Phase One introduced layering capabilities into Capture One several years ago, and with each new version it became more and more obvious that this method of editing was the future of the software. The release of Capture One Pro 12 solidifies this concept even further with brand new and highly sophisticated masking capabilities that really do make it possible to have an absurd amount of control over your images. Considering that essentially every adjustment can be assigned to a layer, that ability is beyond significant. Capture One 12 expands upon this further by introducing an entirely new Parametric layering engine which adds new possibilities to an already stacked arsenal for mask creation.

In this post I want to dig into every possible way you can make a mask in Capture One 12, when you might use that method, and maybe show a few ways those methods can be combined. Although there are also Cloning and Healing layer types we will be focusing on the Adjustment layer. Let’s get into it!

Making Masks

The Brush Tool

Yeah, I know. Obvious. Still, we should talk about it because it’s extremely useful.

The humble brush tool, accessed by pressing (B) on your keyboard, navigating to the Layers Tool in the Color, Exposure, or Details tool tabs, or by selecting from the top cursor toolbar, is the fastest way to start making a custom mask. The brush gives you incredible control over where your mask is placed and is completely manual. If you’re familiar with Photoshop or other layer based editors then you’ll be familiar with the brush tool’s customization options like hardness, opacity, and flow.

If you’re used to a stylus and tablet you’ll appreciate the pen pressure and airbrush options, as well as the flow slider which can be manipulated along with opacity to apply a painterly mask by making several passes and building up opacity with each pass, making for a very natural looking application of whatever adjustment you’ve assigned to that layer.

  • Opacity Slider – Controls the strength of each pass. A 50% opacity will apply 50% of a given adjustment per pass.
  • Flow Slider – Controls the rate at which opacity is applied. Less flow allows for more passes and longer brushing before building up to maximum set opacity
  • Airbrush – Clicking and holding (or constantly applying stylus pressure) will gradually increase hardness and flow without multiple passes
  • Use Pen Pressure – Enables dynamic use of stylus by increasing size with pressure. Eraser may also be used by flipping compatible styluses.

Fill Mask

If you’re using the brush tool and have created a closed loop, you can use the Fill Mask option to fill in the remaining area. The Fill Mask option is found by clicking on the ellipses (…) in the Layers tool.

Auto Mask

Cool enough for its own subheading, the auto mask option will find and snap to edges in your composition when passing over them. This works when both adding a mask and subtracting from a mask using the eraser (E). Auto Mask is ideal for architecture and studio work where hard lines are present, but also works with areas of similar color and brightness. However, if you’re not using the benefits of Auto Mask but still have the option checked, you may see Capture One slow down a bit since the software is doing some hardcore math in the background, especially if you’re masking over texture.

The Gradient(s)

The reasons for applying a gradient in post vs. in-camera are many. WAY better control, more accurate color, better sharpness, the list goes on. Capture One Pro 12 now implements a new Parametric Masking Engine which allows for even greater manipulation of a gradient mask after they have been created. We also now have the ability to create circular gradient masks for custom vignettes (yay). Note that the Parametric Masking Engine is not pixel based, allowing the masks to be edited at any time. This also means that adding to the mask with a brush or subtracting with the eraser will require the mask t0 become rasterized, which prevents the gradient from being edited further, so be sure your gradient masks are just the way you want them before rasterizing.

Linear Gradient Mask

Accessed by pressing (G) on your keyboard, navigating to the Layers Tool in the Color, Exposure, or Details tool tabs, or by selecting from the cursor toolbar, the Linear Gradient Mask is applied by clicking and dragging on the image. After application, the mask can be rotated, stretched, contracted, or feathered using your cursor to drag specific parts of the mask. Its important to note that the Parametric Masking Engine works differently from how standard masks are applied, so you’ll need to “rasterize” the mask before using the brush tool or eraser on the same layer.

Radial Gradient Mask

The Radial Gradient Mask is (T) on your keyboard and can also be called upon by navigating to the Layers Tool in the Color, Exposure, or Details tool tabs, or by selecting from the cursor toolbar. Like the Linear Gradient Mask, the Radial Gradient Mask uses the Parametric Masking Engine, and can therefore be manipulated at any time after the mask has been created. Also like the Linear Gradient Mask, a radial gradient must first be rasterized before the brush or eraser tool can be used on the same layer. Just like a linear gradient mask, a radial gradient can be feathered, contracted, or expanded after creation (but not after rasterization).

The Color Editor

A less obvious and surprisingly powerful method for mask creation is the Color Editor tool. Already one of Capture One’s most powerful editing assets, the Color Editor can create a mask, (not to mention ICC profile) based off of a color selection. Perfect for manipulating garments, refining mask placement, or any number of other uses.

To create a mask from a Color Selection, navigate to the Color tool tab and find the Color Editor. In the Advanced tab you’ll click the color picker and select the hue from the image that you’d like to mask. Make sure only the specific hues you’re after are being targeted by clicking the “show selected color range” button in the bottom left of the tool. Adjust the Smoothness slider and drag the color wheel’s anchor points to taste.

After you’ve refined the color range you’d like to create a mask from, click the ellipses of the Color Editor next to the three horizontal lines and select the option to, you guessed it, “create masked layer from selection”. Capture One will need just a little alone time while it makes the mask, but after a few short seconds Capture One will create a new layer with a mask from your specific color selection (and automatically select that new layer). Click (M) on your keyboard to show/hide the mask and make sure its to your liking.

