Editing specific parts of an image in Adobe Lightroom

A guide to using selective editing tools in Lightroom to isolate and edit parts of a photo.

Why change only a portion of an image?

Sometimes, life just doesn’t go to plan, and the same goes for photography. We’ve all been in a situation where the composition of a photo could have been better, but there’s an object or person in the background disturbing the scene. Or maybe, there is an area that’s too light or too dark and adjusting colour and tone to the region can help focus the viewers' attention on important areas of the photograph.


With the Healing and Masking panels in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, you can touch up specific areas within a photo to make the image look exactly how you imagined it.

Retouching distracting elements in Lightroom with the Healing Tool

The healing tool can be used to remove any unwanted or distracting elements in an image. To locate the healing tool, navigate to the right-hand side panel, and click on the bandage icon, or tap the shortcut ‘H’ to access.

Inside the Healing Panel, there are different tools.


The Content Aware Remove tool, shown by the Eraser icon, searches the surrounding area in the image, and fabricates completely new pixels to fill in the space where an object needs to be removed. Content Aware Remove is best used for photos that don’t have similar areas of colour, texture and tone from which to sample from, that contain organic shapes and textures, and which don’t have complex patterns.


If you don’t get the results that you’re after, click the Refresh button to have Lightroom recalculate the replaced areas. You can also command (Mac) | control (Windows) click and drag over an area to select a custom source from which to sample from.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

The Heal tool, represented by the Bandage, makes a copy of a similar area in the image to replace the overlaid area, adjusting tones and colours to make a seamless replacement. After you’ve brushed over the area you like, you will see two blue dots connected by a white line. The first dot will be the area you painted with your brush; the second dot will be where it samples from.


If you’re not happy with the results, click the Refresh button or, simply drag the second dot to change the sampling area and your desired effect. Healing is best when there are good areas in the image that can be used as the source to remove blemishes and spots in an image.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

The Clone stamp tool, represented by the stamp icon, creates an exact duplicate of another area in the image but doesn’t try to blend the colours or tones to match. It can be useful when you need to create an exact duplicate of an area.


It can be used for more complex replacements or pattern matching on photos where the lighting doesn’t change between the source and the sample area. Similarly, to the Heal tool, painting over your unwanted area will reveal two dots that show both the source and the retouched spots which you can reposition as needed.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

Below these tools in the panel are three sliders – Size, Feather and Opacity:

  o  Size refers to the size of the brush, controlling how large an area you cover.

  o  Feather refers to the harshness of the brush circle. A softer brush may allow for more seamless cover-ups but may also introduce unwanted blurriness into your photo.

  o  Opacity refers to the transparency of the effect and sample area. You can use this to do your healing very gradually and to create subtle healing on your photo.  Note: Content Aware Remove does not have an Opacity option.


Selecting and adjusting areas of an image with masking

Masking enables you to make intricate and precise adjustments to any part of an image. You can apply as many masks as needed to make the image look exactly how you imagined it. 


This is done through manual tools such as a brush, radial or linear gradient, or AI driven tools such as subject selection, people selection, sky selections and more. With the manual tools, you create the selection that you want, with the AI driven masks, Lightroom make the selection for you (subject, background, sky, object and people), so you can focus on the other elements of photo editing.


After creating a mask, you can use powerful adjustments to change colour, tone, texture and more to selective areas. Multiple tools can be used in combination with one another within a single mask making it easy to select and adjust exactly what you want to effect in a photograph.


How to mask in Lightroom

Jump into Masking mode by clicking the Mask button on the right-hand side. At the top of the panel is Lightroom’s AI features which can automatically detect and create masks for the subject, sky and background of a photo.


In addition, you can choose Objects to select objects which may not be the primary subject in a photograph and use “Select People” to have Lightroom automatically find people in a photo and create masks for the entire person or create a mask based on more granular attributes and adjust areas such as eyes, skin, hair, and clothing. These one-click solutions really speeds up the process and can transform your workflow.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

Making the subject of a photo “pop” using Lightroom

To give this second image a lighter and brighter feel and place more emphasis on the flower, choose “Subject” and Lightroom will automatically select the flower. The masked area will be highlighted in a red overlay. We can use the Light panel to increase the Exposure and the Highlights and the Colour panel to increase saturation.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

Then add a second mask by selecting Background and adjust the Light and Colour panel sliders to make it light and airy.  In this illustration, we can change the colour of the background by adjusting the temperature and tint sliders and decrease the Clarity and Dehaze to reduce the contrast and detail and lighten the background.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

To lighten the edges, simply click Radial Gradient on the Mask Panel or press ‘R’, then click and drag over your desired area. A feathered red shape will dictate what area will be masked for editing. You can alter the size of your mask by dragging and resizing the outer rung handles, use the centre pin to reposition the ellipse, and drag the inner rung handle to change the softness of the feather as needed. Check “Invert” so that the adjustments effect the area outside of the ellipse and then increase the exposure.

Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting
Wide shot of a furnished living room with natural lighting

Do more with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

For more Lightroom tutorials, visit the Adobe Photography Explore page.


Take your photo editing to the next level. Discover Adobe's principal evangelist, Julieanne Kost’s other image editing guides, including how to edit photos quickly with Lightroom presets, how to easily edit colour with colour grading and how to make light adjustments  in Adobe Lightroom.


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