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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.
The new Masks panel in Photoshop CS4 offers some new controls that expand the functionality of layer masking. One of those is the Density slider, which you can see here in the Masks panel. The Density slider allows you to control the strength of the effect of the pixels that you add to a layer mask. To show you that, I have an image with two layers. The letter layer, the top layer, already has a layer mask on it, but I have made that layer mask inactive. By holding the Shift key, as I clicked on the layer mask thumbnail on the letter layer, and that put this big red X on top of the layer mask thumbnail, and it allows us to see the entire content of the letter layer here in the document window.
You can see that this layer has some old fashioned items on it, and those are lying on a plain white background, which is visible in the bottom left and the top right of the image. I really didn't like that white background. I wanted it to have more texture. So, I added another layer, the marble layer beneath the letter layer. Let me show you the content of that layer, by clicking the eye icon to the left of the letter layer. Now, you can see the orange texture on the marble layer. I'll make the letter layer visible again by clicking it's eye icon.
Now, I'm going to show you the layer mask that I had already created on the letter layer. To do that I'll just click on the layer mask thumbnail to make the layer mask active again. First, notice the effect of this layer mask. The layer mask is hiding the content of the letter layer at the bottom left, and the top right, allowing us to see through to the marble texture on the layer beneath. Let's take a look at that layer mask. I'm going to hold down the Option key on the Mac, the Alt key on the PC, and click on the layer mask thumbnail to show the layer mask in the document window.
You can see that the areas that I had selected at the bottom left and the top right, I had filled with black pixels. Those black pixels are completely hiding the content of the letter layer in those areas. Now, I'm going to make sure that I have that layer mask thumbnail selected, and I'm going to go up to take a look at the Density slider in the Masks panel. By default, the density of a layer mask is 100%. But I can lower the density or the strength of this layer mask by dragging the Density slider to the left, as I'm going to do now.
I will take it down to about, say 60% or so, and notice that there is a mark defect in the image. Now, the marble on the layer below isn't coming through strongly as it was a moment ago, because the layer mask is now only partially hiding this part, and this part of the white background content on the letter layer. To show you that, I'm going to Option or Alt click on the layer mask thumbnail again, and you can see in the document window that the pixels that have been black on the layer mask are now less dense, changing them from black to gray.
As you know, gray pixels on a layer mask only partially hide the content of the layer to which the mask is attached. In this case the letter layer. I'll Option-click or Alt-click again on the layer mask thumbnail to bring the document back in to view. So, it's very useful to have this Density slider right here, on the front of the Masks panel. Another benefit of the Density slider is that it's interactive. In other words you can always come back in, and change the density of a layer mask. So, let's say I was working on another layer in the image, and then I decided that I wanted the layer mask to be more dense.
I can come back at any time, click on the layer mask thumbnail, and then go up to the Masks panel, click on the Density slider and drag it to the right, making the layer mask denser, in other words a darker gray. So, that it's having a stronger masking effect on the corresponding portion of the letter layer. So, remember that once you have added a layer mask, you are not yet done. You can still change the density of the mask at any time by using the new Density slider in the Masks panel.
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