POWERFUL Photoshop Masking Technique (Detail Mask)


In this Photoshop tutorial, you will learn how to create a detail mask using non-destructive techniques.

A detail mask allows you to target the detail and edges of a photo. It is very similar to the mask in the Sharpening Tool’s Masking slider found in Camera Raw or Lightroom.

This tutorial is inspired by a live audience question that I received during a masking class I taught at CreativeLive’s Photoshop week.

Bruce asked:

“Is there a way to make a mask based on detailed density? That mask exists in Lightroom for the Sharpening tool. But I’d like to use it in Photoshop, but can’t figure out if that exists.”

In other words, can you use the Sharpening Mask in Camera Raw or Lightroom in Photoshop?

The short answer is no. But we can replicate that effect in Photoshop using filters. The resulting effect could then be used as mask to target the details in a photo.

The technique that I showed during the live presentation was good, but I’ve come up with a better workflow.

In this tutorial, I will show you both methods that I’ve come up with to answer this questions.

We will use the image below to go through both methods!

Starter Portrait

How the Sharpening Masking Slider Works

In both Lightroom and Camera Raw, under the Details tab, you can adjust the sharpness of a photo. The Amount slider increases sharpness, and it affects the whole image equally.

If you would like to limit the sharpening effect to the edges of the photo, then you can use the Masking slider.

Camera Raw

Unfortunately, you really can’t see what the sharpening is applied to when you drag the Masking slider. But if you hold Alt (Mac: Option) as you drag the slider, you will see the mask overlay.

Just like a Layer Mask, black hides, and white reveal. The areas that are white will have a sharpening effect applied to them while the black areas will remain unaffected.

This detail mask is what Bruce was referring to with his question. How can we get this mask into Photoshop?

Make a Detail Mask Using The Find Edges Filter

I didn’t have much time to think when the question was asked, but I came up with a solution that gave good results.

I knew that we couldn’t export the mask from Lightroom or Camera Raw into Photoshop. However, we could replicate the effect and turn that into a mask.

The Masking slider was simply finding the edges of a photo, and I know that Photoshop has a filter that does just that.

Step 01: Use the Find Edges Filter

As the name suggests, the Find Edges filter allows you to find edges in a photo much like the Masking slider.

You can go into Filter > Stylize > Find Edges.

This filter does not have setting that you can adjust, but it gives you great resutls.

Find Edges Filter

Step 02 – Desaturate the Image

The result is pretty good, but it has two problems.

The first problem is that the effect contains color. But we need a black and white image so that we can use it as a Layer Mask.

We can easily desaturate the layer by pressing Ctrl Shift U (Mac: Command Shift U).

Desaturate Image

Step 03 – Invert The Pixels

The second problem is that we want an inversion of the result.

Remember that with a Layer Mask, white reveals and black conceals. So, we want the edges to be white so that they are selected. The rest of the image should be black so that those areas are not selected.

Then to invert colors, to make white black, and black white, you can press Ctrl I (Mac: Command I).

Invert Pixels

Step 04 – Adjust The Effect If Necessary

The downside of the Find Edges filter is that it does not give you options to adjust the intensity of the effect. If you would like to adjust the intensity of the effect, then you can use the Levels Adjustment.

Go to Edit > Adjustment > Levels and adjust your image accordingly.

Step 05 – Load the Bright Pixels As a Selection

Once you are happy with your image, you will need to load it as a selection.

Luckily this is really easy to do. Simply press Ctrl Alt 2 (Mac: Command Option 2) to load the bright pixels of the image as a selection.

You will see the marching ants around the bright pixels of the image, and you can use that selection to create a Layer Mask that will target the detail in the photo.

Make a Detail Mask Using The Glowing Edges Filter

Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I’ve come up with a better way of creating a Detail Maks. It is a non-destructive method that gives you more flexibility. The only downside is that you have to use 8-bit images.

Step 01: Convert Your Image Into a Smart Object

The first step is to convert your image into a Smart Object to work non-destructively.

A Smart Object is a container that allows you to make changes and adjustments to a layer (or multiple layers) without destroying the pixels. This means that you can always come back and make changes to the adjustments or remove them entirely.

To make a layer into a Smart Object, right-click on the layer from the Layers Panel and select Convert To Smart Object.

Step 02: Duplicate the Smart Object

Then duplicate the Smart Object by pressing Ctrl J (Mac: Command J).

We will use the duplicate Smart Object (the one on top) to apply the effects that will create the Detail Mask.

Duplicate Smart Object

Step 03: Desaturate The Smart Object

We need to desaturate the image, but the keyboard shortcut to desaturate layers that we used in the first example will not work with a Smart Object.

Select the duplicate Smart Object, then go to Image > Adjustment > Black and White.

Black and White Adjustment

Step 04: Apply The Glowing Edges Filter

In the previous example, we used the Find Edges filter which gave us a good result, but it didn’t give us control over the effect.

Photoshop has a similar filter called Glowing Edges which also finds edges, but it gives you three sliders to control how the effect is applied.

Glowing Edges

Go into Filter > Filter Gallery. Under the Stylize folder select Glowing Edges.

Use the three sliders to get an effect that you are happy with.

Note: The filter Galley only works with 8-bit images. The Filter Gallery option will be grayed out if you are using 16 or 32-bit images.

Step 05: Adjust the Brightness If Necessary.

If the sliders in the Glowing Edges filter did not give you the result that you were looking for, then you can use levels to adjust the brightness. Go into Image > Adjustment > Levels, and you can fine-tune those edges with the sliders.

Step 05: Fine-Tune Adjustments and Filters If Necessary

The advantage of working non-destructively with a Smart Object is that you can edit any filter or adjustment if you need to.

From the layers panel, you will see that your Smart Object contains the label of all the adjustments and filters that you have applied. To adjust any one of them, double-click on the label to open that adjustment or filter.

Edit Smart Object Adjustments and Filters

Step 06: Load the Bright Pixels As a Selection

Once you are happy with your image, you will need to load it as a selection.

Just like in the previous example, you can simply press Ctrl Alt 2 (Mac: Command Option 2) to load the bright pixels of the image as a selection.

You will see the marching ants around the bright pixels of the image, and you can use that selection to create a Layer Mask.

If you can not remember the keyboard shortcut, you can also go into the channels panel and Ctrl click (Mac: Command-Click) on any one of the channel thumbnails. They are all the same since we are working with a black and white image.

Once you have a selection active, you can turn it into a Layer Mask, or apply it to an Adjustment Layer.

How Will You Use The Detail Mask?

I’m not sure how Bruce was going to use the detail mask, but I am interested to know if you’ll have a use for it.

Let me know in the comments below if you intend on using this technique in your projects.

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