How To Apply Color Adjustments With Luminosity Masks

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One of the two commonest adjustments one can apply in an image is color adjustment. This is typically done by increasing the Saturation or Vibrance in any image editing software.

Most photographers do so unselectively. This means applying a global color adjustment that affects the whole image, in regardless of whether parts of the image need color boosting.

This is a common mistake that can easily lead to oversaturation!

If you have a more advanced software, you’ll find ways to restrict color adjustment locally. Although these are better, adjustment can still spill outside the desired area.

An elegant solution to this is targeted local adjustment using luminosity masks. The details on how luminosity masks work has already been explained in this article thoroughly.

In this tutorial, you’re going to learn how to apply targeted local color adjustment using luminosity masks.

Although I use Photoshop in my workflow, the post-processing steps are generic and the principles can be applied to other software that supports layer masking.

Photoshop Tools For Color Adjustments

Compared to tonal adjustments, there are more than two tools you can use for color adjustment:

  • Vibrance
  • Hue/Saturation
  • Color balance
  • Selective color

These are the standard tools you can find in the Adjustments panel.

Which one should you use?

It depends because each produces a different result.

Vibrance and Hue/Saturation control the basic color adjustments.

Color Balance and Selective Color allow more customization of specific colors.


The Vibrance adjustment tool comes with Saturation as well.


Even though both are similar but they produce a different result.

Saturation is the intensity of the color as defined by the amount of grey added. When you increase Saturation, the intensity of all colors increases.

Vibrance, on the other hand, controls the muted color and leave the already saturated colors alone.

It’s often used to increase the overall colors of the image without affecting the skin tone.

I almost always use vibrance when there are people in the photo.


hue saturation lightness

Hue/Saturation and Lightness is a versatile color adjustment tool.

Hue essentially means color and you can use it to swap a color to a different one.

Lightness is defined by the amount of black and white added to the color.

Color Balance

colour balance

Allows you to control the CMY and RGB input in the highlights, midtones and shadows separately.

Selective Color

selective colour

Sort of the ultimate color controller.

Allows you to change the CMY input of reds, greens, blues, cyans, magentas, yellows, blacks, neutral and whites.

Use Vibrance and Hue/Saturation For General Color Adjustment

I use these two adjustments 90% of the time.

That’s because I like to keep my workflow simple and there’s really no reason to mess with CMY and RGB unless I’m in creative mode. Having said that, I encourage you to explore each tool to get a feel for how they work. You can then pick one as your default color adjustment tool.

Color Adjustments Using Luminosity Masks

We’ve gone through the color tools you can use in Photoshop for the job.

Now let’s dive in to see how you can apply it using luminosity masks.

colour adjustments luminosity masks
The image we are using for color adjustments

Two Ways To Apply Color Adjustments

Similar to applying any adjustments with luminosity masks:

  • Apply directly onto a luminosity mask
  • Painting a mask technique

By the way, both are great ways to apply color adjustments.


I prefer the painting a mask technique.

I’ll explain why in a minute.

Applying Color Adjustments Directly Onto A Luminosity Mask

Follow these steps:

  1. Create luminosity masks for your image.
  2. Select a luminosity mask that has the selection you need.
  3. Once you see the marching ants, apply it to a color adjustment layer.
  4. Now apply the adjustments with the slider in the adjustment panel.

The advantage of this method is quick and easy.

The drawback:

It affects areas where the luminosity mask bleeds over.

In the example image below, I’ve used this method to increase the saturation using the Hue/Saturation adjustment tool.

As you can see, the increase in saturation affects both the colorful buildings and the rocks.

This wouldn’t be ideal if I only want to increase the saturation of the buildings.

Apply Color Adjustments With Painting A Mask Technique

This is my favorite technique!

Because I can boost the color only in areas I want.

And I don’t have to worry about color bleeding into other areas because of the luminosity mask.

Now here’s what you do:

  1. Create luminosity masks.
  2. Apply it to color adjustments tool. In this case, the Hue/Saturation adjustment tool.
  3. Click on the layer mask of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and fill it with black. Your adjustments should now be masked.
  4. Select a luminosity mask that targets your selection – marching ants appear.
  5. Click on the black layer mask of the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.
  6. Use a white brush to paint over areas you want to apply color adjustments.

For me, this is more ideal because the increase in saturation doesn’t affect the rocks in the background.

Apart from looking more natural, viewers will be less dazzled by the oversaturated rocks.


The key to natural color adjustment without turning the image to look ridiculously saturated is targeted and subtle changes. If you do this via luminosity masks, you’ll be able to achieve good result quick and efficiently without wasiting too much time in post-processing.

For more tutorials on luminosity masks, don’t forget check out the luminosity masks resource page!

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