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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 way to make a layer mask is to use another image as the mask. This method isn't used as often as the other methods that I've shown you, but it can create some really interesting effects. I've two images open, this is the source image, an image that I'm going to select and then use to hide or mask part of a layer on this image, the destination image. Let me show you what's on each layer here, so you understand the structure of the file. I'll hold down the Option or Alt key. As I click on the Eye icon to the left of each one of the layers in turn.
So, this is what's on the hand layer. It's just here as a sort of extra bit. This is the paper layer, and this is the layer that I'm going to mask. I'm going to use that sketch as a mask for this white paper, so that you can see down through the area of the sketch to this maroon background below. So, now I have all the layers back on in the destination image, and I'm going to go back to the sketch by clicking on its document tab. Here I want to select just the colored part of the sketch.
By the way, you can use as a source image a sketch or a photograph, a color image or black and white, anything that you want, as long as you can select it. To select the sketch, I'm going to get the Magic Wand tool. I'll go to the Options bar for the Magic Wand tool and I'm going to reduce the tolerance of the tool, so that it only selects the background when I click with the tool on the background. I'm going to do that now. Now, I don't want the background of this image selected, I want the sketch selected. So, I'll invert this selection by going up to the Select menu and choosing Inverse.
Now, I have just the sketch selected, I've managed to select the dark areas and the light areas too. I'm going to copy the selected sketch into the memory over the clipboard of my computer by going to the Edit menu and choosing Copy, or I'm more likely to just use this keyboard shortcut, Command +C on the Mac or Ctrl+C on the PC. Now, you can't see anything that tells you that this sketch is in the computer's memory, but it will stay there until I choose the Paste command. Now, I'm done with the Sketch image, I'm going to close it by clicking the X on the document tab.
Now here, in the destination image, the drawing, I'm going to create a layer mask and then paste this sketch into the layer mask. As I've mentioned, I want to mask a part of the paper layer. So, in the Layers panel, I make sure that the paper layer is the selected layer, and then I'll go down to the bottom of the Layers panel, and I'll click the Add Layer Mask button there. That adds the layer mask thumbnail, which by default is filled with white pixels, and so it's having no effect on the paper layer. Remember, I still have that sketch in my computer's clipboard. I'm almost ready to paste it into this layer mask.
But there's a little catch here. It's logical to think that all you have to do at this point is make sure the layer mask thumbnail is selected and then choose the Paste command, but that doesn't work. Watch what happens when I try that. I have the layer mask thumbnail selected, I'm going to go up to the Edit menu and choose Paste. Instead of pasting the sketch into the layer mask thumbnail, Photoshop has made a brand-new layer and pasted the sketch there. Well, that isn't what I want, because I'm not interested in having the blue and black sketch. I want to use the tonality of the sketch as a mask to hide part of the paper layer, so I can see down to the maroon layer that's at the bottom of the layer stack.
So, I'm going to undo, Command+Z or Ctrl +Z on the PC and show you the trick for pasting into a layer mask. In order to make that work, you have to first hold down the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on the PC as you click inside the layer mask thumbnail. That turns the document window white and the reason is, as you've seen me doing in so many movies, when you Option- click or Alt-click in the layer mask thumbnail that displays the layer mask here in the document window. This layer mask is still plain white and so, the document window looks white.
Now that I've done that step, I can paste the contents of my clipboard here into the layer mask. Again, I'll go up to the Edit menu and choose Paste or I'm more likely to use the shortcut, Command+V on the Mac or Ctrl+V on the PC. That does pastes that copied sketch into the layer mask. It comes in with the selections still active, and as long as the selection is active, I can move the layer mask into place with the Move tool. But I can't see exactly where to move it here in the layer mask display in the document window.
So, with this selection still active, I'm going to go back to the Photo view by moving to the Layers panel, holding the Option key or the Alt key on the PC and again, clicking on the layer mask thumbnail. Here in the Photo view, you can see the selection indicating where the mask is now. Now, I want to be sure not to click in the document window with the Selection tool active where I'll lose this selection. Instead, I'm going to get the Move tool in the Toolbox and then I'll come in and click inside the selection and drag and that moves the selection and its content.
That selection is the same thing as the layer mask at this point. So, I'm going to drag it down, so that the bottom of the tree trunk is touching the bottom of the paper down here. When I'm done, I can deselect by pressing Command+D on the Mac, Ctrl+D on the PC, or if you prefer commands you can go up to the Select menu and choose Deselect from there. Now, I have just the effect that I wanted, I've used the sketch image as a layer mask, masking out part of the paper, so we can see down through to the maroon on the layer below.
Notice that there are some dark areas and some lighter areas, and those are caused by the black and the gray pixels on the layer mask. Let's take a look at that layer mask again by going over to the Layers panel and Option-clicking or Alt- clicking on the layer mask thumbnail. So, as you can see, the mask contains black pixels hiding the paper layer, white pixels showing the paper layer and some gray pixels from the sketch that are partially hiding the contents of the paper layer, giving a convincing tonal appearance to the layer mask.
I'll Option-click or Alt-click again on the layer mask thumbnail, to go back to the Photo view, so you can see the finished product. Keep in mind that the source image doesn't have to be a sketch or a drawing, give it a try with a couple of your own images. You can try color photographs or really any image that you have that you can select and use as a layer mask on another image.
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