When I first started transitioning from HDR to Exposure Blending, I created my luminosity masks by hand. It is not difficult for those who have done this, but it is a tedious task. I always try and simplify my editing process as much as possible, wherever I can.
At first, that meant creating actions that would make all my luminosity masks. The action would create masks covering the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows. For essential luminosity masks, this is a great process. But when it comes to manipulating those masks, you are back to a manual process. Keeping organized when creating so many masks is also essential. If you forget to name the masks, it can become a big mess very quickly.
Why Should You Be Using A Plugin Like Raya Pro
The solution to the above problem lies in the humble photoshop plugin. In truth, photoshop plugins can simplify and automate almost anything in photoshop. You will find plugins covering all photography genres, from luminosity masks to portraits photography. They help by automating photoshop tasks that are too complicated to remember. Or tasks that are too time-consuming to do manually every time you edit a photo.
Raya Pro Overview
Jimmy McIntyre over at Shutter Evolve created Raya Pro. It started as a photoshop plugin to help create luminosity masks. But over time, the panel has evolved into much more. You can now use it to simplify many different tasks relating to landscape photography.
In my mind, you can categorize the panels in Raya Pro into two categories. First are the panels that will help you create and manipulate luminosity masks. The second group is panels that you can use to help achieve your artistic visions for your image.
Raya Pro Hub
The first panel in Raya Pro is the HUB. The purpose of this panel is to perform some common tasks like Aligning or Stacking multiple images. You can also create two very basic masks from the HUB, one for the Highlights and one for the Shadows. You also have the option of refining those masks with a levels Adjustment.
Another thing you will find on all the panel is a link to a Tutorial for that panel as well as a toggle to turn tooltips on and off.
As Raya Pro started as a panel to create luminosity masks, you would think that it is quite advanced in this area. And you would be right. Raya Pro has not one but three panels dedicated to creating masks. Let’s look at them, starting from the most basic to the most advanced one.
Quick Blend is the easiest of the three blending panels to use. It is a great place to start for people that are new to exposure blending.
You perform the blending by adjusting the highlights or shadows of your image. The slider uses the color channels in your image as the basis for the blending. The underlying functionality used by this panel is photoshop’s Blend If. It is worth noting that Blend If is not a mask, and it is applied directly to your layer.
At the bottom of the panel, you will also find the option to create a Gradient mask and refine that mask. This is a simple mask, and using the panel is nothing more than a convenience. You can create the same mask using the gradient tool in photoshop.
This panel gives you a little bit more control over creating and refining your mask. It is intended for those who have a basic understanding of luminosity masks. I would suggest you start here if you are currently creating luminosity masks manually.
The panel consists of two different sections. You don’t have to use both sections to create your mask, though.
Mask Creation Section
The first section in the panel will help you create a mask for your selected layer. The first thing you need to do is select if you are creating a mask targeting the highlights’ or shadows. If you have ever created luminosity masks, you will know that you create quite a few, around six masks for the highlights, six masks for the shadows, and four to six for the mid-tones. What you will notice when using the plugin is that it will create the six corresponding masks.
Once created, you can use the number buttons to select the appropriate mask. You can cycle through the mask to ensure you select the correct one. If you want to refine the mask, you can select Edit in the panel. This will open a levels adjustment to refine the mask. When you are happy with your mask, you click Select in the panel to apply that mask to your layer.
Fix Dark Blend Section
Suppose you have ever used luminosity masks before you may have run into the problem of seeing grey halos. This can occur in areas of high contrast when using luminosity masks. This happens when using two exposures that have a big difference in exposure values.
This section will help you to fix this issue with relative ease. It is not as good as knowing how to do it manually, though. First, you click the Fix button to generate the different masks. Then you can select one of the nine generated masks that best fixes this problem. Pay close attention to the affected areas as well as the blended areas. You may have to make a compromise between them when selecting your mask.
InstaMask is the meat and potatoes of Raya Pro. This is why you buy this plugin. The other panels in this plugin are welcome additions, but you won’t necessarily buy the plugin for them. Like the other panels, InstaMask is also split into different sections. But unlike Precision Mask, you need to use all three sections to create your desired mask.
