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Hiding content with a layer mask

From: Photoshop Elements 11 Essentials: 02 Editing and Retouching Photos

Video: Hiding content with a layer mask

There may be times when you want to replace part of the content in a photo with content from another photo. For example, here I have two photos on two layers in this file. On the top layer is this photo of the porch. I like it, but I think that the sky is rather bland. So, I'm going to turn the porch layer off temporarily by clicking its Eye icon in the Layers Panel, so you can see that on the layer below it's a photo of a more interesting sky. I'd like to use this sky to replace the sky in the porch image. I'll turn the porch image back on.

Hiding content with a layer mask

There may be times when you want to replace part of the content in a photo with content from another photo. For example, here I have two photos on two layers in this file. On the top layer is this photo of the porch. I like it, but I think that the sky is rather bland. So, I'm going to turn the porch layer off temporarily by clicking its Eye icon in the Layers Panel, so you can see that on the layer below it's a photo of a more interesting sky. I'd like to use this sky to replace the sky in the porch image. I'll turn the porch image back on.

So how might you do that? Well, your first reaction might be to just select the sky in the porch photo and delete that area, so that we can see down through the transparent pixels that remain to the sky layer below. But I would urge you to do it another way. Instead of selecting and deleting, I suggest using a Layer Mask to hide the sky on the porch photo without actually deleting it permanently. That will give you a lot more editing flexibility to change your mind. Now, before I get started, you may be wondering how I got these two photos into one image.

I've already explained how to do that in the last chapter, in the movie on creating layers. So I refer you back to that movie for tutorial on how to combine two images in one file like this. Now that I have these two photos here, I'm going to add a Layer Mask to the porch photo. So with the porch layer selected in the Layers Panel, I'll go to the top of the Layers Panel and I'll click this Layer Mask icon. And that adds a new thumbnail to the porch layer that's filled with white. This thumbnail represents a Layer Mask. A Layer Mask is a grayscale item.

It can be only white, black, or shades of gray. Where a Layer Mask is white like this, it is revealing everything on the layer to which it's attached. So right now even though there is a Layer Mask here, it's really not doing anything. It's letting us see everything on the porch layer. But, where you add black paint to a Layer Mask, the corresponding area of the layer to which the mask is attached would be hidden from view. And if you add gray paint, that will partially hide that layer from view. So let's see how we can use those principles to hide the sky from view on the porch layer.

First, it's really important to make sure that you have the Layer Mask thumbnail selected, not the actual photo thumbnail. I know that the Layer Mask thumbnail is selected because it has a blue border around it. If yours isn't, then click on that Layer Mask thumbnail. Now I have to think about how I'm going to add black paint to this image. There are a number of ways; I could paint with Black using the Brush Tool; I could add a gradient from black to white, using the Gradient Tool; or I could make a selection and fill the selection with Black. In this case, because this sky is in relatively defined areas, I think making a selection and filling with Black is going to be my quickest option.

I'm going to get the Quick Selection tool; and then I'm going to go down for the options for the tool. And I'm going to switch to a Magic Wand tool, which I think will work well here because all these areas of the sky are approximately the same color and tone. Parts of the sky are separated from other parts by the columns. So I want to be sure to uncheck Contiguous in the options for the Magic Wand. And then I'll click with the Magic Wand on part of the sky, and that selects all the blue sky. It also selected a little bit of the sea down here. I want to remove those parts from the selection.

So I'm going to get the Selection Brush tool, down in the Options bar. I'll make sure it's set to Subtract from Selection here. And then I'll move into the image, and I'll just brush away those little selections that I don't want to be included in my selection of the sky. Now I'm ready to add some black to that Layer Mask to hide the selected areas. I'll go up to the Edit menu, and I'll choose Fill Selection. In the Fill Layer dialog box that opens, I'll go to the Use menu and I'll choose to fill with Black, and I'll click OK.

I'll deselect by pressing Ctrl+ D--that's Command +D on the Mac-- and there is the result. I've managed to hide the bland sky on the porch layer from view, so we can see down through to the more interesting sky in the same area of the sky layer below. Let's take a look at that Layer Mask, so you can better understand what's happened here. I'm going to hold the Alt key-- that's the Option key on the Mac-- as I click on the Layer Mask thumbnail; and that reveals the Layer Mask here in the Document Window. So now you can more clearly see where I filled this Layer Mask with black; where I left it white; and in between if I were to zoom in, you can see a thin border of gray pixels between the white and black pixels.

That border comes from an option for the Magic Wand tool called Anti-Aliasing, which adds a gradual bland at the edge of a selection made with that tool. I'll zoom back out to a 100% by double-clicking the Zoom tool. And then I'll go back to the regular view of the photo by once again holding the Alt key, or the Option key on the Mac, and clicking on the Layer Mask thumbnail. One of the beauties of working with a Layer Mask is that it remains editable. And that means that even if I save this image and close it, I'll be able to reopen it and refine the Layer Mask later.

