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Creating the best possible layer mask


Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery

with Deke McClelland

Video: Creating the best possible layer mask

In this exercise, we're going to manually blend together the aligned images of my sons, Max and Sam. I've gone ahead and saved a more streamlined version of that composition as Two aligned layers.psd. Now this mask job here seems to present a really big problem. After all, if I were to take the Sam layer, which is currently on top, and set it to 50%, let's say, by pressing the 5 key, that is 50% Opacity. You'll see that the ribs along the slide do not match up at all. So I believe, if I turn this layer off and then on for a moment, I can see that this area here is the rib for the foreground slide, and this area right there is the rib for the background slide. And then we've got Max's feet, which aren't aligned with each other and Sam's hand. And this edge of the slide is not in alignment, and then down here at the bottom, we have an alignment problem as well.
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  1. 40m 45s
    1. Welcome
      2m 45s
    2. Making Photoshop your default image editor
      7m 43s
    3. Installing the dekeKeys keyboard shortcuts
      8m 10s
    4. Remapping OS shortcuts
      7m 37s
    5. Installing the Best Workflow color settings
      4m 31s
    6. The color settings explained
      6m 54s
    7. Loading the CS5 color settings in Bridge
      3m 5s
  2. 1h 11m
    1. Your creative range continues to expand
      1m 46s
    2. The Avatar project so far
      2m 38s
    3. Painting on a photograph
      7m 50s
    4. Adding texture and depth
      6m 14s
    5. Simulating chalky white paint
      7m 23s
    6. Masking and placing an image
      7m 20s
    7. Upsampling and Lens Blur
      5m 9s
    8. Blending blurry elements
      3m 48s
    9. Making a Smart Object
      6m 46s
    10. Placing an image as a Smart Object
      3m 22s
    11. Blending away a background
      5m 56s
    12. Applying Smart Filters
      4m 34s
    13. Creating a glow with Lens Flare
      3m 45s
    14. Blending and masking a glow
      5m 3s
  3. 1h 26m
    1. Using the image to select itself
      1m 53s
    2. Introducing masking
      6m 32s
    3. Making an alpha channel
      6m 54s
    4. Using the Calculations command
      6m 48s
    5. Add, Subtract, Offset, and Scale
      5m 54s
    6. Prepping an image with the Dodge tool
      6m 55s
    7. Fixing mistakes before they get too big
      6m 32s
    8. Painting in the Overlay mode
      5m 51s
    9. Exaggerating and selecting flesh tones
      7m 39s
    10. Smudge, Median, and the Blur tool
      6m 59s
    11. Masking low-contrast details
      6m 7s
    12. Creating a flesh-and-clothing mask
      5m 45s
    13. Masking and compositing the foreground
      5m 27s
    14. Finessing the final composition
      7m 39s
  4. 2h 24m
    1. Connecting the dots
      1m 40s
    2. The Pen tool and the Paths panel
      6m 32s
    3. Drawing a straight-sided outline
      6m 25s
    4. Editing a path outline
      6m 36s
    5. Adding and editing smooth points
      5m 35s
    6. Creating vector masks with the shape tools
      4m 59s
    7. Building a complex outline from shapes
      4m 26s
    8. Subtracting and transforming shapes
      6m 45s
    9. Cloning, flipping, and combining shapes
      8m 58s
    10. Roughing in non-symmetrical paths
      7m 41s
    11. Finessing a complex outline
      9m 15s
    12. Masking a layer effect
      8m 26s
    13. Isolating an image element
      6m 8s
    14. Smooth points and control handles
      9m 3s
    15. Stretching curved segments
      7m 49s
    16. Using the Rubber Band option
