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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.
Another important feature in the Masks panel is the new Feather slider that you'll find right here, which you can use to soften the transition between black pixels and white pixels on a layer mask. That can help you to blend the masked image with the content of other layers in the file. I'm going to show you how to use this Feather slider to blend the images on the two layers in this file. The top layer in this file has a photograph of a leopard against the blue sky. I have already added a layer mask to that layer, and the black pixels on the layer mask are hiding the blue sky.
To show you the original photograph that's on this layer, I'm going to make the layer mask temporarily invisible by holding the Shift key and clicking on the layer mask thumbnail on the leopard layer. So there is the original photo of the leopard against the blue sky. I'll make the leopard layer temporarily invisible, by clicking the eye icon to the left of the leopard layer, so that you can see the photograph on the jungle layer below. Ultimately I want to have the leopard against this jungle background. I'm going to make the leopard layer visible again by clicking in the Visibility field of the leopard layer.
I'll activate the layer mask again, by clicking on the layer mask icon. Now I'm going to zoom in, so you can get a better view of the edge of this leopard. I have the Zoom tool selected in the Toolbox, and I'm just going to click a couple of times, so that you get a really good view of that edge. And as you can see, the edge of the leopard looks really rough, and pixelated. Back at 100% view, the leopard almost looks like a cardboard cutout sitting in front of this jungle photograph. This rough edge is a result of the way that I made the layer mask on the leopard layer.
I use the Quick Selection tool here to make a quick selection of the sky on the leopard layer, and then I targeted the layer mask thumbnail on that layer, and fill the selection on the layer mask with black. All this I covered in an earlier movie. So now the problem is how do I soften this mask, so that the edge between the leopard and the jungle is softer and more blended. I am going to switch over to show you the layer mask in the document window, so you can see what's happening as I feather that mask. I'll hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC, and I'm going to click on the layer mask thumbnail on the leopard layer, to display the layer mask here in the document window.
And then I'm going to zoom out a bit by holding the Command key, as I press the minus key that's Ctrl+Minus on the PC. Now to soften this layer mask, all I have to do is go over to the Masks panel, click on the Feather slider, and drag it to the right. I'm actually dragging the Feather slider further to the right that I normally would. Normally I only add one or two pixels of feather, and see how that looks. That's usually enough to get the blended effect that I want. Nut I have exaggerated here, so that you can see what feathering does.
Feathering actually blurs the transition between the black pixels and the white pixels on a layer mask, creating gray pixels of graduating tones in between. And it's those gray pixels had this blurred edge that will soften the transition between the leopard and the jungle. So let's go back to the Photo view to see the result of feathering. I'll Option-click or Alt-click again on the layer mask thumbnail on the leopard layer. You can see here in the photo that the edge of the leopard is now quite soft, and so it's blending in with the photograph on the layer below.
However, as I mentioned, I think that I have made the edge a little too soft by applying too much feathering to the layer mask. I did that on purpose, so that I could show you that one of the advantage of using the Feather slider in the Masks panel is that that control is interactive. Meaning that you can go back at any time and change the amount of feathering on this mask, using the Feather slider. So with the layer mask thumbnail on the leopard layer selected, I can just go to the Masks panel and drag the Feather slider over to the left, to maybe just one pixel, and that will give me just the amount of softness that I want at that edge, creating a convincing blend between the leopard and jungle.
And I'll go back to 100% view to show you the final result by double-clicking the Zoom tool. In the past, to accomplish what I just did with the Feather slider, you had to know a kind of a secret handshake, which involved selecting the layer mask, and then adding a blur filter to the mask. But now all of this can be done directly and interactively with the Feather slider in the Masks panel. Another advantage of the Feather slider is that it works not only on a layer mask like this, but also on a vector mask.
And you'll be learning more about vector masks in later movies in this course. One last thing, the Feather slider in the Masks panel isn't the only place from which you can apply a feather to a layer mask. Another way to do that is to click the Mask Edge button here in the Masks panel to open the Refine Mask dialog box. There you'll find a lot of controls that allow you fine-tune the edge of a layer mask. I'll be covering those in a later movie. But for now, I just wanted to show you that one of those controls is this Feather slider here, which does just the same thing as the Feather slider up here in the Masks panel.
For now I'm going to click the Cancel button to cancel out of the Refine Mask dialog box. So when you are trying to blend an image on one layer with a image on another layer using a layer mask, try feathering the edge of the mask slightly, using the Feather slider in the Mask panel, or in the Refine Edge dialog box, in order to slightly blur the edge of the mask, and smooth the transition between images.
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