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Using a layer mask to hide a background

From: Photoshop Elements 10 Essential Training

Video: Using a layer mask to hide a background

Sometimes you'll have an interesting foreground in a photo, but the background will be distracting. It might be a crowd of people or a bland white looking sky like this one that you can get when you shoot in the middle of the day. Compositing the foreground from one photo with a better background shot can solve that problem. The best way to combine photos for that purpose is with a layer mask, because layer masks are re-editable and they are nondestructive of the foreground photo. I'll start this process by selecting the bland white sky, because the sky is all the same color and tone, I think the Magic Wand would be the best tool for that.

Using a layer mask to hide a background

Sometimes you'll have an interesting foreground in a photo, but the background will be distracting. It might be a crowd of people or a bland white looking sky like this one that you can get when you shoot in the middle of the day. Compositing the foreground from one photo with a better background shot can solve that problem. The best way to combine photos for that purpose is with a layer mask, because layer masks are re-editable and they are nondestructive of the foreground photo. I'll start this process by selecting the bland white sky, because the sky is all the same color and tone, I think the Magic Wand would be the best tool for that.

I'll select the Magic Wand in the toolbox and I'll leave all of its options at their default, including the Anti- alias option which will help to soften the edge of the selection. Then I'll click in the sky to select the part of the sky that's contiguous to the pixel in which I've clicked, and I want to add this extra bit of sky and this bit down here, so I'll go up to the Options Bar and I'll click the Add to Selection tool. Then I'll come into the image and I'll click here and here to add all the rest of the sky to my selection.

The reason that I selected the sky is that I don't want it in my final composite, so you may be thinking, well why doesn't she just delete the selected area? The reason is, because that would make a direct and permanent change to the foreground photo. Instead I'm going to hide the sky from view with a layer mask that remains editable in the future so I could bring the sky back if I needed to, and that doesn't directly and permanently change the photo. The next thing I am going to do is invert my selection, so that instead of having the sky selected I have the building selected.

The reason is, that I'm about to add a layer mask, and when I do add a layer mask with a selection like this active, the layer mask will reveal whatever is selected and conceal or hide whatever is unselected. I am going to invert the selection by going to the Select menu and choosing Inverse. And now the buildings are selected so they'll be revealed. The sky is deselected, so it will be hidden. Now I'll go over to the Layers panel to add a layer mask, but first I need to convert this background layer into a regular layer.

Often when you first open a photo it has a special background layer like this which is locked down. One of the things you can't do to a background layer is add a layer mask to it, so I'll turn this into a regular layer by double-clicking the word Background, and in the New layer dialog box that opens I'll type a name for this layer, I'll call this foreground, because it's going to contain the foreground elements in my Composite, and then I'll click OK, and that changes the Background layer into a regular layer that doesn't have a lock on it.

So now I can add a layer mask to this layer. To do that, I'll go to the bottom of the Layers panel and I'll click the Add layer mask icon. Immediately the sky is hidden from view and since there is nothing below it in the Layers panel we see this gray and white checkerboard that represents transparency. Let's tale a closer look at the layer mask, I'll Alt or Option+Click on the layer mask and that brings it up in the Document window. The black parts of the mask correspond to the unselected area which was the sky, and as you know black pixels on a layer mask hide content, so the content here of the sky is hidden from view.

The white parts of the layer mask correspond to the area that was selected which was the buildings. As you know white reveals on a layer mask, so we can see the buildings on this layer, and in between the buildings and the sky, if we were to zoom in, we would see some gray pixels which are partially transparent. Those were caused by the anti- aliasing on the Magic Wand tool. I'll Alt or Option+Click again on the layer mask thumbnail to bring the image back into view. Now I'm going to bring in another photo of the sky that's more dramatic.

You know that I'd like to use the Place command when I bring one photo in another during compositing so I explained in the last movie. Before I can use the Place command I have to make sure I'm no longer working on the layer mask. I can see that I am because there is a border around the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, so instead I'll click on the photo thumbnail, and that will make the Place command available under the File menu. I'll go to that menu and I'll choose Place. Then I'll navigate to a photo of the sky and I'll click the Place button, and that brings this photo into my Composite.

I am going to go up to the Options Bar and make sure this check mark, next to Constrain Proportions, now I can make this sky bigger and smaller so that it fits just underneath this hole in the foreground image. I'll click and drag on one of the corner anchor points, and then I'll click inside this bounding box and I'll push the whole sky up so that it's covering the top of the photo. I see there is a little more that I have to cover here, so again I can move over any of the corner anchor points and drag the sky a little bit bigger.

