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One of the techniques for which I get the most requests in Elements is to learn how to join images together, to make new layered compositions. To do that I am going to show you how you can fake a layer Mask to make a joint image look really professional. First, I am going to set things up here. I have two images open, each in a floating document window. I will move those apart a little so you can see them by clicking on the Title Bar of the plant image with the Move tool selected in the toolbar and dragging. Now, both images are too big to fit on my screen, so I am going to zoom out by selecting the Zoom tool, clicking the Minus symbol in the Options bar, and putting a checkmark next to Resize Windows To Fit.
Then I am going to click twice in the plant image and drag it over to the side. I will do the same in the lizard image, clicking twice, and now I can see both images. Before I start to combine these images, let's take a look at the layers in each image. With the document window for the lizard. jpg, the active one, notice that there's a single layer in the Layers panel. It's called the Background layer. I will click on the Title Bar of the plant image and notice that it also has a single image and notice that it also has a single layer, its own Background layer.
Notice that I am leaving both images in floating document windows like this. I think that's easier than combining images when the images are docked into tabs like this. If that happens to you, you can undock the images by going up to the Arrange Documents menu here, clicking, and choosing Float All in Windows, and then dragging the two images apart. Now, the first step in combining these images is to drag one into the other. So I am going to drag the plant image into the lizard image. To do that, I will select the Move tool in the toolbox.
I will click on the plant image to make it active and then I will click and hold in the plant image and drag into the lizard image. Notice that there is a faint gray border appearing, as I move my mouse over the lizard image. When I see that border, I can release the mouse and the plant image now appears on top of the lizard in the lizard image. If you take a look at the Layers panel, you will see that that's created a brand new layer automatically called layer 1. So that's one way to do it, and now with layer 1 selected and the Move tool selected, I could move that layer into place.
But I am going to Undo, pressing Command +Z a couple of times, until there is no layer 1 in the lizard image, because I want to show you a way that you can drag one image into another and have them automatically line up. So I am going to do that again, I will click once on the plant image, then I will click and hold and start dragging into the lizard image. When I see that light gray bounding box , I am going to press and hold the Shift key on my keyboard and then continue dragging and then release my mouse. This time when the plant comes into the lizard image, its layer is aligned with the Background layer.
If these layers weren't exactly the same size, then the plant layer would be centered on top of the lizard layer. Now that I have both images together in one document, I can close the plant image, so I will click on it once and then I will click the red button to close the plant. Then I am going to take that lizard image and drag it over here, and I am going to make it bigger by double-clicking the Zoom tool. Now take a look at the Layers panel and you will see the two layers, layer 1 that contains the plant and the Background layer that contains the lizard. I am gong to rename the plant layer by double-clicking the default layer 1 name and typing 'plant', and then clicking off of that text-editing field.
So now what's happening is that the content of the plant layer is completely obscuring the content of the Background layer below. I don't want that, instead I want to blend the lizard from the Background layer. I will show you that by holding the Option key and clicking the Eye icon on the Background layer, and I will do that again with the plant on the top layer. So for that I need to use a layer Mask. Now unfortunately, in Elements, there is no direct way to create a layer Mask, but there is a workaround, and that's what I am going to show you now.
The first step in creating what I call a faux layer Mask is to select the bottom layer here, so I will click on the Background layer in the Layers panel. Next I am going to create what's called an Adjustment layer. Now, normally Adjustment layers are used to correct photo characteristics, like lighting or color in an image, but I am going to use an Adjustment layer for another purpose, to make use of the layer Mask that comes with every Adjustment layer. To create an Adjustment layer above the Background layer, I will go down to this black and white circle icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
I will click and that brings up a menu of Adjustment layers. I can use Levels, Brightness, Hue/ Saturation, any that I want, because I am not really going to use any of the controls in this adjustment. So I will just select the Levels Adjustment layer. That brings up the Adjustments layer, which I really don't need and causes the Layers panel to collapse. So that I can see the layers panel better, I am going to close the Adjustments panel by clicking the panel menu on the right of the Adjustments panel and choosing Close. Then I will double-click the layers panel, and to give more room to layers panel, I move my mouse over the border between the Layers panel and this Effects panel about it, and then my mouse changes to a double-pointed arrow and I am going to drag up.
Now you can see that above the Background layer is a brand new layer called Levels. This layer has two thumbnails on it. It has one thumbnail on the left, representing a potential levels adjustment, and another on the right, representing the layer Mask that comes with all Adjustment layers. I will tell you more about Adjustment layers later when I am discussing how to adjust photo qualities of an image. But for now I would like you to focus on this layer Mask, which I am going to use to make my composite image. First of all, I am going to clip the Levels layer, the one with the layer Mask to the layer about it, the plant layer.