      9m 33s
    17. Drawing smooth points with the Pen tool
      6m 59s
    18. Shading an isolated object
      3m 45s
    19. Drawing cusp points
      7m 14s
    20. Setting points in the pasteboard
      9m 57s
    21. Using the Convert Point tool
      6m 42s
  5. 2h 57m
    1. Everything you need to know about blending
      1m 45s
    2. Photoshop CS5's blend modes
      7m 21s
    3. Cycling between blend modes
      6m 15s
    4. Darken and Lighten and their derivatives
      6m 3s
    5. The blend mode shortcuts
      8m 6s
    6. The Multiply and Burn modes
      4m 28s
    7. The Screen and Dodge modes
      6m 0s
    8. How opposite blend modes work
      8m 24s
    9. Why Multiply darkens and Divide lightens
      5m 23s
    10. Cleaning up a client's bad art
      5m 3s
    11. Dropping out a white background
      5m 56s
    12. Blending inside blend modes
      8m 3s
    13. Overlay, Soft Light, and Hard Light
      6m 26s
    14. Vivid, Linear, and Pin Light (and Hard Mix)
      6m 35s
    15. Difference, Exclusion, Subtract, and Divide
      7m 34s
    16. Great uses for the Difference mode
      6m 18s
    17. Promising uses for the Divide mode
      9m 6s
    18. Hue, Saturation, Color, and Luminosity
      7m 0s
    19. Blending an inverted layer
      3m 32s
    20. The "Fill Opacity Eight"
      7m 25s
    21. Making bad blend modes good
      5m 16s
    22. Making a knockout layer
      6m 53s
    23. Blending in the CMYK mode
      8m 3s
    24. Overprinting black text
      8m 29s
    25. Using the Luminance slider
      5m 24s
    26. Parametric luminance masking
      6m 21s
    27. Adjusting the behavior of luminance effects
      10m 8s
  6. 2h 2m
    1. Smart Objects = protective containers
      1m 35s
    2. Placing an Illustrator graphic
      6m 30s
    3. Vector copy and paste options
      6m 56s
    4. Applying Puppet Warp to vectors
      8m 9s
    5. "Gluing" vector art for Puppet Warp
      5m 50s
    6. Warping art onto the surface of an image
      8m 7s
    7. Blending a Smart Object
      4m 30s
    8. Blurring and blending a Smart Object
      6m 8s
    9. Making changes in Illustrator
      5m 57s
    10. Creating "true clones"
      7m 18s
    11. Double-flipping text
      4m 44s
    12. Applying effects to multiple layers
      3m 24s
    13. Updating true clones in one operation
      7m 36s
    14. Editing JPEGs as Camera Raw objects
      5m 49s
    15. Creating a double-exposure effect
      7m 15s
    16. Masking and shading transitions
      7m 47s
    17. Applying and repeating Camera Raw edits
      6m 9s
    18. Copying vs. cloning a Smart Object
      5m 18s
    19. Flipping a Smart Object and its mask
      3m 42s
    20. Adjusting multiple Camera Raw clones
      3m 53s
    21. Text that inverts everything behind it
      5m 34s
  7. 1h 59m
    1. This time, "smart" means dynamic
      1m 37s
    2. Introducing Smart Filters
      6m 28s
    3. Traditional High Pass sharpening
      5m 17s
    4. Smart High Pass in the Lab mode
      7m 57s
    5. Sharpening a high-frequency image
      7m 46s
    6. Retroactively reducing noise
      7m 31s
    7. Which filters are Smart Filters?
      6m 20s
    8. Shadows/Highlights as a Smart Filter
      4m 37s
    9. Nesting one Smart Object inside another
      7m 11s
    10. Drawing a mask from a nested Smart Object
      8m 7s
    11. Better Shadows/Highlights inside Lab
      9m 16s
    12. Tempering saturation values in Lab
      7m 0s
    13. Filtering live, editable text
      9m 2s
    14. Enhancing filters with layer effects
      4m 33s
    15. Applying a filter multiple times
      5m 0s
    16. Creating a synthetic star field
      7m 7s
    17. Making a stucco or drywall pattern
      6m 28s
