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Selective Adjustments with Layer Masks

Discussion in 'General Technical Discussion' started by Uncle Frank, Mar 15, 2005.

  1. FLEW and a few others have asked me to explain layer masking. It was a concept that was difficult for me to grasp,
    but a very valuable one once I understood the basics, so I'll give it a try. I'm not a Photoshop guru, so please excuse
    my folksy approach.

    Here's a photo of mother and child that needs adjustment to better display their beauty.

    Subscribe to see EXIF info for this image (if available)

    A global levels adjustment, will work, but also brightens the background, which I'd rather avoid.

    View attachment 6295

    One way around this is to create a duplicate layer [press ctrl + J], apply the global levels adjustment to the upper layer,
    and then use an eraser to remove the parts of the top layer that didn't need brightening.

    View attachment 6296

    The problem with this approach is, should you find you made an error, you might have to go back to the beginning and
    start all over again. Fortunately, Photoshop offers a more forgiving and elegant solution... layer masking.

    After you've created the duplicate layer and globally adjusted the levels, go to [layer - layer mask - hide all]. You''ll
    see that a black square has been added to the icon for the top layer, and that the levels adjustment you made has
    been hidden.

    View attachment 6297

    Now set the foreground color to white, click on the black mask icon, and select the paintbrush tool. Wherever
    you paint on your picture, you'll change the mask covering that portion of the image to white, letting the
    levels adjustment show through.

    View attachment 6298

    Oops! Now you see why I got a low grade in coloring in kindergarden.... I can't paint between the lines :?. Those lighter
    colored blobs on the background are where I screwed up and painted white on parts of mask that should have been
    left black. No problem! I'll just change the foreground color to black, and carefully paint back in black on those
    portions of the mask.

    View attachment 6299

    This masking approach works on any change you'd like to make to the upper layer, including levels, sharpening,
    hue/saturation, etc. For example, the amount of sharpness of this picture works well for the child, but isn't very
    flattering to the mother's mature skin, so I created a duplicate layer, and applied 1 pixel of gaussian blur to
    the picture. Then I used a hide-all layer mask, and painted white on the mask over areas where "character lines"
    needed to be softened, leaving the rest of the image sharp.

    View attachment 6300

    I can guarantee you that once you understand the concept, you'll find countless uses for layer masking.

    Feel free to download the original image and work through the steps I've outlined. If you run into any problems, I'll
    be happy to explain the process in more detail.
  2. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Fantastic!! Thanks UF. We knew you had it in you. I'm hoping to get my copy of PS CS today, so I'll be able to try all of these neat tricks.... 8)

    Thanks again,

  3. Steve S

    Steve S

    Feb 1, 2005
    SE Florida
    Thanks Frank

    Thanks for the PM headup too! I promise to bookmark this page, and try to get a handle on this layer masking...if I have to sit at the puter all day, I'm going to learn this!
  4. tweber


    Feb 12, 2005
    St. Louis
    Thanks Frank

    Best tutorial on layer masking I've seen. I appreciate it.

  5. Flew


    Jan 25, 2005
    Re: Thanks Frank

    Amen.... 8)

  6. NeilCam


    Feb 21, 2005
    Ottawa, Ontario
    Re: Thanks Frank

    Me to! :) 

    Thanks Frank.

  7. Re: Thanks Frank

    That's kind of you to say, Tom :oops: . In truth, my tutorial isn't too technical, and one fellow on DPR critiqued me
    for not addressing adjustment layers, which are marginally simpler. But those are just short cuts to masking that are
    available for a narrow range of effects. I was trying to demonstrate masking in it's broadest context, which is why
    I added a section on selective Gaussian blur at the end of the piece.
  8. Re: Thanks Frank

    Let me know if I can be of any help, Steve. It's a snap once you grasp the basic concept.
  9. Whatever you need, boss :lol:.

    I'm serious. You and Patrick have put a lot of hard work and money into building this site. Just ask and I'll be happy to
    do anything I can do to help.
  10. You should really only make duplicate image layers if you are doing something destructive to the image like blurring or filters or whatever. If you want to make adjustments to only a certain part of the image mask your adjustment layers instead. This way you can paint them in and out as desired using greyscale paintbrush - its very effective at polishing up your image fast but makes it easy to correct mistakes along the way.

    If I'm not making any sense let me know and I can try and explain it better.
  11. Photoshop only offers 14 adjustment layers, and I believe Elements is limited to a mere 4. There are dozens of other
    filters that require a layer mask to apply selectively. I think it's better to teach the more general application and then,
    once the concept is mastered, move to narrower application, like adjustment layers. But that's jmho.
  12. I can't add anything specific to UF's excellent tutorial but, in general terms, I would encourage those who haven't yet grasped the concept of layer masks to stick with it until they do.

    Nearly everything you want to do in such as Photoshop, Elelements or Paintshop Pro is done with greater ease and efficiency when you can mask well.

    Consider a real world analogy: what's the first and most important thing the body shop does when re-spraying a car? They mask all the parts like the windscreen, headlights, bumpers etc that they don't want to alter.

    The skill with which they do this greatly affects their finished product.

    You do the same with your image: some parts you want to alter, some parts you don't. Layer masks simply separate the two.
  13. Amen, Amen, Amen. I'm not well-skilled at retouching (although I'd sure like to be!), but I do believe that layer masking is truly a fundamental concept to grasp. My limited imagination has led me to use it mostly for selective application of sharpening, blurring, and compositing, but I've seen people do amazing things once they start editing in selective areas this way.

    UF's recent explanation of how to selectively deal with yellow highlights in some of Gordon's pictures was another fantastic use of this technique.

    Thanks for doing this, Frank!
  14. Iliah


    Jan 29, 2005
    my 2 cents - level and other adjustments can be done on layer, too. To make that layer affect only duplicate, Alt-Click at layer divider line (marked with yellow)

    you will see a small arrow and the adjustment layer shifted to the left:

    This way you can also paint on the mask to the right of the adjustment layer, to limit the adjustment effect to local
  15. Masking for PS Elements

    If anyone is using PSE3, I've just learned that, while layer masks don't come with the program, there's a clever "trick"
    that allows you to do layer masking without adding 3rd party software. Let me know if you're interested.
  16. Thanks a bunch Frank your tutorial is excellent and it works too. What more can you ask for.
  17. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  18. MontyDog


    Jan 30, 2005
    #1064 - You have an error in your SQL syntax;
  19. Steve S

    Steve S

    Feb 1, 2005
    SE Florida
    Still not getting this Frank

    After 2, really 3 trys, including the time I tried it with a skin glamourizing action, which seems to apply the same principles, I am not getting this. Call it densness for multiple tasks, but I need help. My latest effort was to mask off an eagle, then apply lens blur to the bg. That went well, but I couldn't get myself out of the mask to show the finished product. The eagle was painted white, the bg blurred, and then I tried flattening the layers, but that didn't help anything. I want to learn this, but this is hard for me! I think I'm at the "close, but no cigar" stage.
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