The pixel bending fight of the year!

I get this question all the time, “Blake, what is the difference between using Blend If and Luminosity Masking?”  It is a great question, and my answer usually goes something like this:

Luminosity Masking and Blend If are, by their nature, very similar.  Luminosity Masking is a snapshot of a selection while Blend If can be used to make the same selection but will hybridly change based on the luminance values below it.

And that my friend is how you lose the audience in a heartbeat!  It sounds confusing when you say it like that.  It can be tough to wrap your head around a selection that changes based on the luminance values beneath it, especially if you are used to traditional masked selections.

Luminosity Masks Blend If 1

Luminosity Masks are great for making extremely accurate selections of your images.  They can be used to segregate tones and colors in your images so they can be modified individually without affecting other parts of the photo.  They are also great because you can very easily see what is being affected in your image by previewing the mask by pressing ALT(Option on a Mac).

Blend If, while normally looked at as a Layer Style modifier, can also be used like Luminosity Masks.  If you familiarize yourself with tonal pixel values ranging from 0-255 you can break your image down into tonal zones and protect areas of your photo from being affected by a modification or segregate zones similar to Luminosity Masks.  Unfortunately, they are difficult to preview on their own which usually confuses the user.  However, if a layer has blend if settings in place, the selection you created with the blend if adjustment changes based on the luminance values beneath it.

Example of Blend If in Action

In this example, the control is in red.  A layer with Blend If applied to protect the entire image except for the Highlights.  The Curve under it is a variable adjustment, as it increases the Blend If adjustment grows as the highlights get brighter and decrease as the highlights diminish.

Is one technique better than the other?

Absolutely not!  They each have their advantages and can work very well together.  Oh, wait, sorry… you came here for a fight.  I regret to inform you that before the epic battle the two were hanging out in the locker room and instead of arguing, found out that they worked very well together and called off the pixel bashing competition.

There is good news, though, in this tutorial, we will explore the basics of both Luminosity Masks and Blend If and then show you how you can have even more control over your images while you edit.  In this “epic battle,” everyone wins!


Grab the Actions in this tutorial!

It is imperative that you experiment with this technique quite a bit to gain a solid understanding of the differences between Luminosity Masks and Blend If.  I would implore you to download these Actions and start experimenting today!

Blake Rudis
f.64 Academy and f.64 Elite are the brainchildren of Blake Rudis. While he is a landscape photographer, he is most passionate about post-processing images in Photoshop and mentoring others.

For Blake, it's all about the art and process synergy. He dives deep into complex topics and makes them easy to understand through his outside-the-box thinking so that you can use these tricks in your workflow today!
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