    18. Land, sea, and clouds
      8m 27s
  8. 2h 50m
    1. Photoshop's advanced painting tools
      2m 3s
    2. Canvas texture and brush libraries
      6m 40s
    3. Painting with a predefined custom brush
      9m 21s
    4. Dissecting a custom brush
      11m 9s
    5. Designing and using a custom brush
      4m 54s
    6. Saving and loading brush presets
      5m 27s
    7. The ten styles of bristle brushes
      9m 47s
    8. Size, Spacing, and Angle
      7m 2s
    9. Using the Bristle Brush preview
      7m 53s
    10. Bristles, Length, Thickness, and Stiffness
      6m 53s
    11. Stylus tilt and mouse behavior
      5m 25s
    12. Stroking a path outline with a brush
      4m 0s
    13. Troubleshooting a stylus
      5m 49s
    14. Introducing the Mixer Brush
      7m 22s
    15. The Load, Mix, and Wet values
      5m 1s
    16. Cleaning and loading a brush
      6m 26s
    17. Shading a piece of graphic art
      6m 34s
    18. Shading with color
      7m 53s
    19. Mixing a photographic portrait
      6m 11s
    20. Tracing the fine details in an image
      5m 52s
    21. Crosshatching and brush size
      5m 53s
    22. Covering up and augmenting details
      7m 36s
    23. Painting in hair and fabric
      5m 54s
    24. Painting and scaling very fine hairs
      8m 7s
    25. Adding texture with the Emboss filter
      8m 31s
    26. Exploiting a "happy accident"
      2m 46s
  9. 1h 40m
    1. Artificial intelligence that works
      1m 22s
    2. The Auto-Align Layers command
      7m 25s
    3. The Auto-Blend Layers command
      3m 54s
    4. Masking auto-aligned layers
      4m 50s
    5. The Geometric Distortion setting
      6m 44s
    6. The Seamless Tones and Colors checkbox
      4m 8s
    7. Creating the best possible layer mask
      9m 18s
    8. Auto-blending depths of field
      5m 54s
    9. Finessing masks, accepting imperfections
      6m 29s
    10. Shooting and downsampling panorama images
      5m 54s
    11. Introducing the Photomerge command
      6m 40s
    12. Evaluating the Layout settings
      6m 47s
    13. Loading, aligning, and blending with Photomerge
      5m 36s
    14. Tracing and extracting seams
      7m 18s
    15. Adding a masked element into a panorama
      5m 55s
    16. Simplifying and correcting a panorama
      5m 58s
    17. Smart Filters and nondestructive cropping
      6m 43s
  10. 1h 18m
    1. The most mysterious of mysterious topics
      2m 29s
    2. Introducing HDR Toning
      6m 43s
    3. Reigning in clipped highlights
      5m 54s
    4. The Local Adaptation options
      9m 5s
    5. Nondestructive editing with HDR Toning
      8m 22s
    6. Using the HDR Toning Curve
      7m 2s
    7. HDR Toning vs. Shadows/Highlights
      6m 0s
    8. Merging multiple exposures
      7m 14s
    9. A first look at HDR Pro
      6m 24s
    10. Removing ghosts, correcting backlighting
      7m 11s
    11. Generating and editing an HDR comp
      7m 0s
    12. HDR rendered to completion
      5m 19s
  11. 1h 27m
    1. Processing hundreds of files in no time
      1m 43s
    2. Creating an action set
      6m 37s
    3. Making an action
      7m 7s
    4. Stop, Delete, and Record
      7m 12s
    5. Add, Undo, and Rerecord
      6m 40s
    6. Playing and testing an action
      6m 31s
    7. Playing and editing a specific operation
      6m 39s
    8. Permitting the user to change settings
      4m 58s
    9. Explaining an action with a custom stop
      5m 0s
    10. Batch-processing multiple images
      7m 22s
    11. Adding a Save As operation
      6m 34s
    12. Creating an action to save web graphics
      7m 59s
    13. Batching two actions into one
      7m 15s
    14. Saving and loading actions
      5m 30s
  12. 1m 19s
    1. See ya
      1m 19s

