Adobe Update: New Lightroom & Photoshop Features

October seems like Adobe’s go-to month for big updates. The October 2020 update brought the new Color Grading panel to Lightroom Classic, and the Sky Replacement Tool and Neural Filters to Photoshop.

The recent October 2021 release of Lightroom Classic CC and Photoshop CC is a massive update. Both applications got added features, but Lightroom really steals the show. In fact, the October ’21 update is one of the biggest changes to Lightroom yet.

Yes, we’re a bit late, but, here’s an overview of the new features for the October 2021 release. You can download the updates from the Adobe Creative Cloud app.

Adobe Lightroom Classic

  • Experience more creative control and editing precision with Masking
  • Automatically select a subject or sky and make edits
  • Find the right preset for your photo – anytime, anywhere!
  • Connect with photographers, edit their photos, and allow them to edit yours!
  • Support for new cameras and lenses

Adobe Photoshop

  • Automatic selections on hover
  • New and improved Neural Filters
  • Improved color management and HDR capabilities
  • Improved ‘Export As’

Enhanced Masking Features in Lightroom Classic
One of the big separators between Lightroom Classic and Photoshop is Photoshop’s ability to make precise adjustments via selections and masking. Lightroom Classic inched closer to more precise control with the addition of Range Masks and it has taken another huge step forward with the enhanced masking features in the October 2021 update.

One of the first things you’ll notice with the new update is that the Develop module looks different. There’s a brand-new UI for the Develop module, specifically, there’s a new Tool Strip. A minor change at first glance, but the Tool Strip houses some of the most powerful tools within Lightroom.

Adobe has reduced the strip to four tools – Crop Overlay, Spot Removal, Red-Eye Correction, and Masking. 

Masking is the new addition and it houses some excellent features for nature photography. It also is the new resting place for favorites such as the Brush, Linear Gradient, Radial Gradient, and the Range Mask options (Color, Luminance, and Depth).

You will probably be confused if you’re looking to add a Brush adjustment or a Linear Gradient. The interface is completely different. Whenever you add a masking tool, it automatically populates in a new dock/interface, it is similar to the Layers panel in Photoshop (but still very different).

The masking panel helps you see what tools you’ve applied to an image and allows you to make additional changes, like adding, subtracting, or intersecting other masks or selections. It definitely has a learning curve, but the addition has made Lightroom a stronger processing application.

Select Subject & Select Sky
The biggest additions introduced with the new Masking tools, are ‘Select Subject’ and ‘Select Sky’. These are content-aware algorithms that determine and select the subject or sky in an image. In my experience, these selection algorithms work incredibly well, but they can still be adjusted using other tools if refinement is needed.

The huge pro of these options is the ability to quickly target a subject (think wildlife) or a sky. The selection can then be adjusted, for instance, you can bring up the shadows of a bird filling the frame or add more magenta to that fiery sunrise sky.

And the best part is, they take zero work. I have started using the ‘Select Sky’ option routinely while processing in Lightroom, and Lightroom does an amazing job of selecting the sky. It’s so useful for landscape photography, as I can make a one-click ‘smart’ selection, make some adjustments, and then actually invert the selection to target the landscape.

These two options allow for very precise adjustments, adjustments we may have turned to Photoshop for in the past. The power of Photoshop still looms over Lightroom, but these recent additions undoubtedly close the gap some.

Photoshop Updates
Photoshop updates weren’t nearly substantial as the Lightroom Classic ones, but there were improvements.

The biggest Photoshop addition was most likely the improvement of Neural Filters. Neural Filters have become quite controversial, because of their ability to completely change an image. Adobe has done a great job with the engine, and I’m sure it is useful for graphic designers, but it’s another jab at the integrity of photography.

With the right image, it’s almost too easy to add snow and transform a summer landscape into a winter one or to add mountains in the desert, etc.

Photoshop did get some nice performance boosts though. The ‘Export as’ interface was refreshed and streamlined, selection tools are more robust now, and color management options were improved.

The October 2021 update brought massive changes to Lightroom Classic and some general updates to Photoshop. Lightroom received a new ‘Masking’ interface with new tools and features. The new features are powerful and useful. However, it is a major revamp and will require current Lightroom users to learn the new system. Lightroom continues to innovate.

Photoshop got some nice performance boosts and optimizations, but current users most likely won’t notice a change after the update.

Matt Meisenheimer








Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin.  His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special.  Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.

Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.

As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.

You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at


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