It doesn't matter that the sky is horizontal and the foreground photo is vertical. In fact, that gives me more latitude to move the sky around, so I have just the parts that I like showing through that hole in the foreground image. I am going to green check mark to accept those changes to the sky layer. And let's go over to the Layers panel, the sky layer is above the foreground layer, and so the sky really doesn't look right in the image. I want to put the sky behind the buildings so I'll drag the sky layer beneath the foreground layer in the Layers panel, like this, and now the image looks a lot better.

Because I use the Place command, the guy is on a special resizable layer. I can tell that because it has this little icon at the bottom right of its layered thumbnail, and that means that I can make the sky bigger and smaller as much as I want to get it so the clouds look just right for this particular photo. I'll get the Move tool and that gives me the bounding box around the sky, and I can click again in any of the corner anchor points, make the clouds smaller, make them bigger, and I can click inside this box and move them around to get just the composition that I want.

When I am satisfied I'll click that green check mark again. And when I click off the Move tool onto another tool, that bounding box is gone and I can enjoy my composite photo. Hiding a distracting or boring background and replacing it with a better image is one use for layer masks in compositing. In the next movie I'll show you another way you can use layer masks when you're compositing, which is to blend two photos together.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Photoshop Elements 10 Essential Training
Photoshop Elements 10 Essential Training