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Watch the Online Video Course Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
20h 1m Advanced Sep 30, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In the all-new Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery, the third and final installment of the popular series, join industry expert and award-winning author Deke McClelland for an in-depth tour of the most powerful and empowering features of Photoshop CS5. Discover the vast possibilities of traditional tools, such as masking and blend modes, and then delve into Smart Objects, Photomerge, as well as the new Puppet Warp, Mixer Brush, and HDR features. Exercise files accompany the course.

Recommended prerequisites: Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals and Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Advanced.

Topics include:
  • Using masks and blend modes in radically new ways
  • Mastering the Pen tool and Paths panel
  • Transforming and maximizing Smart Objects
  • Employing Smart Filters to create complex effects
  • Exploring the capabilities of Bristle brushes and the Mixer Brush
  • Merging multiple images into seamless panoramas
  • Exploring the full range of luminance with HDR Pro
  • Recording actions and batching-processing images
Design Photography
Deke McClelland

Creating the best possible layer mask

In this exercise, we're going to manually blend together the aligned images of my sons, Max and Sam. I've gone ahead and saved a more streamlined version of that composition as Two aligned layers.psd. Now this mask job here seems to present a really big problem. After all, if I were to take the Sam layer, which is currently on top, and set it to 50%, let's say, by pressing the 5 key, that is 50% Opacity. You'll see that the ribs along the slide do not match up at all. So I believe, if I turn this layer off and then on for a moment, I can see that this area here is the rib for the foreground slide, and this area right there is the rib for the background slide. And then we've got Max's feet, which aren't aligned with each other and Sam's hand. And this edge of the slide is not in alignment, and then down here at the bottom, we have an alignment problem as well.

This is the rib of the forward slide, and this is the rib of the backward slide. Meanwhile, everything about the background, that is the park in the background and the foliage and so on, that all aligns splendidly. The first time I approached this image I thought, okay, I'm going to have to basically distort the ribs of the slide in order to align with each other, because otherwise I don't stand a prayer of masking Sammy in place correctly, because I'd have to cut him off some place in the middle of the torso which isn't going to look right. And even then, it's going to take me a fair amount of painting in order to get these images to match.

Of course, the whole time I'm thinking, one of the images needs to contain Sam, and the other image needs to contain Max, and then we'll blend the two together. And I'm demonstrating this too just to show you how wrong-headed an approach to masking can be. Bear in mind as you're working through your own masking projects, and as you're trying to mask two images together in a group shot, for example, always look for the simplest solution. So let me show you an example to the contrary. It's called Elaborate mask.psd, and what I did in order to blend the best shots of my kids, and notice they are now blended - there is Max looking inquisitive at the camera, and there is Sammy looking hostile - what I ended up doing was I took the Sam layer right there, and I applied a puppet warp to it.

Notice, by the way, it's a Smart Object. I went ahead and converted the layer to a Smart Object. Then I applied Puppet Warp, and here are my pins. I only have a total of seven pins along the ribs of the slide and right there along that area that needed to be moved into alignment, so that the slides align to each other. But what ended up happening, as a result, is the background went wonky. It went out of alignment, which was just fine because then I just went ahead and masked the whole background in the place. So I'll zoom out a click here, so you can see the difference. I'll Shift+Click on that mask to turn it off for a moment.

So this is the warped version of the Sam image right there. Then I'll turn the mask back on, and this is the masked version of Sam blending in with Max. You might think, "Well, that's really great." If you take a look at the mask by itself, by Alt+Clicking on that layer mask thumbnail or Option+Clicking on the Mac, then you can see that I spent a fair amount of time brushing along Max's edges there. There is a fair amount of weird edginess going on. Here, I'm trying to account for the shadow underneath Sammy's leg.

This is approximately Sam's head right there, blending into the background. So I split the difference in the sky region, because the two images are now out of alignment with each other, where the park is concerned that is. I'm going to click on the layer thumbnail to make the image active once again, and I'll zoom in a little bit here so we can just see some of the problems. Even though it's a pretty darn good composition, in so far as things go, one of the problems is this rib melted a little bit here, thanks to the Puppet Warp command. So it got a little melty. And also, if you zoom in, we've got a double rib going right there, and Sam has what amounts to a partially translucent finger.

Then his fingers overlap Max's foot, and Max's toes don't really have enough room over at this location. Actually, it looks like Sam's knuckles might be a little bit translucent as well. But this is an unnatural transition between Max's foot and Sam's hand, and it looks like we've got some duplicate toes going on for Max there. Then I had to, very painstakingly - and I think it still needs more work, masked Max's knee into Sammy's shoulder. You know, a lot at work. It still needs a little more finessing. Some people might buy it, if I downsample the image, or if I zoom out enough, or if I print it small enough.

But it's really nothing to be all that proud of. Compare that to what we're about to do. So, let's think about this for a second. What is the easiest thing to align inside of this image? What do we care about? We care about the kids heads. We don't care about how they're lounging, or how Max is sitting, or anything along those lines. We just care about their faces. So, maybe I should just pay attention to the heads. Maybe, in fact, I shouldn't worry about the park, or the slide, or this little sort of structure in the background. Maybe I should just focus on Max's head against the sky.

