Join Jan Kabili for an in-depth discussion in this video Blending images with layer masks, part of Photoshop Elements 11 Essential Training: 4 Creative Effects & Projects.
You can make a convincingly realistic composite by blending multiple photos together using layer masks, as I'll show you how to do in this movie. I'm starting with a couple of images; this photo of dandelions, and this photo of a girl blowing on a dandelion. And I'd like to combine those two photos into this result, which is a composite of the two images. To show you how that's done, I'm going to start with the plain photo of the girl blowing on a dandelion. I'll double-click that photo in the Photo Bin, and you can see in the Layers panel that this photo has just a single background layer that contains the girl blowing on the dandelion.
Now I am going to add the photo of the field of dandelions on top of that. I'll select that dandelions photo, and drag it up into the document window, and in the Layers panel, there is now a second layer. I'll give that layer a more meaningful name by double-clicking it's layer name, and I'll call this one dandelions. So, what I want to do is use a layer mask to hide some of the photo on the dandelions layer so that we can see down through the hidden area to the girl over here blowing on the dandelion on the layer below.
To do that, I'll select the dandelions layer, and then I'll add a layer mask by going up to the top of the Layers panel, and there I'll click on the layer mask icon; the one that looks like a circle inside of a square. That adds a white layer mask icon on the dandelions layer. When a layer mask is white like this, it's not doing anything visible to the layer to which it's attached. In other words, it's not doing anything we can see to the dandelions layer right now. That's because a layer mask, when it's white, reveals everything on the layer to which it's attached.
But if I add black or gray paint to this layer mask, I'll be able to hide part of the dandelion image, so we can see down through that part to the layer below. And I'll be doing that non-destructively, in a way that I can reverse if I need to. So this is a preferred method, over just erasing part of the dandelion layer, or selecting and deleting part of the dandelion layer. How do I add black or gray paint in a nice, gradual pattern on the layer mask thumbnail? Well, first I'll make sure that I have the layer mask thumbnail selected, and notice that it has this blue border around it, meaning that it is selected.
Then I'll go over to my toolbar, and I'm going to select the Gradient tool there. The default gradient, which you can see down here in the Tool Options bar, goes from the foreground color to the background color. The foreground and background colors are those in the boxes at the bottom of the toolbar. So right now, I have black as my foreground color, and white as my background color, so my gradient is going to go from black, through shades of gray, to white. If you don't have black and white as your foreground and background colors, respectively, you can always press D on your keyboard, which give you the default white foreground and black background, and then press X on the keyboard to switch those out, so that black is the foreground, and white is the background color.
If you don't see this sort of a gradient in the Tool Options for the Gradient tool then click on the Gradient thumbnail in the Tool Options, and that opens the Gradient Editor, and make sure that you have the first default gradient thumbnail selected that uses the foreground and background colors, and click OK. So now I'm ready to make my first attempt at drawing a gradient on this layer mask thumbnail. I'll come into the image, and I'm going to start on the right side of the image, and click and drag toward this dandelion, and I'm going to release my mouse just about here.
Now, the direction and the length of the line that I draw will determine the result that I'll see when I release my mouse. So what's happened now is that the black to white gradient that I drew from right to left is gradually hiding parts of the dandelion layer, so that we can see down to the girl blowing on the dandelion on the layer below. And if you take a look at the layer mask, which I'll show you by holding the Alt key, that's the Option key on the Mac, and clicking on the layer mask thumbnail, you can see the gradient that I just drew on the layer mask itself.
So over here, where the gradient is black, that's hiding part of the dandelion layer, showing the girl in the layer below. And then the gradient fades through shades of gray, partially revealing the girl on the layer below. And where the gradient on the layer mask is white, over on the left, that's showing the dandelion layer, so we can't see through this area to the background layer below. So, one way that you might remember that is that where a layer mask is black, the black conceals; where a layer mask is white, the white reveals. I'm going to hold the Alt or Option key, and click on the layer mask thumbnail again to bring the image back into view.
One of the nice things about a layer mask is that I can change it as much as I like. So, I could draw a different gradient. Perhaps let's start up here at the top right, and drag to the bottom left, and I get a very different look. Or if I go this way, I get a different look. Or if I come down to the Tool Options for the Gradient tool, and I select a different shape of gradient, like a Radial Gradient, and then, say, I click in the center of the image, and I drag out toward the side, I get a very different gradient, that gives me a different look. In this case, I am hiding the center of the dandelion image, so this is the area where we can most clearly see down to the background below.
I am going to go back to the default Linear Gradient option in the Gradient Tool Options, and once again, I'll come into my image, and starting on the right side, I am going to draw a gradient line that goes all the way over to the left, like that. Now, another thing that I can do is fine tune the result of my layer mask gradient using the Brush tool, which I am going to select in the toolbar. I have black as my foreground color, and I can see in the Tool Options that my brush tip is relatively soft. I'll come into the image, and I'm going to click on top of this dandelion, and I'll also click and drag on the girl's hand.
And when I do that, I am adding black paint to the layer mask on the dandelion layer in just those areas, so that I am more strongly hiding parts of the dandelion layer, so that we can more clearly see her hand and this dandelion on the layer below. And I might do a little bit of the same on this edge of her face as well, which is starting to fade out of view. If I get too enthusiastic with my black paint on the layer mask, and I use it to hide something on the dandelion layer that I later change my mind about, and want to reveal, I can just switch from black to white paint, and paint with white on the layer mask.
To do that, I'll just press X on my keyboard, and you can see that white is now my foreground color, and with the layer mask thumbnail still selected in the Layers panel, I'll paint with white, bringing back or revealing the content of the dandelion in that area. So that's how you can use a layer mask to gradually and realistically blend one photograph into another. In the next movie, we'll look at another way to create a blended composite of multiple photos, using another feature: the layer blending modes in the Layers panel.
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