Working with Masks

Aurora HDR™ Support

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The use of masks allow you to hide or obscure parts of an image. Masks are useful so you can combine the contents or results of one layer with your primary image. Layer Masks allow you to use powerful painting tools to selectively enhance your images. The more you work on combining multiple images, and editing specific areas, the more you’ll use masks.  


Creating a Layer Mask

If you’d like to use a mask on a layer, the first step is to add one.  Any layer (even the base) can have a mask.  Masking the base layer blends the HDR photo with the original tone-mapped image.  Masking additional layers blends with the images down below.

To add a mask:

  1. Open a photo or bracket series within Aurora HDR 2108.
  2. Select the desired layer. By default, layers and adjustment layers have no mask. 
  3. Click the Edit Mask icon. New controls open at the top of the screen. The Painting mode makes it possible to create a layer mask upon which a layer effect will be applied. In this way, you can selectively edit the image. In this mode, the cursor turns into a brush. Press the left mouse button on the image to begin drawing. The toolbar contains several controls which we’ll explore next. 

Painting and Erasing Masks 

Once you’ve started editing a mask, you can now add or subtract using a variety of tools. Remember, to edit a mask, click the Edit Mask button to the right of a layer’s name. Once you’ve clicked, a new toolbar appears.  Let’s explore each control.

Global Mask Controls 

The first three controls affect a mask’s properties globally.

  • Visibility Icon (Eyeball).
    This controls the visibility of the mask.  It makes it easy to view the mask as a rubylith (red) overlay. You may also continue drawing while the layer mask is shown, for even more precision. 
  • Clear Button (Trashcan). This option hides the results of the filter entirely.  Use the paint brush or gradient tools to add details back to the image.
  • Options Button (Gear). This contains additional features related to operating with the layer. Clicking this icon opens a contextual menu with additional options for working with the layer.
    • Invert. Inverts any mask that you’ve created so that its opacity and transparency values are reversed.
    • Fill. This option attaches a mask filled with white that reveals all details of the filter.  Use the Brush tool to paint with black and subtract from the mask.
    • Copy. Copies the current mask to the clipboard. To use this, create a new layer and paste it into the new layer.
    • Paste. Pastes the current mask stored on the clipboard for use on another layer.
    • Density. Controls the transparency of pixels outside of a mask so the overall the mask fades into the background better.
    • Feather. Blurs the edges of a mask to more naturally fade the mask adjustments into the image.

Mask Tool Controls

The next controls affect how you can add or subtract from your mask.  Aurora HDR 2018 offers three tools that you can use to paint a mask. 

  • Brush. Use a paintbrush to add or subtract from your mask.
  • Radial Mask. Creates an elliptical shape to blend between affected and unaffected areas.
  • Gradient Mask. Creates a linear blend between affected and unaffected areas. 


Using a Brush Mask

The first type of mask you can create is made by using a brush. This is the default mode when entering Edit Mask mode. Once you’ve chosen Brush from the Tools menu, you’ll see additional useful controls.

The Brush can be used in either Paint mode or Erase mode to add to or subtract from areas of the mask. Clicking on the Paint option will add white areas to the mask.  These areas will be preserve the current layer.  Brushing with Erase mode is handy for “trimming” overspray of the mask and making your selection more accurate.


To control a brush, click the Brush Settings dropdown menu (it’s next to the Erase option).  In this window, you can configure all the paint brush settings such as Size, Opacity and Softness. In the center of the grid there are various presets for quick selection. If you have a pen tablet attached, you can also configure Pen Pressure, Radius and Opacity levels.

Here’s how to use the Masking Brush tool.

