How To Apply Colour Adjustments With Luminosity Masks

By YaopeyLuminosity masks, Tutorials

Apart from tonal adjustments, one of the commonest way of using luminosity masks is color adjustments.

I know what you’re thinking.

“Why do I need luminosity masks for color adjustments?”

“I can just apply directly with HSL.”

I totally agree with you, BUT…

With luminosity masks, you have much GREATER CONTROL on the adjustments that you make.

Photoshop Tools For Color Adjustments

Compared to tonal adjustments, there are more than 2 tools you can use for color adjustments:

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

These are the standard tools that can be found 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.


vibranceThe 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 gray 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 color of the image without affecting the skin tone.

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


hue saturation lightnessHue/Saturation and Lightness a is versatile color adjustments 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 Adjustments

I use these 2 adjustments 90% of the time.

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. 🙂


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
Image we’re using for color adjustments

2 Ways To Apply Color Adjustments

Similar to applying tonal 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 want to apply color adjustments.
  3. Once you’ve got the marching ants, click on a color adjustment tool.
  4. Now apply the adjustments with the slider in the adjustment panel.


The advantage of this way is quick and easy.

The drawback:

It affects areas where luminosity mask has bled 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 affected both the colorful houses and the rocks.

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

Apply Color Adjustments With Painting A Mask Technique

This is my favorite technique.

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

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 a color adjustments tool. In this case, the Hue/Saturation adjustments tool.
  3. Click on the layer mask of the Hue/Saturation adjustments 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 adjustments layer.
  6. Use a white brush and paint over the areas you want to apply color adjustments.



I feel this is better because the saturation doesn’t affect the rocks behind.

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


Applying color with luminosity masks is very similar to applying tonal adjustments.

Painting a masks technique gives you more flexibility and control over applying a mask directly onto an adjustment layer.


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