The way that I am going to do that is to hold down the Option key and move my mouse over the border between the Levels layer and the plant layer. When I get right on top of the border, the cursor changes to this double-circle icon, and at that point I am going to click. Notice that the plant layer is now indented to the right, and there is a very faint bent arrow to the left of the thumbnail, indicating that the plant layer is now clipped to the Levels layer. The underline under the Levels layer name is another indication that these two layers are clipped together.
Now I am going to make sure that I have selected the layer Mask on the Levels layer, and I see that I have because there is a double border around the layer Mask. Next, I am going to go over to the toolbar and I am going to click the double-pointed arrow to make it a double column toolbar, so that I can see the foreground and background color boxes at the bottom of the toolbar. When I have the layer Mask selected, the only possible colors in these boxes will be black, white, or gray, and that's because a layer Mask is a Grayscale element. I want to foreground color to be black.
If it isn't, I will press the D key on my keyboard to set the foreground color to a pure white, and then the X key, and that sets the foreground color to black. Then I am going to get the Brush tool in the toolbar. I will move into the image, and I am going to press the Right Bracket key, until my brush is really big, like this. I also want to hold the Shift key and press the Left Bracket key so that my Brush Tip is soft. Now I am going to paint with black directly on the mask that's on the Levels layer. As I do that, that mask will be hiding the content of the plant layer wherever I paint, allowing the content of the Background layer below to show through.
So now I can see the lizard over here on the left, and I can see the plant over here on the right. So that you understand what is happening, I am going to go over to the layers panel and I am going to hold down the Option key on the keyboard, and I am going to click on that layer Mask on the Levels layer. That reveals the layer Mask here in the document window. I am going to make my brush a little smaller so it's not in the way, by pressing the Left Bracket key. You can see that where I painted with black on this layer Mask is the area that's hidden on the plant layer, and where I left the layer Mask white, the plant layer is still displayed, and where there are some gray pixels in between caused by the soft edge of the brush, the content of the plant layer is partially visible.
So I will Option+Click again on that layer Mask, so that you can see the blended image. So that's one way to do it is to use the Brush tool with a soft edge. I am going to undo that to show you what I think is a better way, and that is to use a black to white gradient on the layer Mask to blend these two images. So I am going to hold the Command key and click the Z key once, and that removes the black paint from the layer Mask. I still have my Levels Adjustment layer here, and I still have the plant layer clipped to the Levels Adjustment layer.
This time I am going to go over to the toolbar and click on this tool, the Gradient tool. Up in the Options bar for the Gradient tool, I can see a representation of the gradient I am about to draw, which will be black on the left and white on the right. By default, the gradient is set to show the foreground color and the background color. If your gradient isn't black and white like this, click on the Gradient here in the Options bar to open the Gradient Editor and make sure the first preset is selected right here, and then click OK. Now I am going to come into the image, with the Gradient tool.
I am going to start over on the left and I am going to click and drag a line, and the length and the direction of the line will determine the gradient that I draw. I am going to stop in about the middle of the image and that draws a gradient that's dark over here, so part of the plant layer is being obscured over here, and then it's fading into gray, so there's some part of the plant layer that's partially visible. And then where the gradient on the layer Mask is white, the plant layer is completely visible, obscuring the Background layer. Now, I really don't like that result, so I am going to try again.
You can draw this gradient line as many times as you wish. So I will start on the left and I will click and drag, and this time I am going to go further, all the way over where the red plant is. That shows more of the lizard, obscuring more of the plant because there's more black area here. I can fine tune this with the Brush tool, selecting it, making sure that I have black as my foreground color, moving into the image and maybe making my brush a little bigger. Holding the Shift key and pressing the Left Bracket key to make sure that the brush is soft, and then painting where I want to be sure to see that lizard.
I think that this method creates a softer blend between the two images. I will show you the layer Mask so you can understand why it's working the way that it is, by holding down the Option key and clicking on the layer Mask on the Levels layer in the Layers panel. So here you can see the soft gradient between black, that's hiding the plant layer, white, that's displaying the plant layer, and the grays that are partially displaying the plant layer. And then the area where I painted with black over the lizard to make sure that that area of the plant layer is completely obscured so the lizard shows through.
I will hold the Option key and I will click again on the layer Mask on the Levels layer. So that's how you can create a faux layer Mask, to make a professional looking blended composition from multiple images like these.
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