Subtractive Masking

Before you draw with the brush tool or apply a gradient, you always have the option of applying a global mask first and then removing it selectively. In the Layers tool, click and hold the (+) button. You’ll see several options for creating new layers, one of which is  “New Filled Layer”. Apply adjustments as you see fit over the entire image, then selectively erase parts of the mask to reduce the adjustment’s effect in that local area.

This can be a very powerful tool when erasing at opacities lower than 100%, allowing for “atmospheric” edits while having better control over areas of, say, high contrast where the effect may be too heavy handed.

Copy Mask From Another Layer

Pretty self explanatory but unendingly valuable. Useful especially if you like to have different edits on different layers. Particularly powerful when used in conjunction with the Invert Mask option, allowing for expanded control over different parts of the image.

Invert Mask

Makes any masked area unmasked and vice versa while also preserving gradients. Provides a fast and easy way to have independent control over opposite parts of the image. Particularly useful if you’ve isolated a subject in your image that you want specific control over while also wanting independent control over the rest of the image. Simply create a new layer and apply a mask in whatever way you prefer. Create another layer, then click the ellipses (…) at the top right corner of the tool. Select “Copy Mask From” and choose the layer with the mask you’d like to duplicate. Capture One will have copied the mask to your new layer, which you can then invert so that you have independent control over opposite parts of the image.

For example, if you’re photographing jewelry you can create a detailed mask of the object, copy that that mask to a new layer, then invert that mask so you can then edit both the object and the background independently from one another without having to mask around the object twice.

Making Your Masks Better

Capture One offers great control over creating complex masks right off the bat with the Brush tool’s Auto Mask and the Color Editor’s hue based mask making capability. Capture One also provides another set of options for improving your masks even further after they’ve been created. These can be accessed by clicking the ellipses (…) at the top right corner of the Layer Tool.

Layer Opacity

Any layer can have its opacity adjusted using the Layer tool’s Opacity slider. Regardless of the various opacities you may or may not have used when applying a mask to a layer, the global net opacity of the entire layer can be reduced further since it is effecting the layer overall and not the mask within the layer. This is particularly useful when applying stylistic or aesthetic edits with a heavy hand so they can be easily judged, and then bringing the effect down to a palatable strength.

Feather Mask

The Feather Mask option in Capture One will soften the edge of a mask up to 100 pixels. Note that this option effects all of the masks in a given layer.

Refine Mask

Borderline black magic, the Refine Mask option is all about finding edges. The tool will do a pretty incredible job of figuring out where you’ve started drawing your mask and then continuing to fill in complex areas via edge detection. Particularly useful in traditionally difficult edge-masking scenarios like hair selection, the Refine Mask option is one of the most powerful mask adjustment tools available. It is important to note that the Refine Mask option will only work when a mask has already been applied; it will not create a mask on its own.

The Radius slider effects the width in pixels of the mask, so a radius of 100 will allow the refine mask option to feather and detect edges up to 100 pixels, so push it to the right for more edge detection and softer transitions. The right half of the slider is where you’ll see the greatest effect, whereas a smaller radius will apply tighter transitions. Pushing the slider to the right may introduce some very subtle haloing, so use the eraser tool after the first pass of the Refine Mask option. After you’ve cleaned up the edges a bit, use the Refine Mask option again to fill in any outstanding areas.

It’s important to note that the Refine Mask option will effect the entire layer, not just a particular area. It also works best with high contrast, so if you’re working in a very low contrast scenario or with excessive noise you may want just use the Feather Mask option instead. To see exactly how your mask is being refined, it’s a good idea to engage the Grayscale Mask. This option coverts the preview into a black and white representation of your mask, with pure white reflecting your mask with 100% opacity, black representing 0% opacity (no mask at all) and various shades of grey denoting various opacities.

Luminance Masking

One of the newest and most powerful masking options is the new Luminance Masking option. However, unlike the Color Editor’s masking ability, the Luminance Masking option doesn’t create a mask. Rather, the Luma Range, as it is denoted in the software, tells the mask where it is allowed to be, based on a user-defined luminance value.

To use the Luma Range tool, you will need to create a mask over an area where you would like to use the Luma Range tool. After the mask is drawn, you will click the Luma Range button in the Layers Tool. This brings up a window allowing you to adjust the value range that the mask you’ve drawn will adhere to. Any luminance value outside of the range you’ve selected will not be masked.

Using the value range sliders can be an effective way to control transitions, but you can go a step further. The Luma Mask option by default only works with Luminance Values, but you can add edge detection by working with the Sensitivity and Radius slider.   These sliders work together, so it is important to note that the Sensitivity slider will have no effect until a value greater than 0 is applied to the Radius slider.

The Sensitivity slider, especially when heavily applied, works in much the same way as the Refine Mask option. It will add edge detection based on the pixel value you’ve defined in the Radius slider. By applying a radius of, say, 100 pixels, the edge detection, defined by the strength of the Sensitivity slider, will find edges and exclude high contrast lines by up to 100 pixels.

It is also possible to add to the mask while the Luma Masking option is engaged using the brush tool, or erasing the existing mask with the eraser tool. Doing so will reflect the Luma Masking parameters in real time.

Capture One’s masking abilities can be daunting, and truly can be as complex or as simple as you like. Some users won’t use masking at all, while others may have a minimum of 10 layers per image.  As with any technique, you learn best with practice. So take what you will from the above and experiment, fail, rinse, and repeat.