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When you add an adjustment layer to an image, by default it affects the entire image area. But you can control the area that's affected by an adjustment layer by using the layer mask that comes with every adjustment layer. In this case, I would like to add some contrast to the mountains here. But I don't really want to increase the contrast in the clouds or in the foreground because I'm afraid I'll lose detail in those areas. So I'm going to add an adjustment layer and use the layer mask on the adjustment layer to limit the areas to which the adjustment applies. I'll start by going to the Adjustments panel and I'm going to add a Curves Preset adjustment layer. I'll click the arrow to the left of Curves Presets, and then I'm going to scroll down and I'm going to choose Strong Contrast.
The Adjustments panel now changes to show the Curves settings and you can see the Strong Contrast Curve here, which is making the dark parts of the image darker and the light parts of the image lighter. I'll be covering the Curves Adjustment panel in much more detail in a later movie. But for now, I want to show you how to use the layer mask that comes with the Curves adjustment layer and with every adjustment layer to limit the extent of an adjustment. Notice that there is a layer mask thumbnail on this Curves adjustment layer in the Layers panel and that thumbnail is white. When a layer mask is white, it's revealing everything on the adjustment layer to which it's attached. But if I add black or gray paint to this layer mask, I can hide or partially hide the adjustment from parts of the image.
There are several ways to add black or gray pixels too in adjustment layer mask. One way is to add a black to white gradient to the layer mask, and that's a nice way to get a smooth transition between the parts of the adjustment that are hidden and the parts that are revealed. So my first step in doing that is to go to the Foreground and Background color boxes at the bottom of the Toolbox. I want to make sure that my Foreground color box is black and my Background color box is white. If yours are the opposite, then click this double-pointed arrow right here to switch the Foreground and Background colors.
You only have access to black, white or gray in these boxes when you have a layer mask selected. Next, I'm going to go to the Gradient tool, which is here, and select it and then I'm going to go up to the Options bar for the Gradient tool and look at that first option, the Gradient bar. It should be black on the left and white on the right. If yours isn't, then click the arrow to the right of this bar and in the palette that appears, click this small arrow and choose Reset Gradients. And that will return the gradients to the defaults that you see here including the first gradient, which is black to white.
Then click in a blank area of the Options bar to close that panel. I'm going to go back to the Layers panel and make sure that I have my Curves adjustment layer selected. And you'll notice that there is a border around the layer mask thumbnail meaning that the gradient, I'm about to create, will be located on that layer mask. So I'm going to click at the bottom of the image, and I'm going to drag up and I'm going to stop just below the mountains. And doing that has created a black to white gradient on the layer mask. I'm going to show you that gradient by holding the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC and clicking right on the layer mask, and that shows the mask here in the image.
So where this mask is black, this Curves Strong Contrast adjustment is being hidden, and where this mask is gray, that Curves adjustment is partially hidden. And where the mask is white, the Curves adjustment is in full force. I'm going to hold the Option or Alt key again and click on that Layer Mask icon to bring the image back in the document window. If I don't like this particular effect, I can always come back in and click-and-drag again to redraw that gradient. I also can fine-tune this layer mask, by painting on it with black, gray or white. So, for example, I would like to hide the adjustment from the sky up here, so that I get more detail in my clouds. To do that, I'll go to the Toolbox and select the Brush tool. I'll make sure that I have black as my foreground color and then I'm going to come into the image and with a soft brush I'm going to paint on top of the clouds. As I do, I'm bringing back the detail in the clouds.
Now by mistake, I'm painting too far and I'm covering part of the mountains with the black paint that I'm adding to the layer mask. And that's hiding the adjustment not only from the sky where I wanted to hide it but also from the mountains where I would like the adjustment to show through. I've done that so that I can show you how easy it is to reverse whatever you do to a layer mask. If I want the Curves adjustment to appear again on the mountains, all I have to do is go back down to the Foreground and Background colors in the Toolbox, click the double pointed arrow to change the Foreground color to white and come back in and paint with white on top of the mountains, and that's adding white to the layer mask. Once again revealing the Curves adjustment layer in that area of the image.
I could continue to fine-tune this layer mask but I think you get the idea. If I go back to the layer mask, and hold down the Shift key, and click on that mask, you can see how the adjustment looked when it was applying to the entire image and then if I Shift-click again on the layer mask, how it is when I've used black to white gradient and black paint to fine-tune the layer mask on this adjustment layer. As you can see, an adjustment layer mask is a really powerful tool and the use of a layer mask to limit the portion of an image affected by an adjustment layer is one of the big advantages of using adjustment layer over direct adjustments whose reach can't be limited to just part of an image like this.
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