  1. Open an image or bracket series in Aurora HDR 2018.
  2. Click the Add Layer button (+ symbol) or choose Layers > Add New Adjustment Layer.
    Let’s add an obvious effect so its easy to view.  
  3. On the adjustment layer, set Saturation to -100 and HDR Structure: Amount to 100.
  4. Create a Layer mask by clicking the Edit Mask button.
    You now have two options to decide how the initial mask is created.
    • Paint. Clicking with the Paint tool fills the mask with black (hiding all of its results).  As you paint and add strokes they are added in white.  This method allows you to brush and add the results of the Adjustment layer selectively.
    • Erase. Clicking with the Erase tool fills the mask with white (showing all of its results).  As you paint and add strokes they are added in black.  This method allows you to brush and subtract the results of the Adjustment layer selectively.  The erased areas will show through to the image below. 
  1. Click the Visibility icon (eyeball) to view the Mask.6.
  2. Brush with the paint tool to add the results to the layer selectively.
  3. Continue painting the mask to get the desired results.  Use the toolbar at the top of the window to control the behavior of the Masking Brush tool. Click the Brush drop-down menu to control the shape and dynamics of the brush.
    • Size. Controls the diameter of the brush.  You can also use the keyboard shortcuts [ and ] to make the brush smaller or larger.
    • Softness. Controls how much blending there is between the center of the brush and its edges.  This can create a more gradual blend on any mask.  You can also use the keyboard shortcuts of Shift + [ or ] to make the brush harder or softer.
    • Opacity. This controls the overall opacity in the brush.  A brush at 100% has full impact.  A brush set to 50% will only add or subtract half of its strength.
    • Presets. In the center of the grid there are various presets for quick selection.
    • Pen Pressure. If you have a pen tablet attached, you can also configure Pen Pressure, Radius and Opacity levels. This allows you to draw on the tablet and have the force applied to the pen transfer to the size and density of the brush.
  1. Click and paint on the canvas to modify the selected mask (layer or adjustment layer).
  1. Toggle the mask visibility off by clicking the Visibility icon (eyeball) in the toolbar.  
  2. To refine the mask even more, click the Gear icon the Density and Feathering for the mask.  This can control how the mask applies and help blend its results more.
    • Density. Controls the transparency of pixels outside of a mask so the overall the mask fades into the background better.
    • Feather. Blurs the edges of a mask to more naturally fade the mask adjustments into the image. 
  1. If you choose to remove a mask, just click the Trash can icon in the toolbar to remove it. 

Using a Radial Mask

The use of a Radial Gradient Mask is a quick, easy way to highlight the sun, a face or anything else on your photo.  You can create an ellipse or circular shape that makes its easy to create a gradual blend between two states.  It can be used with an image layer to add ramping transparency.  For an adjustment layer, it’s useful to create a blend between the modified and original state. 

Here’s how to use the Radial Mask tool

  1. Create a Layer or Adjustment Layer mask as previously discussed in this chapter.  
  2. Click the Edit Mask button on the layer.
  3. Select the Radial Mask option from the Tools dropdown. 
  4. Click and drag to create a circular gradient.  
  5. Click the Visibility button in the top toolbar to make it easier to visualize the gradient. 
  6. The tool offers simple controls to refine the gradient.
    • Drag the middle of the gradient (the dot) to place its center.
    • Drag the inside circle’s radius to affect the size of the gradient.
    • Drag the outside circle’s radius to affect the feathering of the gradient. 
    • Drag a handle on the outside circle to adjust the aspect ratio to create an ellipse shape.
    • Drag outside the outer circle to rotate the gradient mask. 
  1. You can change the mode of the mask if you need to change how a mask is applied by clicking the Invert button. By default the Radial Gradient mask that is created will “protect” the center of the circle/oval and any enhancements will be applied outside of the inner circle. Click this button to invert the mask so that effects will be applied TO the inner circle.
  1. When satisfied with the mask, click the Done button.  
  2. If using an Adjustment Layer, adjust the Filter controls as needed.  The mask will control how its  results are applied. If using an image layer, you can control the opacity and blending mode of the layer.

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TIP

You can edit the results of a Radial mask by clicking the Edit Mask button.  This lets you add or subtract from the mask using the Brush tool for greater control over the mask.

