Luminosity masking in Aurora HDR 2017

Explore the power of luminosity masking in Aurora HDR 2017 - it's new and improved!

If you have the previous version of Aurora HDR, but haven't yet picked up the newest version - Aurora HDR 2017 - then this post is for you.  Or, if you have Aurora HDR 2017 but have yet to experiment with luminosity masking, I think you will like this too.  Read on friends.

Simply put, luminosity masking (LM) allows you to quickly and easily create a mask that is based on light values.  The brighter parts of the image get a higher opacity mask, and the darker parts of the image get a lower opacity mask.  Then, when you apply edits to the layer with the LM, the edits are applied according to the opacity levels of the mask.  This means that the intensity of the edits will apply in varying degrees across your image.  Some parts will pick up more of the edit, and other parts will pick up less of the edit. 

This is a very powerful tool that is built into Aurora and one that I use on a lot of my images.  It's quite easy to use and can have a huge impact on your photos.  Generally speaking, it has the effect of creating a more subtle application of your effects across your images.  This can help you create a more balanced and natural-looking HDR image, if that is your preference.

Let me walk you through a sample use of LM on an image to help illustrate the point.  See all the following screenshots, and the comments that are attached to them.  Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for stopping by!

I will use a couple of different layers, some luminosity masking, some brush work and a couple of presets to take this base HDR and turn it into a completely different-looking image that is vibrant, expressive and colorful.  Let's have some fun! My intent with this image is to add some structure to the buildings only in the image and to significantly bump up the colors and tones across the entire image to make it much more pleasing to my eye.


If you prefer to see a video instead of read about it, here you go my friends!

Today I walk you through how to create, apply and edit a luminosity mask in Aurora HDR 2017. It's a very powerful tool but one that is easy to use. I combine that with a couple of layers and some presets to get to my final result. Follow along!

1) Step 1 - import your images into Aurora and merge to HDR.  If necessary, apply a preset or make other adjustments to the base image.  Get your starting point set to your liking.

My starting point - a 3 shot HDR with no edits applied.  This is the base, unedited layer.  Very boring, colorless and washed out.  Needs a lot of work!

First, I apply a preset to the base layer to get the colors and tones looking a bit more friendly.  Already it's better.

2) Step Two - Add a new layer and apply whatever edits you want to apply to it.

In the example below, you can see that I really bumped up the Structure sliders in order to add more detail and drama to the photo.  However, it's a bit much and of course it applies across the entire photo right now, not just where I want it (which is the buildings).  Oh yeah, and it looks terrible, especially in the sky.  Really terrible.  So we will fix that next.

Moving sliders on the right affect the entire image, but we will fix that in a moment!

3) Step 3 - Create and apply the LM to this new layer.  Note: you can add a LM on any layer.

There are two ways to add a LM to an image.  You can hover your mouse over the histogram, or you can get in brush mode and then click on the LM icon to access the tools.  Very simple and straight-forward.

Note that in Aurora HDR 2017, the LM feature is zone-based.  In the previous version, you added the LM and it was automatically generated and applied across the entire image.  In Aurora 2017, you can choose specific parts of the image to apply the LM to.  These are the zones, and they are based on light values.  There are zones ranging from Zone 0 (completely black parts of the image) to Zone 10 (completely white parts of the image), and everything in between.

As you click on the zone that you want the LM to apply to, the screen will highlight the corresponding parts of the photo.  In the example below, notice that I have clicked on Zones 0 - 7 (the zone boxes become yellow when clicked on).  Once you are ready to create the LM, click on the green check mark and it will create the LM, and it will apply your previous edits to this layer accordingly.

Click the boxes that correspond to the light values you want the LM to apply to.  I have chosen zones 0-7 here.  Note the green crosshatch patterns on the image.  Each zone has a slightly different pattern so you can tell zones apart visually.

Click the boxes that correspond to the light values you want the LM to apply to.  I have chosen zones 0-7 here.  Note the green crosshatch patterns on the image.  Each zone has a slightly different pattern so you can tell zones apart visually.

After clicking the green check mark, the LM is created and applied to the photo.  This is what the LM looks like on this photo.  you can tell that some parts are lower or higher opacities than others, and that some parts of the photo have no mask over them.  Those are the zones that I skipped.

Even with the LM applied to the photo, it still looks pretty bad, and that is because the LM is applying over quite a few zones.  We had to select them to get all the parts of the buildings, but we simply don't want the LM in the sky and water.  We only want it on the buildings, so we will fix that next.

3) Step 3 - Use the eraser brush to remove the LM from parts of the photo that you want to leave unaffected.

Because I only want to apply the LM to the buildings, I need to edit the LM a bit.  Simply go into brush mode, grab the eraser, and with the LM visible as in the screenshot above, simply erase it from wherever you need to erase it from by adjusting your eraser's opacity to 100% and brushing it over the parts you want to erase.  I erased it from the sky and water in the screenshot below.  You can see that the visible mask is now much less prevalent in the image - it's only on the buildings, the decking on the canal sides and the two gondoliers.  That leaves cleaner and smoother looking sky and water.

I have erased the LM from the sky and water, leaving it just on the buildings and gondola.

After you remove the LM from the unwanted parts of the photo, your LM is now more specific and targeted and the photo looks quite a bit better than it did before we erased parts of the LM.  You also have the option to move additional adjustment sliders, which will only apply to the LM-covered parts of the photo, as long as you stay on this layer.

With the LM only applying the correct parts of the photo, it looks much better than it did a few moments ago.  However, it's not finished.

4) Step 4 - Add a new layer (or layers) and apply any further edits you need to complete the photo.

Since my intent here is to create a more colorful and vibrant scene, I have added a new layer and applied a custom preset to it, which significantly bumps up the colors and tones.  Now it looks more like a real sunset is approaching and to my eyes it is much more pleasing (though of course, I have a bias towards big, bold colors).  You can also see that I reduced the opacity of this new layer (Layer 2) down to 55% because at 100% it was VERY saturated, even by my standards.  ;-)


You can continue to edit your photo further if that is what you want to do.  By no means do you have to stop here.  You can add more layers and add LM on some or all of those layers.  You can take the photo in any direction that interests you.  Feel free to experiment, try new tools, and see what you get out of it.  I often try new things and just mess around a little until I get to a version of the photo that really speaks to me.  Plus, it's fun!


That's a quick tour of how to use LM in Aurora HDR 2017!  Download a free trial and see for yourself how powerful it is!

I hope this helps and please let me know if you have any questions.  Using LM in Aurora is quick and simple, yet very powerful.  It's a great tool to have at your disposal and works well across all types of images.  I use it a lot and absolutely love that you can apply the LM based on light values (zones).  It's a great idea and a great implementation of this wonderful tool in Aurora HDR 2017.  Enjoy!

You can download a free trial of Aurora HDR 2017 by clicking on the banner image below.  Take it for a test drive and try it yourself!  I think you will really have a lot of fun, and who knows, you might learn something too.  :-)