The Mask Ribbon Bar

In Photoshop and Elements, masks provide a way to change one part of your image while leaving the rest of your image untouched.  Masking is a very effective procedure, and in some cases it is the only effective procedure.  But masking is a multiple step process in Photoshop.  Because of this, most people do not use masks very often.  They are just too darn time intensive.  So, instead of being a workhorse, masks often sit in a neglected corner of the Photoshop stable, gathering virtual dust.

This is Curvmeister’s Mask Ribbon Bar.  It supports various commands to select the type of mask, and to invert or blur the mask.  You may also click the HiLite Mask button, on the lower left, to make the mask visible on the image as a colored overlay.

Mask commands are duplicated in the Preview Window’s right click menu.  Alt > and alt < will rotate through the possible mask combinations.  You may also use the toolbar’s customization capability to add masking commands to a toolbar, or attach your own keyboard commands to masks.

Example: Darkening the Sky

Here is an example where I used a mask to solve a problem that almost every outdoor photograph shares.  The sky in the leftmost image, like most skies, would look better if it were darker and more saturated. It’s not always easy to find the right mask for the job, and many people simply resort to painting the mask.  The left image is the original, the mask appears in the middle, and the final image, with sky darkened and saturated using standard curve moves in Lab, is on the right.  Let’s look at how this was done in Curvemeister.

Using the Mask Carte to Select a Mask

Using Curvemeister’s Mask Carte, we look for a channel that has contrast where we need it.  The Lightness channel of Lab (marked L above) is a close contender, and usually the choice I reach for first, but it’s obvious from the MaskCarte that the dark areas of the clouds will be dark in the mask.  If they are dark in the mask, they will be darkened less than the brighter areas of cloud, causing an undesirable loss of contrast.  Not good.  At a glance, I can see that the Hue channel of HSB has more definition, however this channel was too noisy.  So I decide to go with the b channel of Lab.

Using the Ribbon Bar to Select a Mask

You may also select the mask channel directly, by clicking on the appropriate button on the Select Mask section of the Mask Ribbon.  The two buttons in the upper left are used to rotate through the masks in order, including inverted versions of the masks.

Clicking the Reset button will clear all of the mask settings, including Mask Blur and Mask Invert.  Curvemeister can also use an alpha channel, which you have previously prepared in Photoshop, as a mask.

Curving and Inverting the Mask

The mask must be white for the parts of the image that must be modified, so I clicked the Invert Mask button.  Then I used an almost straight vertical curve (near the cursor arrow in this illustration) to bump the contrast.

Note: When setting a curve like this, be sure to select just the mask curve, and extend the window if necessary, to get as much curve elbow room as possible.  Curves are often very simple for a mask, involving moving just the end points.  Once you have the slope about right, select both of the end points, so that you can move the entire curve right and left at the same time.  In some cases, the mask should not be pure black and white.  If that is the case, move the endpoints in a vertical direction to soften the mask a bit.

Curvemeister also provides several options to blur the mask at this point, with just a mouse click.

The Mask section of the Mask Ribbon Bar has buttons for hi-lighting the mask so that it is visible on the main image, and for inverting the mask. When the mask is inverted, protected and exposed areas are swapped. The areas that were formerly protected by the mask are now available for curving, and vice-versa.

It is easy to compare masks.  If I wanted to compare with the Hue channel, it’s just a matter of one click to go back to the Mask Carte and another click to select the Hue channel.  Try doing that in any program other than Curvemeister!

In Summary:

Curvemeister solves several problems with using masks, with the result that masks are much faster and easier to use.

  • *The Mask Carte is a lightning fast method of choosing between channels for a promising mask, and the ability to curve, invert, and blur the mask makes it easy to get the final result you need.

  • Backtracking, comparing the effect of different mask channels, and changing your mind, is easy.

  • Add to that Curvemeister’s renowned ability to change color spaces at the drop of a hat, and you have unheard of flexibility in getting the colors you want, where you want them.