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One of the key concepts to understand when it comes to layer masking, is that black will block while white will reveal. And when you're creating a composite image that means you're blocking or revealing certain pixels within the image, so that you're revealing other pixels. So for example, I might block certain pixels from this egret image in order to reveal the cloudy background below. And of course, since we're using black and white to determine which pixels are visible, it only stands to reason that we can use the Brush tool to put those black and white pixels in place. Of course, first I need a layer mask, so I'll click on the thumbnail for the layer that I want to mask.
In this case, the Egret layer or the upper layer in the stack. And then I'll click on the Add Layer Mask button, the circle inside of a square icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. And that will add a white mask, meaning that all of the pixels in this layer are currently being revealed. But we can change that very easily by painting on that mask. I'll make sure that the mask itself is active, so that I'm painting on the mask, not on the image. You can see that the mask is active, because there are prop corners around the edges, but I can also simply click on that thumbnail just to make sure that it really is the active item here, so that I'm painting on that layer mask. Then I'll choose the Brush tool from the Toolbox, and I'll press the letter D on the keyboard to get the default values of black and white. And since I'm working on a layer mask, that will be white for my foreground color and black for my background color.
I can then adjust my Brush settings, so I'll adjust the Hardness of the brush for example, perhaps taking this down to around about 50% value. The optimal value will depend in large part on the size of the brush that I'm going to use, but we'll be able to adjust the setting here in a moment. I'll also make sure that the mode is set to Normal and that the Opacity is set to 100%, and then, I can move my mouse over the image and adjust the Brush Size as needed. The left square bracket key will reduce the brush size and the right square bracket key will increase the brush size. And then I'll press X on the keyboard to set the foreground color to black so that I can block some pixels.
And at that point, I can simply paint within the image. Once again, I am painting on the layer mask not on the image itself, and so, the black that I'm adding to that layer mask is causing pixels on this layer to be blocked. They're no longer visible and so we can effectively see through this layer down to the layer below, which happens to be my cloudy sky. And so, I can continue painting as needed in order to block portions of the image. In this case, that would involve painting throughout the sky so that I block the sky from my Egret photo, revealing the cloudy sky down below.
If I were to make a mistake, of course it's relatively easy to fix. For example, let's say that I was painting and I cut off part of the beak here. I can simply press the letter X to switch my foreground and background colors so that white is now my foreground color, and then I can paint over that beak area to reveal the beak once again. And then press X to switch the foreground color to black, and go back and correct my painting or clean up that result. Now, obviously, I have a bit more work to do here to get a perfect result, but you can see that the process is relatively straightforward.
I can paint with black to block pixels from the current layer or with white to reveal pixels until I have a perfect composite.
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