In this article, you can read my review of Lumi32, a new Photoshop plugin that can create incredibly accurate 32 Bit luminosity masks.
As time goes by, camera sensors become more and more advanced and capable of capturing images in challenging light conditions. Even smartphones are now able to take excellent pictures with image quality more than acceptable for most of the users, something quite unthinkable only a few years ago.
For professional photographers, however, even if the gap between consumer and professional sensors has been reduced noticeably, the differences are still substantial, at least for now.
This gap is quite evident especially when the contrast in the scene is very high, such as during sunrises, sunsets, and in cityscapes at night. In these particular lighting conditions, even the most expensive sensors have their limits. According to some studies, in fact, the human eye is capable of perceiving and processing correctly about 20 stops of dynamic range while the more advanced cameras are limited for the moment at about 15 stops.
A stop is the doubling or halving of the amount of light. For example, if you hear a photographer say that he will increase his exposure by 1 stop, it simply means that he will capture twice as much light as the previous shot.
There are two main ways to overcome this limit. The first consists of using graduated filters in front of the lens that compensates for the high contrast by darkening a part of it. The second way consists of taking several pictures using different exposures and then blending them in post-production (but you can also combine the two techniques).
Graduated filters are excellent in some situations but in others completely unusable (as for example in the photo above where there is no clear separation between the foreground and the sky), not to mention that using them means carrying with you additional equipment and therefore weight.
Exposures blending, on the other hand, allows you to capture scenes with any dynamic range regardless of the type of scene you are shooting.
The most used technique to blend two or more exposures seamlessly is the use of luminosity masks.
Luminosity masks allow you to make very specific selections in Photoshop based on how bright or dark an area is. For example, with this type of selection, you can simply replace the lights of the streets overexposed with those correctly exposed in the darkest image.
The “negative” aspect of using this technique is that it requires a good knowledge of Photoshop. Nothing too difficult but for beginners, this approach may be a bit too complex. Fortunately in recent years were developed different plugins that can automate the work of creating masks and learning to use them is quite simple.
One of the best plugins I’ve ever tried is Raya Pro. In this article, though I review Lumi32 a Photoshop panel to create luminosity masks that is quite innovative. Lumi32 has been produced by Jimmy McIntyre with the help of a professional software developer. Jimmy is the same photographer behind Raya Pro. I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity of trying the panel a few days before the official release.
Lumi32: the review
In this video, you can find an explanation of how Lumi32 works.
Lumi32, as its name suggests, is a plugin that creates 32 Bit masks (even if you work in 8 Bit or 16 Bit in Photoshop). The only time this changes is if you make an active selection with the mask (marching ants) because all active selections in Photoshop are 8 Bit. This is a Photoshop limitation.
Installing the plugin is very simple. You will find an executable file (Lumi32 works on both Mac and PC) that in a few seconds will install the software. To activate it in Photoshop go to Window-Extensions-Lumi32 or Filter-Jimmy McIntyre-Lumi32. Lumi32 works on all versions of Photoshop CC.
The workflow is quite simple. Keep in mind that you should be already familiar with luminosity masks if you want to use Lumi32. If you want to learn how to use them well I suggest you take a look at this video course, prepared always by Jimmy McIntyre. Lumi32 is not one of those simple Lightroom presets so popular now on Instagram. It’s a powerful tool to create portfolio-quality pictures.
The first thing to do is to select a mask. There are presets for selecting lights, shadows, and mid-tones using the luminosity masks and you can also select masks using RGB channels, saturation, or by clicking on Interactive Picking that allows you to select a specific color and build a mask around it.
The image will turn black and white and that means that you have made the selection and you can start adjusting the parameters to improve it. This is where you’ll start to see the difference between Lumi32 and all the other plugins specialized in creating luminosity masks.
The reason why Lumi32 makes better selections compared to other plugins is that the calculations to generate the masks are not done in Photoshop but by a proprietary algorithm created specifically for this plugin.
The selection made by clicking for example on a generic Brights1 mask will generate a similar mask to the one created using a Brights1 in Instamask (part of the Raya Pro panel). But by moving the sliders Tone, Range and Amplification you can change the selection and it will be much more accurate than the other plugins such as Instamask. You can reduce the selection by clicking on Zonepick where you’ll find 11 different settings.
As you adjust the selections you will notice that the color of the histogram inside the panel will change. There are 3 colors: blue, green, and red:
- Blue indicates areas of the image that are selected
- Green indicates areas that are partially selected
- Red indicates areas not selected.
It is a useful reference to check immediately how the selections affect different portions of the image. Once you have completed creating the selection you can click “Apply” and the mask will be applied to the layer below.
A very nice function is the “Image” button at the bottom of the panel. The photo will be converted into a black and white image equal to the preview of the selected mask.
- Remember that generally speaking luminosity masks should be built around the basic exposure
- 90% of the time you will need only 2 or at most 3 exposures. There’s no need to work on 5 or more exposures as some photographers do
- If the final mask is still too strong simply try to reduce the opacity of the layer
- To ensure that the exposures are blended correctly and without any halo or distortion in the image, don’t create completely black and white masks. It’s better to have a mask with some grey parts (partially selected areas) where the two exposures will be blended
- For best results, I suggest you convert the different exposures into Smart Objects and work using a technique called “matching exposures”. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I recommend you to check the video series The Art of Photography (the same that I suggested previously). This technique really makes a difference in some cases
Raya Pro vs Lumi32
Lumi32 is not designed to replace Raya Pro. Raya Pro is a complete plugin that already includes a panel dedicated to the creation of luminosity masks: Instamask. Furthermore, Raya Pro has many more features than Lumi32 and is suitable for the entire workflow (as I explained here).
That said, Lumi32 allows you to bring the creation of luminosity masks to a level never seen before, and considering the price, there is no reason not to use both panels. If you really have to choose one of the two I’d recommend Raya Pro.
If you are a luminosity masks pro, with Lumi32 you can have even better results than with Raya Pro.
You can download Lumi32 from this link.
If this plug-in is too advanced for you, try taking a look at the tutorial I wrote on how to use Quick Blend, a very simple but powerful feature of Raya Pro to blend several exposures.
Here you can find my portfolio. Some of the images were post-processed using Raya Pro. If you want to learn how to post-process your pictures without using any third-party plugin but only the functions provided by Photoshop I recommend you take a look at the video series Photographing the World by Elia Locardi. Don’t miss this article where I explain how to sell your pictures.