboard shortcut has gone a long way to making that happen. To get a linear gradient you simply use the single letter keyboard shortcut g and you can add a linear gradient whilst j invited you add a radial one. The letter k opens up a brush and so, with three quick keyboard shortcuts you get the three masking options from previous generations of Adobe Camera RAW.

Once you want to move beyond simple then you have two other magic options. You can select subject (and its inverse) as well as sky (and the inverse to that). These two options are brilliant for so many reasons and for someone like me who has spent a large chunk of their career mixing flash and ambient light in their work this adds a huge amount of flexibility to fine-tune the way that images look.

There is a button that allows you to invert the selection next to the words “select subject” and you can fine tune the masks and you can even save and apply adjustment presets within the masked areas. This is a very, very useful set of tools.

Obviously this creates a few ethical questions for news photographers and photojournalists. Just how much can you do to an image inside any image editing application before you have a picture that is misrepresenting the truth and/or telling lies? Well that’s something for which it is tough to write rules – even though I have a go a few years ago when I talked about “Five Levels of Image Manipulation” in a blog post.

The simple walk-through from within the masking tool is very good and explains what you can do with it and there are several pretty decent tutorials popping up on YouTube and the various Adobe forums if you want to learn more. I’ve been working with this for a few months now and I can categorically say that I am still learning plenty.

As always I hope that someone from Adobe is reading this and is willing to apply small upgrade to the next version of Camera ARW. All I want here is a keyboard shortcut for subject masking, another one for sky masking and a third one for inverting the selections.

One comment

  1. Hi Neil,

    While primarily a Lightroom user, I find the latest masking tools a great addition to the toolbox. I particularly like the feature that allows subject/sky mask can be copied between images, albeit you have to update them with a further button click!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.