That's too as long as I save in a format that retains layers. Like the PSD format, or the TIFF format-- but not the JPEG format, which as I explained earlier, flattens your layers all into one. So here I still have my Layer Mask, and let's say that I want to delete more of the porch photo. I'll just make sure that the Layer Mask thumbnail is still selected in the Layers panel. And then I'll go over to the toolbar. I'm going to get my Brush tool. I'm going to set my foreground color to black by clicking this double-pointed arrow, or clicking X on my keyboard.

And then I'll move into the image, and I can paint-away more of the porch layer. For example I'll paint away this little corner here. Now, if I paint too far into the photo, or if I change my mind about hiding that part of the porch layer altogether, I can always edit the Layer Mask by painting back with white. So if I go down to the bottom of the toolbar, and switch to white paint by clicking the double-pointed arrow, or pressing X on my keyboard, I can come back here and paint with white. And I don't have to bother undoing or remembering which history state I'm on.

I can just paint back with white on the Layer Mask to reveal the content of the attached layer. So the mantra that you might want to remember is that when you're dealing with a Layer Mask, black conceals, but white reveals. Now keep in mind that a Layer Mask can be used to hide anything on the layer to which it's attached. In this movie, I used the mask to hide actual content of a photo. In the next chapter, we'll see how to use a Layer Mask on an adjustment layer to hide part of a lighting or color adjustment from part of a photo, applying all the same layer masking principles that you learned here.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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  1. 6m 14s
    1. Welcome
      1m 10s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 30s
    3. Overview of the editing workspaces
      3m 34s
  2. 43m 14s
    1. Touring the interface
      4m 21s
    2. Making the most of the tools in Elements
      4m 6s
    3. Arranging the panels
      4m 32s
    4. Zooming and panning
      4m 3s
    5. Viewing multiple photos
      3m 51s
    6. Undoing
      5m 15s
    7. Cropping
      3m 46s
    8. Resizing
      7m 18s
    9. Saving images and examining formats
      6m 2s
  3. 19m 23s
    1. Understanding layers
      7m 59s
    2. Managing layers in the Layers panel
      4m 33s
    3. Creating new layers
      6m 51s
  4. 38m 28s
    1. Why use selections?
      4m 20s
    2. Selecting with the marquee tools
      3m 56s
    3. Selecting with the lasso tools
      6m 40s
    4. Selecting by color and tone
      6m 22s
    5. Refining a selection
      4m 51s
    6. Selecting hair
      5m 42s
    7. Hiding content with a layer mask
      6m 37s
  5. 46m 54s
    1. Why use adjustment layers?
      5m 15s
    2. Adjusting color with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer
      4m 32s
    3. Correcting lighting with a Levels adjustment layer
      3m 32s
    4. Adjusting part of an image with an adjustment layer
      5m 19s
    5. Exploring auto adjustments
      3m 55s
    6. Improving shadows and highlights
      2m 14s
    7. Removing a color cast
      1m 47s
    8. Fine-tuning with Color Curves
      3m 16s
    9. Converting to black and white
      2m 26s
    10. Correcting camera distortion
      5m 32s
    11. Reducing noise
      2m 56s
    12. Sharpening
      6m 10s
  6. 20m 51s
    1. Creating a panorama
      5m 6s
    2. Merging bracketed exposures
      6m 0s
    3. Removing people from a scene
      5m 25s
    4. Combining group shots
      4m 20s
  7. 29m 24s
    1. Removing blemishes
      3m 42s
    2. Reducing wrinkles and circles
      4m 16s
    3. Enhancing eyes
      5m 19s
    4. Removing red-eye
      3m 15s
    5. Adjusting skin tone
      2m 21s
    6. Removing dust spots
      4m 7s
    7. Removing content
      6m 24s
  8. 52m 36s
    1. What is Camera Raw?
      5m 18s
    2. Using the latest Camera Raw controls
      3m 16s
    3. Camera Raw basics
      6m 22s
    4. Making use of the histogram
      3m 45s
    5. Setting white balance
      3m 44s
    6. Adjusting lighting
      4m 28s
    7. Adjusting color saturation
      2m 9s
    8. Cropping and straightening
      3m 58s
    9. Reducing noise
      3m 33s
    10. Sharpening
      3m 38s
    11. Synchronizing edits to multiple photos
      3m 36s
    12. Outputting from Camera Raw
      6m 14s
    13. Using Camera Raw with JPEGs
      2m 35s
  9. 48s
    1. Next steps
      48s

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