At the top of the panel, there are some buttons to perform common tasks. These are tasks related to working with luminosity masks and ones you will often do. This section is again what I call a convenience section. You can do things like switching between your mask and layer. You can align layers, creating layer masks, or hide and deselection your selection.
Mask Creation Section
The section should look familiar already. You will notice some extra functionality compared to Precision Mask, though. At the top, you have the option of creating a mask by selecting an area based on either luminosity or color. In both cases, you can also increase or decrease the selection size.
Some more options in this section include creating a Saturation mask. Saturation masks are useful when trying to target the most saturated parts of your image. You will also find an option to create an Edge Mask that is useful when sharpening your image.
Mask Refinement Section
Moving on from creating your mask, the next section deals with refining your mask. The sliders are the part that you will be using the most. The sliders allow you to adjust the selection of highlights and shadows. You can also shift the mid-tones towards either your shadows or highlights. Using these sliders, you can perform tasks like sky replacements.
At the top of this section, you have some buttons as well. The only buttons of real importance are the ones that allow you to combine two different masks. You can do this by either adding them together or subtraction from one another. This will let you create very targeted masks or masks that are not possible with other methods.
Mask Output Section
The last section on the InstaMask panel is to output your mask. It is important to know that you need an active InstaMask, or they will not do anything. You can choose to create a selection from your mask., with or without adding a white or black mask on the selected layer. Then you use the brush tool on the mask and paint using the selection as a guide.
You can apply the mask to your current layer as above. Or you can create a new layer with the mask applied to sharpen, remove noise, or dodge and burn your image. You also have to option to apply the mask to some adjustment layers. Or you can save the mask for later use.
The last row of buttons is quick functions for selecting and adjusting your brush tool. If you have been using photoshop for some time, you will know the keyboard shortcuts for all these. It is a nice addition for those not used to the shortcuts, though.
As I have mentioned before, Raya Pro does more than luminosity masks. I don’t think that most will buy the plugin for these panels, though. But they might make a difference when compared to other luminosity plugins. Regardless, they do provide some value and make specific tasks a lot simpler and quicker.
The Color Centre panel deals with color correction and color adjustments.
The first three buttons do automatic color correction. If you prefer doing this manually, there is a button for that as well. Manually doing it is a bit more involved, and you need to understand the processes. It is not automated or intuitive. It corrects color using a grey point in your image. The created adjustment layer only helps you find a grey point in your photo. You then need to use either a levels or curves adjustment to make the corrections.
You can turn your image into a black and white image by hitting the B&W button. Or adjust the brightness of individual colors with the Colour Adj button. This will open a black and white adjustment layer with the blending mode set to luminosity. If you didn’t know, this is an easy way to adjust your individual colors’ brightness. Next, you have some buttons that will add either a cool or warm tone to your image. There are three buttons for each, all with varying degrees of cold or warm tone applied. You can stack these adjustments to increase the effect if needed.
The next major section allows you to adjust the saturation. You can either increase or decrease saturation globally or for individual colors.
The last section allows you to apply a cold or warm tone like before. But you can target only the highlights or the shadows with those tones.
Dodge & Burn
If you are familiar with dodging and burning, you may find this panel useful. You can create and set up for your dodging and burning in a few different ways. The panel has three sections, and admittedly I am confused why. The third section on this panel has actions that do not apply to dodging or burning. At least not in my mind.
Dodge & Burn Layer Setup
The first section will help you set up your layers the way you prefer to dodge and burn. The first three buttons create a blank layer. It also applies a mask targeting either the highlights, mid-tones, or shadows. You can then do you dodging or burning on the blank layer using the brush tool.
Photoshop has its own dodge and burn tool that you can use. To use these tools, you need to be working with a pixel layer, and the tools will only affect what is on those layers. To use the built-in dodge and burn tools, you would create a merged visible copy of your image. You can do this using the panel by clicking on the Merge button. Then select the dodge or burn tool to work directly on the new merged layer.
You can also dodge and burn using a 50% Grey layer or a Curves adjustment layer. When creating curves layers, you would create one for dodging and another for burning. The panel, however, creates one curves layer with an s-curve applied. This approach assumes you will be burning your shadows and dodging your highlights. If this is not the case, I would rather create two separate curves layers. Then you can dodge and burn across the entire tonal range.