140 video lessons · 9427 viewers

Jan Kabili
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 23m 48s
    1. Welcome
      58s
    2. Getting around Elements
      6m 9s
    3. Exploring the differences in Mac versions of Elements
      5m 41s
    4. Working with Organizer catalogs
      6m 16s
    5. Using the exercise files
      4m 44s
  2. 21m 39s
    1. Touring the Organizer
      5m 35s
    2. Importing photos from a camera
      4m 44s
    3. Importing photos from a computer
      3m 1s
    4. Importing photos from an iPhoto library
      5m 27s
    5. Importing photos from external drives
      2m 52s
  3. 31m 24s
    1. Working in Thumbnail view
      4m 10s
    2. Working in Folder Location view
      4m 33s
    3. Reviewing photos in Full Screen view
      4m 55s
    4. Editing and organizing in Full Screen view
      7m 20s
    5. Comparing photos in Side by Side view
      4m 10s
    6. Displaying photos in Date view
      2m 40s
    7. Viewing photo information
      3m 36s
  4. 47m 47s
    1. Using keyword tags to categorize photos
      6m 42s
    2. Organizing keyword tags
      4m 25s
    3. Finding photos by keyword tag
      3m 39s
    4. Automatically tagging people
      8m 21s
    5. Using automatic smart tagging
      5m 36s
    6. Assigning ratings to photos
      4m 9s
    7. Creating albums to organize photos
      5m 7s
    8. Creating smart albums
      5m 52s
    9. Stacking photos to reduce thumbnail clutter
      3m 56s
  5. 24m 35s
    1. Finding photos that are visually similar to each other
      4m 3s
    2. Searching for an object in a photo
      3m 45s
    3. Finding duplicate photos
      4m 50s
    4. Searching by text
      5m 59s
    5. Exploring the Find menu
      4m 27s
    6. Finding photos in the Timeline
      1m 31s
  6. 22m 41s
    1. Deleting photos
      4m 30s
    2. Renaming photos
      2m 24s
    3. Moving photos
      3m 58s
    4. Reconnecting missing files
      4m 37s
    5. Changing photo dates
      4m 29s
    6. Backing up
      2m 43s
  7. 16m 14s
    1. Choosing an editing workspace
      4m 37s
    2. Autocorrecting with the Organizer's Photo Fix options
      3m 47s
    3. Photo finishing with the Organizer's Photo Fix options
      4m 2s
    4. Changing a Photo Fix adjustment
      3m 48s
  8. 22m 10s
    1. Editing with assistance: the Guided Edit workspace
      6m 27s
    2. Retouching a photo the step-by-step way
      7m 55s
    3. Creating a dreamlike Orton effect
      1m 8s
    4. Simulating shallow depth of field
      4m 11s
    5. Creating a collage using Picture Stack
      2m 29s
  9. 29m 26s
    1. Quick improvements: introducing the Quick Edit workspace
      3m 28s
    2. Applying Quick Edit corrections
      4m 8s
    3. Adjusting lighting
      4m 0s
    4. Correcting color
      4m 20s
    5. Fixing red-eye, improving skies, and touching up photos
      6m 28s
    6. Sharpening images
      3m 10s
    7. Saving in Quick Edit
      3m 52s
  10. 41m 16s
    1. Full control: introducing the Full Edit workspace
      5m 19s
    2. Tips for using the editing tools
      3m 50s
    3. Customizing panels
      5m 10s
    4. Undoing your work
      6m 22s
    5. Zooming and navigating
      4m 41s
    6. Saving images and examining file formats
      4m 50s
    7. Working with multiple documents
      4m 0s
    8. Creating a file from scratch
      2m 57s
    9. Customizing Editor preferences
      4m 7s
  11. 25m 42s
    1. Understanding layers
      7m 3s
    2. Managing layers in the Layers panel
      7m 19s
    3. Tips for working with layers
      4m 25s
    4. Understanding layer masks
      6m 55s
  12. 29m 59s
    1. Understanding selections
      6m 49s
    2. Using manual selection tools
      4m 42s
    3. Modifying selections
      4m 20s
    4. Using the automatic selection tools
      7m 11s
    5. Refining selections
      4m 50s
    6. Saving selections
      2m 7s
  13. 23m 52s
    1. Retouching blemishes with the Spot Healing Brush tool
      2m 50s
    2. Retouching skin with the Healing Brush tool
      6m 7s
    3. Retouching with the Clone Stamp tool
      1m 58s
    4. Using the Content-Aware option in the Spot Healing Brush to remove content
      3m 13s
    5. Touching up photos with the Smart Brush tools
      7m 22s
    6. Using the Dodge, Burn, and Sponge tools
      2m 22s
  14. 1h 0m
    1. Understanding color management
      7m 23s
    2. Understanding adjustment layers
      6m 49s
    3. Adjusting part of a photo
      6m 16s
    4. Correcting contrast and brightness using Levels controls
      5m 6s
    5. Enhancing color with Hue/Saturation
      4m 32s
    6. Improving shadow and highlights using Shadow/Highlight
      2m 36s
    7. Adjusting lighting and color using Color Curves
      3m 53s
    8. Removing a color cast
      2m 11s
    9. Converting color to black and white
      3m 15s
    10. Reducing noise
      3m 53s
    11. Sharpening images
      6m 43s
    12. Processing multiple photos
      8m 19s
  15. 23m 6s
    1. Resizing and changing photo resolution
      7m 1s
    2. Cropping photos
      5m 35s
    3. Straightening photos
      2m 35s
    4. Adding canvas around photos
      2m 43s
    5. Changing a photos orientation using the Recompose tool
      5m 12s
  16. 23m 50s
    1. Combining photos using the Place command
      5m 21s
    2. Using a layer mask to hide a background
      6m 26s
    3. Blending images using a gradient
      8m 18s
    4. Blending images using Blend modes
      3m 45s
  17. 24m 2s
    1. Creating text
      6m 22s
    2. Editing text
      3m 49s
    3. Creating text on a selection
      6m 1s
    4. Creating text around a shape
      3m 51s
    5. Creating text on a custom path
      3m 59s
  18. 22m 43s
    1. Applying filters
      5m 24s
    2. Adding effects
      2m 6s
    3. Adding layer styles
      7m 38s
    4. Making shapes
      5m 17s
    5. Using the Cookie Cutter tool
      2m 18s
  19. 42m 14s
    1. Understanding Camera Raw
      3m 35s
    2. The Camera Raw interface
      5m 16s
    3. Adjusting color using the white balance controls
      4m 41s
    4. Controlling lighting and contrast
      6m 26s
    5. Enhancing photos with the Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation controls
      2m 39s
    6. Cropping and straightening
      2m 12s
    7. Reducing Noise
      2m 24s
    8. Sharpening
      6m 46s
    9. Outputting from Camera Raw
      4m 43s
    10. Processing multiple photos in Camera Raw
      3m 32s
  20. 56m 43s
    1. Creating a photo book
      6m 50s
    2. Completing the photo book
      10m 5s
    3. Creating a photo calendar
      8m 19s
    4. Creating a photo greeting card
      5m 17s
    5. Making other photo creations in the Create workspace
      2m 8s
    6. Outputting photo creations from the Create workspace
      2m 50s
    7. Creating a photo slideshow in Windows
      8m 45s
    8. Completing the photo slideshow
      3m 31s
    9. Making a scrapbook page from scratch in Full Edit
      8m 58s
  21. 41m 34s
    1. Printing photos
      8m 30s
    2. Printing contact sheets and picture packages in Windows
      5m 23s
    3. Printing contact sheets and picture packages on a Mac
      8m 33s
    4. Ordering prints from the Organizer
      4m 22s
    5. Sharing photos by email from the Organizer
      3m 46s
    6. Sharing photos with Photo Mail in Windows
      5m 3s
    7. Sharing photos on Facebook from the Organizer
      3m 42s
    8. Sharing photos on Flickr from the Organizer
      2m 15s
  22. 7m 34s
    1. Signing up for an Adobe ID
      2m 20s
    2. Sharing online albums from the Organizer to Photoshop.com
      5m 14s
  23. 40s
    1. Goodbye
      40s

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