Use Affinity Photo to make complex image enhancements in seconds

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Watch Video: Mask Skills in Affinity Photo

Masking brightness in Affinity Photo (opens in a new tab) is a technique that allows you to focus on different parts of the tonal range – or different ranges of brightness – in order to adjust and enhance areas of your photos. This is especially useful for editing landscapes, as landscapes often have an imbalance between bright areas, like the sky, and darker parts, like a shadowed foreground.

As such, we can target brighter pixels and recover detail, then increase shadows or different color ranges in the scene. Here it allows us to remove overly bright skies, tone down strong blues in the water, and boost greens in the grass.

Best of all, these tonal adjustments can be made in seconds, without the need to paint tedious masks. Instead, we use the brightness information from the image to create our masks. So we can simply load the brightness of the image with a simple keyboard shortcut to immediately target the brightest areas and then start enhancing them without affecting the darker tones. Of course, we could invert the selection if we want to work on the darker details instead.

To push the technique a little further, we can also dive into the three channels that make up our photo – red, green and blue – then load the brightness of the different channels in order to focus on the colors of our photos. Here, it allows us to energize the greens with ease. And because each edit is on a separate adjustment layer, we can fine-tune the overall strength at any time.

Download the starting image here (opens in a new tab) to follow with the image editing tutorial…

1. Load Brightness

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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Open the waterfall image, then go to the Layers panel. Hold Cmd/Ctrl + Alt and click on the layer thumbnail to load the image brightness as a selection. Click the Adjustment icon in the Layers panel and choose Curves. The selection is applied to the Curves layer.

2. Darken the sky

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Press Cmd/Ctrl + D to deselect, then drag down on the curve. Since we targeted the highlights, our adjustment affects them more than the shadows, allowing us to darken the bright sky. Drag the top of the curve further down to make the adjustment work more on the highlights.

3. Paint a mask

(Image credit: James Paterson)

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Our adjustment darkened the highlights in the grass a bit too much, but we can fix that with a quick layer mask. Click the Mask icon in the Layers panel, then grab the Brush Tool and paint black on the foreground to mask the tonal effect in that area.

4. Selectively Change Color Saturation

(Image credit: James Paterson)

(opens in a new tab)

Cmd/Ctrl + Alt + click on the bottom layer thumbnail to load another brightness selection, then click on the Adjustment icon and choose Vibrance. Drag Saturation up to boost colors in highlights without affecting shadows.

5. Improve Greens

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Go to the Channels panel (View > Studio > Channels). The green channel presents the greatest contrast between the grass and the rest of the image. Right-click on it and select Load into Pixel Selection. Create a Curves layer and draw an S-shaped curve to increase the green contrast.

6. Lower the blues

(Image credit: James Paterson)

If the water was too blue, you would click on the blue channel. Lighter areas are included in the selection. Right-click the channel, select Load to Pixel Selection, then re-enable the other channels. Add a Vibrance adjustment layer, then drag down on Saturation to reduce blues.

Read more:

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Best photo editing software (opens in a new tab)
Best Online Photography Courses (opens in a new tab)


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