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Layer masks are among the most powerful features in the Full Photo Edit workspace. This movie in which I am going to show you what layer masks are and how to add them is a must see. The purpose of a layer mask is to hide part of a layer nondestructively. In other words, to hide content in a way that's reversible, unlike erasing or deleting content, which is permanent. Here I have a photo that's on the top layer in the Layers panel, and I think that the photo is really nice but it has a distracting background. I'd like to hide that distracting background so we can see through it to a plain colored layer, the pink layer, below it in the Layers panel.
So I'm going to add a layer mask to the photo layer. With the photo layer selected I will go down to the bottom of the Layers panel and I am going to click the icon that looks like a square with a circle in it, the Add Layer Mask icon. That adds this white thumbnail to the photo layer that represents a layer mask. When a layer mask is filled with white pixels like this one is, it completely shows or reveals everything on the layer to which it's attached. So this layer mask is letting us see everything on the photo layer in the Document window.
But when I add black pixels to this layer mask, those black pixels on the mask will hide the corresponding areas of the photo to which the mask is attached. So we will be able to see down through those areas to the plain pink on the layer below. To add black to this layer mask, first I will make double sure that I have the layer mask thumbnail selected. I don't want to have the photo thumbnail selected like this or I will be painting with black right on the bird photo. So I will click on the layer mask thumbnail.
Then I will go over to the toolbar and I am going to select the Brush tool there. I will go up to the Options Bar for the Brush tool, click the arrow to the right of the Brush Picker, and I'm going to choose a soft round brush, and then I'll click back in the Options Bar to close the Brush Picker. When you have a layer mask selected, initially the only colors that will be available to paint with are white and black, and by default the foreground color box will be white. I would like my foreground color box to be black, so I am going to switch the black-and-white paint by clicking this double-pointed arrow, and now I'm set up to paint with black.
I will move into the image and I'll start to paint. Now I am not painting with pink, remember I'm painting with black on the layer mask. So everywhere that I lay down black paint I'm hiding the content of the photo layer so we can see down through to the pink on the layer below. Let's take a closer look at the layer mask with this paint on it. You can see it here in the layer mask thumbnail, but when I click the Alt key, that's the Option key on a Mac, you can actually see the layer mask here in the Document window.
Here's where I laid down black paint, these are the areas where we can see down through the photo to the pink on the layer below. Here is where the layer mask is still white and these are the areas where the photo is still showing, and in between there are some gray pixels which are caused by the soft edges of my brush. And those gray pixels on the layer mask are semi-transparent, so they make a nice transition between the visible part of the photo and the hidden part of the photo. I am going to Alt+Click or Option+Click again on the layer mask thumbnail to put the Document window back into its regular view.
Now what happens if I go too far with the black paint, and I paint over something I really meant to reveal? So let's say my hand slips and I do that. Now the black paint on this part of the layer mask is hiding the bird's eye. One of the great things about layer masks is that they are completely reversible, so if I want to see the bird's eye again, all I have to do is paint with white over this area of the layer mask. I will go over to the toolbar, I will click the double-pointed arrow to switch the white and black foreground and background colors, and then I'll move over the image.
Remember I'm still painting on the layer mask, and where I paint with white, I am once again revealing the content of the photo layer. So painting on a layer mask like I just showed you is one way to add black, white and gray pixels to a layer mask. There are a couple of other ways. If I want a really soft transition between the part of the image that's revealed and the part that's hidden, I can try using a gradient. So I'm going to delete this layer mask and the way to delete a layer mask is to click on its thumbnail and drag down to the trash can icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and then I don't want to apply this layer mask, I just want to delete it, so I will click Delete.
I am going to add a brand new layer mask, selecting the photo layer, and once again clicking the Add layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and that layer mask comes in filled with white, so it doesn't have a visible effect on the photo. I am going to go over the toolbar and I'm going to select a different tool, the Gradient tool. I will go up to the Options Bar for the Gradient tool and here I have a choice of gradient shapes. By default the Linear Gradient shape is selected. I am going to click on the next icon to create a Radial Gradient in the shape of a circle.
I will make sure that my foreground color is set to white and my background color to black, and then I will move into the image and I'm going to click on the center part of the bird's face. And from there I am going to click and hold and drag out a gradient line. The length and the direction in which I drag this line will determine what my mask looks like. So I am going to take it all the way out past the corner and then release my mouse. Let's take a look at the mask that I just made by Option+Clicking or Alt+Clicking on the layer mask thumbnail.
Here you can see the white paint that transitions through shades of gray out to the black paint on the layer mask. So right in this center the bird's face is completely revealed, and then it become semitransparent and is hidden out at the corners of the image. I will Option+Click or Alt+Click again on that layer mask thumbnail and now I could leave this mask as is or I could tweak it by painting on it with white, black or gray. I would like to see a little more of the bird's face, so I am going to get the Brush tool in the toolbox, I still have a soft round brush selected.
I have white paint in the foreground color box, and I will come in and tweak the layer mask by painting with white around the bird's head, so I can see these areas more clearly. So those are a couple of the ways that you can create and fine tune a layer mask. The beauty of layer masking is that it lets you hide just part of a layer and to do it in a way that's reversible. Now that you understand the basics of layer masking, you will be all set to use layer masking when you're combining photos into composites, when you're correcting parts of an image, and when you're working with selections; all subjects that are coming up in later chapters.
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