Easy-to-follow video tutorials help you learn software, creative, and business skills.Become a member
We need to take a minute to talk about the fundamentals of masking and using layer masks in Photoshop. So let's start with a very simple illustration. I'm going to select my Rectangular Marquee tool and I want to make sure that this first icon is selected, so that I can create a new selection and then I'll just click and drag, kind of like I'm dragging an edge, except that of course, I'm selecting the inside of my image. Because what I want to do is I want to create a vignette, but I wanted it to be a nice soft edged vignette and I wanted it to be really flexible in case I change my mind.
So, now that I have my selection made, even though I'm on a background layer Photoshop is smart enough to know that if I click the mask icon to add a layer mask, Photoshop will automatically turn the background into a layer and add that layer mask, and we can see that this mask is now hiding the photograph in this outer area. If we want to look at the mask, we can hold down the Option key or the Alt key that's what the mask looks like.
Wherever a mask is white in Photoshop, you can see the information on that layer, meaning that when I toggle back on the visibility, where the mask as white, I'm seeing the photograph. Where the layer mask is black around the edges, that's where the photograph is hidden, but I don't really like that it's such an abrupt change between seeing the photo and then the white border. What I'd like to do is soften that. Now in the past, a lot of times people would make a selection and then add a feather to that selection in order to soften it.
Well, we can do the same thing today, but we can do it in a non-destructive manner and that's by using the Properties panel. You want to make sure that you have the mask selected, then click on the Properties panel. You can see that we're targeting the mask, this is what the layer mask looks like, and down below that there's a feather slider. If I click and drag that to the right, you can see as I increase the number of pixels in my feather, we're getting a nice soft edge. So I'll just keep increasing that until I like the vignetting effect.
Now let's take a look at what's happening with the mask. I'll go ahead and Option or Alt click on the mask itself, so that we can see it, and then we'll look at the Properties panel. You can see as I move the Feather slider, the mask is getting harder or softer along the edge. It's almost like I'm blurring the whole mask and it really is quite nice, because it is completely flexible. Right? If I save this Photoshop file and I come back to it next week or next month, I can always come back in here and change the feather Amount.
We'll go ahead and set that maybe around 10 and we'll click OK in order to see what that looks like. Now in the last video we spent some time making a more complex selection around the window and the archway. Well, I saved that selection into this file and we can quickly access it by going to the Select menu and then choosing Load Selection, I want to select the Window, click OK and now we have the marching ants. What we didn't do in the previous movie was we didn't soften the edge, we added an adjustment.
In fact, we added the Brightness and Contrast Adjustment and we moved the brightness to the left to make it look as if the window was receding into the brick wall, but had we looked closely, had we zoomed in to 100%, I'll use Cmd+1 to do that. You might notice that there is a harsh edge around my selection, so I can tell what areas were changed and what areas were not. Now that we know about the Properties panel and about the way layer masks work, we can soften that edge non-destructively just like we did with the vignette, I'll make sure that the layer mask with Thumbnail is selected and then we'll use our Properties panel, you can see that the Mask is targeted.
If the Brightness and Contrast Adjustment layer is targeted, this is what the dialog would look like, so be sure that you target the mask and then we can add a feather. Now in this instance we're not going to need nearly as large of a feather, as we did with the vignette, because we don't want the feather so soft that some of the brick on the outside of the window is changed. So, I would say a feather of around 1 or 2 should be sufficient. Now if we Option or ALT click on the mask for the Adjustment layer, you can see that we've just softened up all of those edges, so that it doesn't look like we've just simply kind of cut out one area and made a change to it.
It's going to be much more seamless and people won't know that that area has been manipulated. The important thing to know here is that when you're working with masks, wherever the mask is white, you're going to see the content in that layer or in the case of an adjustment layer, wherever the mask is white, you're going to see the effects of that adjustment, and wherever is the mask is black, Photoshop is going either hide the contents of the layer or it's going to hide the adjustment. And all the layer masks work this way, it doesn't matter if you put a layer mask on type or on a shape layer or on a photograph. White will always show the contents on the layer and black will always hide the contents of the layer, and then in order to change the edges of any of your masks, all you need to do is target the mask in the Layers panel and use the Properties panel to add your non-destructive feather.
Get unlimited access to all courses for just $25/month.Become a member
180 Video lessons · 70145 Viewers
64 Video lessons · 91995 Viewers
86 Video lessons · 60248 Viewers
103 Video lessons · 28907 Viewers
Access exercise files from a button right under the course name.
Search within course videos and transcripts, and jump right to the results.
Remove icons showing you already watched videos if you want to start over.
Make the video wide, narrow, full-screen, or pop the player out of the page into its own window.
Click on text in the transcript to jump to that spot in the video. As the video plays, the relevant spot in the transcript will be highlighted.