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In Photoshop Elements 9 Essential Training, Jan Kabili highlights the key features of this comprehensive image organization and photo enhancement application. She shows how to correct and enhance photographs, and how to organize a growing collection of digital photos. The course also explains how to use photos in creative projects like photo books, calendars, and greeting cards, and how to share work online and in print. Exercise files accompany the course.
One use of layer Masks is to combine photos here in the Full Edit workspace into multi-layered composite images. In this example, I'll show you how to use that technique to switch out a background on one image for a more interesting background on another. Let's start by taking a look at my Project Bin. If your Project Bin isn't open, you can click on its tab to expand it here at the bottom of the Full Edit workspace and notice that my Project Bin is set to Show Open Files which is the default. I've opened two files into the Full Edit workspace; this photo of my daughter Kate by photographer Roddy Macinnes and this photo of a rainy pond.
I'm going to use a layer Mask to combine these two photos in a way that's nondestructive of both photos and that's editable. The first step is to combine the two photos into one document. Right now, you can see that there is only a single layer in the rainy pond image. I'm going to bring the photo of Kate into this pond image. There are several ways to do that. I think the easiest way is from the Project Bin. I'll click on the Kate thumbnail in the Project Bin and then I'll drag up and into the rainy pond image in the Document window.
It's really important to get all the way inside the rainy pond image. It wouldn't be enough if I released my mouse down here. I need to bring it all the way inside the image and then I'll release my mouse. Now you can see in the layers panel that in the pond image, there are two layers, a brand-new layer that was made automatically for me that contains the photo of Kate and notice that that layer is automatically named with the name of the kate-4.jpg photo. So that's nice because I don't have to bother changing that layer name and then I have the background layer below that still has the photo of the pond.
So what I want to do is to hide this area around the umbrella and around Kate, so that we can see down through that area to the pond on the layer below. Now there are a couple of ways to use a layer Mask for this purpose. As I showed you in the preceding movie, I could first add a layer Mask and then I could select this area here and fill it with black on the layer Mask. But if I want to save a step, I can make a selection first and then add a layer Mask and that will save me time because the layer Mask will come in with black paint already applied to the non-selected area.
So I'm going to do it that way for the sake of efficiency and to show you a different approach than I showed you in the last movie. So the first step is to make a selection. I'm going to select the umbrella and Kate. I can use any of the selection tools to do that, but I think in this case, the easiest tool to use will be the Quick Selection tool, which selects based on color and tone and is smart enough to see edges as well. I'll go over to the toolbar and I'll get the Quick Selection tool, then I'll move my mouse into the image and I'm going to make the brush tip really small because this tool works best with a small brush tip.
So I'll use the Left Bracket key on my keyboard, pressing several times to make the brush tip small. Then I'll click on the umbrella and I'll start dragging and as I drag, the Quick Selection tool automatically selects similar color and tone. If I miss a bit, I can just click and drag to add to the selection and if I've included a bit in the selection that I don't want, like the green grass here, I can go up to the options bar and click on the minus icon and then come into the image I'll make my brush even smaller by pressing the Left Bracket key a couple of more times and I'll click and drag to remove that little bit of grass from the selection.
Now, if I were trying to make a really good selection, at this point I would click the Refine Edge button and try to smooth out the edge of this selection. I'll show you how to do that in a later movie, but for purposes of this layer Mask technique, let's just move on with this rough selection. Now that I have that selection active, I'm going to add a layer Mask. I'll go to the layers panel and I'll make sure that the Kate layer is still targeted there and then I'll go down to the bottom of the layers panel and click the Add layer Mask icon. The layer mask represented by this thumbnail on the Kate layer comes in with black paint already added to the non-selected area.
As you can see in the image where there is black paint on that layer mask, it's hiding the content of the Kate layer, the layer to which the layer mask is attached. I can still see the rest of the Kate layer, because in that area the layer Mask is white. If you're wondering why I didn't just select this area over here and delete it from the Kate layer, the answers are the same as those I gave you in the last movie that using a layer Mask is both nondestructive of the Kate image and gives me the chance to come in and do some editing to the mask.
So if I wanted to make this edge softer, I might get the Brush tool and paint with black or white along this edge to try to make it a little smoother. Here's another way that I can smooth out the edge of a mask after I've created it. I can apply a filter to the mask. To show you that, I'll go back to the layers panel and I'll double-check that there is a thin border around the layer Mask thumbnail which means that I have the mask selected, not the photo on that layer. Then I am going to go up to the Filter menu and I am going to go to the Blur category of Filters and I'm going to choose the Gaussian Blur Filter.
Here I have a preview of the layer Mask which I can drag into View by clicking and dragging. When I have my mouse pressed down on that preview, it's showing me the edge of the mask before I've added any blur to it. So as you can see, there's a really jaggedy sharp edge there. But when I release my mouse you can see how that edge will look with this Gaussian Blur Filter applied at this particular radius. I can play with this radius, but I don't want to make it too high or that edge will be too blurry. I think I am going to leave it at two because I like the preview that I'm seeing over here in the Document window.
If you don't see a soft edge there, then go back to the Gaussian Blur dialog box and make sure there's a check mark in Preview, which allows me to see the results of applying Gaussian Blur here in the document and then I'll click OK. Now when I go to save this image, I want to be sure that I save it in a format that retains layers, so that I can come back in and rework the layer Mask if I need to. So I'll save in the Photoshop document format, not in the JPG format which flattens layers, so that I'd no longer have access to the layer Mask. So that's a simple example of using a layer Mask to combine two photographs into a composite.
I'd like to show you a variation on this technique in the next movie in which I am going to use a gradient on a layer Mask to make a soft gradual transition between two images in a composite.
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