The next row of buttons lets you select either the Dodge, Burn, or Sponge tool in Photoshop. These are the tool that you will use when creating a merged layer. The last row in this section lets you adjust the blending mode of your layer. You can choose one of the three most commonly used blending modes for dodging and burning.
Moving on to the second section, you will find two rows. These help you select and adjust your brush tool. In the first row, you select your brush and then increase or decrease its size. You can either select a pre-defined small or large brush. Or you can incrementally increase or decrease the size. The second row sets the foreground color to white, black, or other pre-defined colors. You also have the option of using the eyedropper tool to select a tone in your image. You can then dodge or burn using the selected color.
As I have already mentioned, the last section’s actions don’t all make sense to be under this panel. Some of these functions are very useful regardless of the panel that they are on, though. Most of them deal with increasing contrast. There is also a button to create a Fake HDR look. I don’t think it is a great look and doesn’t remind me of HDR at all. At the bottom of the panel, you will find four buttons to create different versions of the Orton Effect. I use the Orton Effect quite often, so having an easy way of creating it is useful.
Actions & Filters
This is the last panel you will find in Raya Pro and is a mixed bag of Jimmy’s favorite filters. As well as some actions that you can use finalize and output your image.
The first part of this panel is eight artistic filters. I can only assume they are some of the common processes that Jimmy likes using on his images. Other than seeing how they look, I have never applied any of them to my images.
Next, you have a section allowing you to assign shortcuts for up to six of your own actions that you use regularly. Again this is for convenience. I can see some people not using it. I have not found a use for them even though I have actions I run regularly.
The next section covers some common finishing options. These including noise reduction, removing chromatic aberration, applying vignettes, and sharpening your image. You can also set up for frequency separation. Most people won’t associate frequency separation with landscape photography, though. But, there are some instances where it is useful.
The last part of the panel is about outputting your image. You have options to save your image for the web as well as changing the color space. You can also choose to save to different file formats.
Some Of The Things I Like About Raya Pro
There is a lot to like about Raya Pro, but here are some of my favourite things.
- I love that there are many ways to create a mask. Lately, I have been using a lot more saturation masks along with my luminosity masks. Having a panel that includes them as well as color masks are great.
- There are many different ways to help refine your masks. If you can’t create the mask you are after with these panels, it is most likely not possible.
- Although I question the layout of some of the other panels, I appreciate the inclusion of them.
- I do like that things are split into different panels instead of having one panel with everything on it.
- I have not mentioned this yet, but all future upgrades of the panels are free. Yes, you read that right. Anything that gets improved or added will be yours. The original purchase price includes all future upgrades.
Some Of The Things I Dislike About Raya Pro
As with most things, nothing is perfect. None of these things will stop me from recommending the plugin, but I do wish some of them will get fixed or changed.
- The names on some of the buttons are sometimes ambiguous and not intuitive. The tooltips help, though, so I recommend turning them on until you understand what all the buttons do.
- I have already spoken about the layout of some of the panels. But I will mention it again. Some of the panels contain actions or functions that don’t align with the panel name or theme.
- Some of the functions are not very clear in what they do. The manual and video tutorials sometimes don’t explain in a way that a beginner will understand.
- Some of the actions are only the first step in a complex chain of tasks that you need to complete. I don’t think those buttons should be on the panel. I will never start such processes from the panel.
As you may have deduced, my interest in Raya Pro started with creating luminosity masks. And to be honest, for the longest time, I only used the plugin for that. But as I started exploring the other panels, I realized that many of the things I do are in Raya Pro.
I mentioned earlier that most people wouldn’t be looking to buy Raya Pro for the extra panels. But if you are looking for a plugin to create luminosity masks, they might sway you to use Raya Pro.
Over To You
What do you think of Raya Pro? Do you have another plugin that you prefer?
If you like Raya Pro, you can head over to Shutter Evolve to buy the plugin.
You may feel that you need a course in exposure blending using Raya Pro. If so, you can buy Raya Pro with an accompanying course from Jimmy McIntyre.
Or if you are interested in any of his other courses or bundles, you can find them here.