So that's what I ended up doing. I'll go ahead and Ctrl+Drag the two Max's heads. I'm dragging this Sam layer around until Max's head aligns with the other Max's head. So the two necks basically align with each other. I'm really trying to get that collar to align, and the Opacity of the layer is set to 50%. Now I'll raise it to 100% by pressing the 0 key, and let's go ahead and add a layer mask. We mostly want the contents of this layer, so let's make in an empty layer mask by clicking on the Add layer Mask icon, like so.

Then I'll switch to the Brush tool by pressing the B key, and I'm going to with a hard brush this time around just so that I can see my edges as I'm working. I've got the Size set to 80 pixels, although you can vary that if you like. I'm going to escape out of there and make sure that my foreground color is set to black so that I'm painting a hole in this layer. So I'm painting through the top Max head down to the bottom Max head, like so. Already, even though I have done very little work, and there are some obvious edges up here, already, this amounts to a more successful mask, quite frankly, because I don't have any weird knees poking in the things, I've got plenty of room for the toes and the hands, and they merge fine, the slide isn't melting.

None of that stuff. In fact, I can imagine someone looking at this after two seconds of work, really, and not noticing that Max's shoulder is sort of slipping right there. Anyway, let's go and zoom in. I'm going to soften the brush ever so slightly, so I press Shift+Left Bracket, just once, and now I'll reduce the size of my brush. Press the X key to switch the foreground color to white and go ahead and paint this collar back in. That's not quite doing it, because I'm bringing back in Max's face. So that's not the approach I want. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to undo that modification.

Let's press the X key to bring back black as a foreground color, and let's go ahead and paint down to Max's knee, like so, and a little bit into his shirt, to about there perhaps. Actually, I'll paint into his leg a little bit, too. Now I'll press X key in order to switch my foreground color to white, and I'm going to increase the hardness by pressing Shift+Right Bracket, and I'll go ahead and just click along the leg a couple of times, like so, in order to finish that off, in order to bring it back, that is. We need a little sharpness in the knee territory right there, so I'll just click.

I'm not dragging, because if you start dragging with the hard brush you'll get that kind of lumpy effect, because of the Spacing value being set to 25%. But if you just click along the knee here, then you'll find nice, round places that are exactly suited to this brush. Let's go ahead and zoom out. Now I'm going to right-click inside my image window and reduce the Hardness value all the way to 0, and then press the Enter or Return key a couple of times in order to accept that modification. Increase the size of my brush, and I want to be painting with white.

White's my foreground color, and I'm just kind of paint this area right there to make sure that this edge goes away, that edge that was appearing in the sky. That does present me with a problem, however. I'm bringing back a little bit of Max's head. So I'll press the X key in order to switch the foreground and background colors, just some incremental back-and-forth-ing here. I'll press Shift+Right Bracket a couple of times to increase the hardness of my brush to 50%. Then finally I'll paint inside this region of head that kind of came back there so that we have that dual head effect, and that looks pretty darn good to me.

Of course, we need to crop the image. So I'll zoom out. I'll grab my Crap tool. I'll drag around the image like so, down into about here. I kind of want to take advantage of the rule of thirds here, and keep the boys over on the left-hand two- thirds of the composition. So I'll move this left edge over a little bit, just the left edge, actually. The bottom edge is pretty much exactly where I want it. I just want to get rid of this little sliver of slide underneath here, and maybe expand the top a little bit just to give the boys a little more head room, since there's very little room below Sam's toes.

Make sure Cropped Area is set to Hide, and then press the Enter key, or the Return key on the Mac, in order to apply that modification. So despite the length of this exercise, the net result is a very quick and simple approach to layer masking here inside Photoshop.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery .

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Q: The instructions for installing the dekeKeys don't work on my computer (which is running Mac OS X Lion). Is there an update to these?
A: The dekeKeys distributed with this course will still work for Lion. You just need to add them to a slightly different folder than in previous versions of OS X.

Open a new Finder window and choose Go > Go to Folder. Type the following file path exactly as written below. Copying and pasting may result in an error.

~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Adobe Photoshop CS5/Presets/Keyboard Shortcuts

Move and/or copy/paste the dekeKeys to this folder and follow the rest of the instructions as outlined in the video, "Installing the dekeKeys keyboard shortcuts."
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