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In Photoshop CS4: Layer Masks in Depth, Jan Kabili takes an in-depth look at using layer masks to create professional-looking image composites and make targeted photo corrections. Jan examines some common situations in which layer masks are the key to creating convincing image composites. She demonstrates practical ways to enhance photos with layer masking, including masking adjustment layers and Smart Filters to affect part of a photo. She explains how to use layer masks to combine different exposures of the same scene, and teaches how to work with vector masks to achieve a clean, graphic look. Exercise files accompany the course.
Adding a black to white gradient to a layer mask is the professional way to create a seamless blend between the content of two layers in the same document. If you have a different images on two layers, as I do here, this technique will create a smooth gradual fade between those images that often looks better than the result you get by painting with black, white or gray on a layer mask, or even by working with a precise selection on a layer mask. Before I get started with this technique, let me show you the two images that I want to blend together. On the top layer, the carnival layer in the Layers panel, I have this image of a masked figure at the carnival in Venice, Italy.
I'll make that layer invisible by clicking its eye icon, so you can see the content of the layer below, the canal layer, and this a canal in Venice. And then I'll make the carnival layer visible again, by clicking its eye icon. The first step is to add a layer mask to the top layer, the carnival layer. To do that with the carnival layer selected, I'll go down to the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and I'll click that icon. That adds a layer mask represented by this thumbnail, and you can see that the layer mask is filled with white pixels. As I have said in previous movies, white pixels on the layer mask like this reveal all the content on the attached layer.
So we can now see everything on the carnival layer. I would like to add a grayscale gradient to this layer mask. That's going to partially and gradually hide the content on the carnival layer, so we can see down to the canal on the layer below. To do that, I'm going to go to the Toolbox, and I'll select the Gradient tool. Then I'll go down to my foreground and background colors, what I want to do is create a gradient that runs from the foreground color to the background color. By default, the Gradient tool creates a gradient that runs from the foreground color to the background color.
I would like to make a gradient that goes from black, which hides to white, which reveals. So I'm going to switch my foreground and background colors by pressing the X key on my keyboard. I'll go up to the Gradient bar in the Options bar for the Gradient tool, and it should look just like this with black on the left and white on the right. If your gradient doesn't look like this, click the arrow just on the right side of this field, and in the palette that opens, you should see this default set of gradients. Click on the first icon here, which represents the foreground to background gradient preset.
If you don't see this particular set of icons, go to the arrow on the right side of this palette, click there, and choose Reset Gradients and then click OK, and that will bring up this default set of gradients from which you can choose the first one, the foreground to background gradient. Then click in a blank area of the Options bar to close that palette. Now I'm ready to draw my gradient. I'm going to double-check in the Layers panel that there is a border around the layer mask thumbnail, rather than the image thumbnail on the carnival layer. Then I'll go into the image and I'm going to start on the left side of this image, and I'm just going to click and drag across the image, stopping somewhere in the middle of the woman's mask.
It is always a guess where to start and stop that gradient line. The length and direction of that line affect the way that your gradient will look. In this case, I have done a pretty good job of drawing a gradient that hides the left side of the carnival layer, and then gradually begins to show the image on the carnival layer, until I get over to the right side of the carnival layer, where I can see the content of that layer. Let's take a look at the layer mask that's causing this behavior. I'm going to hold the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC, as I click on the layer mask on the carnival layer.
Because I dragged from the left side to the right side with a foreground to background gradient, I have black in this area that's hiding the content of the carnival layer. White, over on the right that's showing the content of the carnival layer, and then a gradual progression of shades of gray from left to right that creates this soft blend between the content that's showing, and the content that's hidden on this layer. I'll go back to the regular view by holding the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC, as I click on that layer mask thumbnail again.
And now I can come in and tweak this gradient. I could draw the gradient again, if I don't like the way it turned out the first time. So I could start up here for example, and maybe stop here, and notice that each time I draw this gradient, I get a different look. After I have drawn the gradient, I can come in with the Brush tool and fine-tune it. So in this case I might get the Brush tool here in the Toolbox, and let's say that I would like to hide a little bit more of the woman's hat. I'll leave my foreground color set to black, which hides on the layer mask, I'll come into the image, and I'm going to make my brush bigger interactively, so that I can see the brush tip, by pressing the right bracket key on my keyboard.
I also want to use a soft brush, so I'm going to hold down the Shift key as I press the left bracket key on my keyboard, and that will make the edge of this brush tip softer. Then I'm going to go up to the Opacity field for the Brush tool, and I'm going to lower the opacity of the brush slightly, so that I'm not painting with black paint, but rather with gray paint, as I click and drag over this portion of the image. Now let's take a look at the layer mask, by holding the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC, and you can see the gray pixels that I have drawn in there on top of the gradient.
So I often use a mix of painted grayscale pixels along with a grayscale gradient on a layer mask, like this. I'm going to Option or Alt click again on the layer mask thumbnail to go back to the regular document view. I want to show you one more thing about the Gradient tool. If I select the Gradient tool again in the Toolbox, and I go up to the Options bar, I see a series of five icons here, which represent the shape of a gradient. I was using the default shape, the Linear Gradient to draw the gradient on the layer mask that you just saw.
Let's try another kind of gradient, a Radial Gradient by clicking the second icon from the left in this series of five icons in the Options bar. Now, this gradient is going to draw a circular gradient from the inside out. What I would like to do is to have the woman's face on the carnival layer showing, but then have that gradually fade out in a circular pattern. So I want to start with white in the center of the radial gradient. To make that happen, I'll just switch my foreground and background colors by pressing X on my keyboard, or clicking this double arrow.
Now I can see in this gradient field in the Options bar that I'll be drawing a white to black gradient. I'll click in the middle of the woman's face, and I'll drag out toward the edge of the image, and this is the result that I get. If I want to see more of the woman's face, I'll try again, clicking in the middle of her face, and then dragging way out, pass the edge of my document window, and that makes the white part of the gradient lighter. Again, I could come in with the Paint Brush tool and touch this up, perhaps eliminating a little bit of the image on the carnival layer over here, by switching to black paint, clicking the double pointed arrow or pressing X on my keyboard, getting my Brush tool, and with a soft brush and a low brush opacity, I'll remove a little bit of the carnival layer here, and maybe up here as well, and this is all subjective.
Making use of the Gradient on this layer mask to get just the effect that I want. A grayscale gradient on a layer mask can be used to combine two different images as I have done here. But it's also useful to combine two versions of the same image. Like say two photographs that you have taken with different exposures, or with different white balance settings. A grayscale gradient is also useful for gradually fading the effect of a photo adjustment between one part of an image and another. I'm going to show you how to use a grayscale gradient for both of those situations later in this course.
But now you have the basics of adding a grayscale gradient to a layer mask, to get some really interesting results.
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