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Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Fundamentals is the introductory installment of Deke McClelland's four-part series on making photorealistic compositions in Photoshop. The course shows how to make selections, refine the selections with masks, and then combine them in new ways, using layer effects, blend modes, and other techniques to create a single seamless piece of artwork. Deke introduces the Channels panel and the alpha channel, the key to masking and transparency in Photoshop; reviews the selection tools, including the Color Range tool , Quick Mask mode, and the Refine Edge command; and shows how to blend masked images so they interact naturally.
In this exercise I am going to give you a sense of how masking works inside of Photoshop. Now I am working inside a file called Stencil demo.psd but I don't recommend you open this file. Because I won't be providing you with a kind of hands-on instructions you'll need to follow along. Rather, think of this as a conceptual demonstration of how masking works. Now let's imagine for a moment that I wanted to use a real-world air brush to paint some text onto this photograph. Then I'd go ahead and lay down a stencil or if you prefer a frisket and then paint onto that stencil in order to ensure that I paint inside the lines.
So having set down my stencil, I'm going to go ahead and switch to the Brush tool here in the toolbox and I want to paint with yellow. So I'll go over to the Color panel and notice that I'm seeing my HSB sliders, those stands for Hue, Saturation and Brightness, which is my preferred way of dialing in colors. If you want to work with the sliders as well, then click the flyout menu icon and choose HSB sliders. For that yellow, I am going to dial in a Hue value of 50 degrees, a Saturation value of 50% and a Brightness value of 100%.
And now I'll go ahead and right-click inside the image window, increase the Size value to 300 pixels, leave the Hardness set to 0% and then press the Enter key or the Return key in order to hide that panel. And now I am going to press the 5 key in order to reduce the Opacity of my brush to 50%, and then I'll turn on this icon that says Enable airbrush mode. That allows me to lay down paint even while I hold my cursor still. All right, I am going to drag down the left side of this text, and then I'll drag up the right side, I am pressing the Shift key as I do it, by the way,.
Then I'll reduce the size of my cursor a little bit by pressing the left bracket key and I'll paint slowly over my text, so I can invoke that airbrush behavior. And I am just going to paint three lines I think, something along those lines, in order to just lay down a few highlights here and there, may be a little bit more down at the bottom of the Z. All right, now I'll press the X key in order to swap my foreground background colors so that the foreground color is white. Reduce the size of my cursor further and just paint some highlights across those previous highlights, like so.
Now at this point of course, I've gotten paint all over the stencil, but the purpose of the stencil after all is not to protect itself, but rather to protect the underlying artwork. So let's go ahead and turn that stencil off and reveal the text that's painted exactly inside those lines. All right, that's pretty much how masking works inside Photoshop with a few exceptions. First of all, it's way more precise. So you never have a problem with paint leaking around the stencil. Also, you can create stencils with an alarming degree of accuracy; it's just amazing what you can do with masking inside Photoshop.
And then finally, you can create all sorts of masks, they don't have to look like text; they can serve entirely different functions. So let's rerun that scenario using a mask. I am going to go ahead and Shift+Click on that Depth layer there, so they are both selected and press the Backspace key or the Delete key on a Mac in order to get rid of them. And I am going to create a new layer by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on the Mac, and then I'll call this new layer painted text, and click OK. Next I'll switch over to the Channels panel, and notice I've got a couple of alpha channels ready and waiting, one of which is called stencil.
Now when you're working with the stencil, the stencil protects the artwork, and the holes in the stencil allow you to paint inside the artwork. Where a mask is concerned, the black region protects and the white areas select. You might also hear people say that black conceals and white reveals. In any case, you'll be painting inside the white area. But first I need to load the mask as a selection outline. Now I'll explain how that step works in detail in an upcoming exercise, but for now, just know we've got to make the mask a selection in order to put it in play.
Now I'll go ahead and switch back to the RGB image, and I am going to increase the size of my cursor once again, this time by pressing the right bracket key. I'll press the X key in order to swap the foreground and background colors, and then I'll go ahead and paint up the left side of that text, and I'll paint down the right side of that text very much as I did before. And I'll reduce the size my cursor by pressing left bracket key. Go ahead and paint sort of slowly over these letters like so, in order to add highlights. Now note that one of the other great things about working with a mask instead of a stencil, is I can see what the heck I'm doing.
I don't have to wait until I peel the stencil away to get a sense of what I've done. However, these selection outlines are still interfering with my view of the artwork. So I can hide them without deselecting the image by pressing Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac. And now I'll go ahead and paint over my artwork again. And this way I can really get a sense of what's going on there and what additional highlights I need to add. Now I'll press the X key to switch my foreground color to white. I'll go ahead and reduce the size of my cursor a little more, and then I'll go ahead and paint in some white highlights, like so.
All right, so that gives you a sense of how masking works. The thing is you're not going to be painting inside of text very often inside of Photoshop. So what's another kind of modification we can make? Well, notice that her eyes are pretty dark here and her lips are a little bit light. So imagine that we want to lighten the eyes and darken the lips. Well, we could just whip out the Dodge and Burn tools if we wanted to, however; we are going to have a lot more control if we work inside of a mask. Notice, I've got this Alpha channel called Details at the bottom of the list.
I am going to go ahead and load it as a selection, just as I did before, switch to the RGB image once again, switch to the Layers panel as well, and create a new layer called details, and then click OK. Now I'll press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac to hide those selection outlines. I'll turnoff that airbrush icon, because I don't need it anymore, and I'll press the 0 key to increase the Opacity to 100%. And now I am going to reduce the size of my cursor just a little bit and paint across the top of the eyes like so, notice that.
Now you might look at that edit and say, wow, that's really terrible. Well, that's because the blend mode is currently set to Normal. I'll switch the Blend mode from Normal to Overlay, and I end up getting this brightening effect. So here is what the image looks like without that layer, here is how it looks with that layer. All right, now let's try our hands at darkening those lips. I'll press the D key in order to switch the foreground color to black, and I'll press the 3 key to reduce the Opacity to 30%. Then I'll go ahead and increase the size of my cursor a little bit and paint across the top of the lips and then across the bottom of the lips as well.
If you want some more deepening and some more saturation, then you can apply a couple of more brushstrokes. All right, let's get a sense of what we've done, I'll Alt+Click the eyeball in front of the background layer, that's the appearance of the original image and this is the appearance of the modified image. Thanks to our ability to precisely mask and paint inside details, here inside Photoshop.
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