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Using a Gradient Mask

The Gradient Mask Tool is useful for creating a gradual blend between two states.  It can be used with an image layer to add ramping transparency.  For an Adjustment Layer, it’s useful to create a blend between the modified and original state. The Gradient Mask is a favorite tool of landscape photographers that allows you to enhance images very smoothly with effects only applied to the Gradient.

Here’s how to use the Gradient Mask tool:

  1. Create a Layer or Adjustment Layer mask as previously discussed in this chapter.  
  2. Click the Edit Mask button on the layer.
  3. Select the Gradient Mask option from the Tools dropdown. 
  4. Click and drag to create a linear gradient.  
  5. Click the Visibility button in the top toolbar to make it easier to visualize the gradient. 
  1. The tool offers simple controls to refine the gradient.
    • Drag the top bar or bottom bar to expand or contract the gradient.
    • Drag the middle dot to position the gradient. 
    • Drag the bottom bar to move the end of the gradient
    • Click and drag just outside the center point to rotate the gradient mask. 
    • Drag a handle on the outside circle to adjust the aspect ratio to create an ellipse shape.
    • Drag outside the outer circle to rotate the gradient mask.
  1. When satisfied with the mask, click the Done button. 

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TIP

You can edit the results of a Linear mask by clicking the Edit Mask button.  This lets you add or subtract from the mask using the Brush tool for greater control over the mask.

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Luminosity Masks

A Luminosity Mask is a fast and easy way to create a new mask based on the brightness of image pixels.  When selected, the command will fill the active layer with a mask based on the brightness of image pixels. The transparency for the layer is directly related to the brightness of the pixels.

This command works very well to mask an overlaid image such as a cloud or texture layer. You can also mask a copy of a layer to enhance only part of an image. For example, if the sky and clouds are bright, you can create an exact mask only for that area of the image and then enhance them.

Heres how to create a Luminosity Mask:

  1. Open a photo or bracket series within Aurora HDR 2018.
  2. In the Layers controls click the + button and choose the Add New Image Layer option.
    In this example a texture layer was added.
  3. For the desired layer, right-mouse click on layer’s name to reveal the context sensitive menu for the Layer. 
  4. Choose Mask > Create Luminosity Mask from the contextual menu to make the Luminosity  Mask. You can also choose the Mask > Create Luminosity Mask menu from the top menubar.
    A new mask is created based upon the brightness values of the image.
  5. If the mask is showing unwanted areas, you can right-mouse click on layer’s name and choose Invert Mask > Invert.
  6. You can also re-run the Create Luminosity Mask multiple times to generate different masks each time.
  7. Use the layer’s blending mode and opacity sliders to blend the layer to taste. 

Masking Options

Here are some extra techniques you can use when masking a layer or adjustment layer.

  • While masking or erasing, right-clicking the mouse causes a context window of parameter settings of the brush, and includes additional controls for pen pressure sensitivity.
  • For handy reference, in the Layers panel on the upper right side of the Side Panel, you’ll see a thumbnail image of the current mask.
  • To quickly switch between Paint and Erase modes, use a shortcut key X.
  • To quickly change the Diameter of the brush, use the shortcut keys [ and ]. This is very convenient and greatly speeds up brush work. 
  • To quickly change the Softness of the brush, use the shortcut keys Shift + [ and Shift + ].
  • If you hold down the space bar in Painting mode you can switch to Move the image mode.  This is very convenient when zoomed in for detailed brush strokes.Crop & Transform a Photo

Directly out of a camera, your digital photos will likely not be sized to the exact dimensions you need.  Between different shaped screens, web pages, social networks, and prints its often common to change the shape and size of an image. Inside of Aurora HDR 2018 you have options such as cropping which changes the shape of a photo, and transforming which scales the image inside the canvas. You can use these choices individually or in combination to achieve the desired results. Additionally, a photo can be transformed to counter lens issues.

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