Join Megan Andersen for an in-depth discussion in this video Using layer masks to improve backgrounds, part of Advanced Craft Photography.
In this movie, I'm going to talk about using layer masks to improve the backgrounds of your craft photography and I have to make a confession here. I showed up pretty late to the party when it came to layer masks. I don't know why. At first when I heard about them, they sounded kind of intimidating, off putting. There was just something about them that made me feel like it wasn't something that I could do easily. And I have to tell you, that could not be further from the truth. And now that I understand how layer masks work, I use them all the time. They're fantastic for removing clutter, or little accidents in the backgrounds of photographs, just cleaning up, tidying up the composition. Fixing a sky that's slightly underexposed.
Or, combining two images and using the background from one, and using it in the other photograph. And that's what I'm going to show you right now. So, I have this photograph, of a little needle felted butterfly that I made. And you can see that I shot him out in the backyard. I've got a shallow depth of field, but I've got a very grassy background. And there's also a little needle felting needle just jutting out of his wing here, that was actually my staging tool, to hold him up so that I could just dance him around the back yard and take some photographs.
So I'm going to get rid of this and I'm going to replace the entire background with a nice blue sky, because I just think that my butterfly would be happier flying in front of a blue sky instead of a green background. So I need to do is find a photograph that has a suitable blue, blue sky background that I can use and I think I have a good one in mind. So I'm going to go ahead and open that up now. Better sky masking, yep that's what I'd like. Now this is a photo I've used in a different course, but I wanted to pick this one just because the foreground, the craft, is not what's in focus here.
I'm only interested in this sky area. So, I'm just going to crop that out. And what I'm going to do is just select it using my Marquis tool, copy with Command or Control+C. And I'm going to come on over here, and just paste that layer right on in. Now, it's right over the top of my butterfly. But that's fine with me, because what I'm going to do, is hit Command or Control+t. And now I can see that I've got a bounding box all around this layer.
And I'm going to just stretch it all the way down. So I realize that I have distorted my blue sky because I did not proportionally stretch it. But again, because it's a sky you can't really tell whether or not it is a proportional or perfect stretch. I can just kind of stretch it any way I see fit. I just want to get as much of that blue sky in my frame as possible. So that looks pretty darn good to me. And we'll still give a little peek underneath here and we've got our butterfly.
So I'm going to go ahead and name this layer, Blue Sky. And I'm also going to duplicate my background layer, by just right-clicking, and call this, melted butterfly. Whoopsie. If I could spell, that'd be nice. Okay, so now I have a duplicate layer of my background. And that's just in case I make some error or make some mistake that I'm not happy with. I have the original data down here. So, I'm going to go ahead and click on my Blue Sky layer. And I'm going to go layer > layer mask > hide all. Now, you'll notice that when I clicked hide all, this little black box appeared over here, and my blue sky completely disappeared.
All I can see now is my butterfly. And that's exactly what we want, so we're going to come on over to the toolbox and grab a paintbrush. This brush size looks like it's a little bit small for what we want to do, so that looks better. And with our white paint selected and using our paintbrush, we're just going to start painting right over that green, and you'll notice that the blue sky begins peeking out from under the green grass.
Now, we're painting away the mask, so that we can expose the image underneath. So, I'm just going to grab my paintbrush again, and I'm not going to do a super neat job with this, because I'm going to zoom in, and show you what I can do, in just a second. So, very quickly, I'm just painting around the butterfly. Now I'm just going to zoom in, hitting Cmd + Plus, and now I'm going to make my brush a little bit smaller. And I'm going to switch the colors that I'm painting.
So instead of painting white, I'm now going to paint black. And by doing that, I can bring back some of the data that I accidentally painted over on my butterfly. So, this is how a layer mask works. It's really a cool thing. You can push and pull pixels in any direction. And since it's a mask, you're not really harming anything. You're not losing any data. So what that means is that you can just rework a layer mask over and over again until you're really happy with the way it looks.
So, okay, so that looks pretty good, but there's still a little halo of green. So I'm just going to come back, switch my paint to white again, and then get back in here and really continue to paint in all the little fine details. And that is how a layer mask works. Now, when we created this layer mask, we could have come up here and instead of hiding all, we could have revealed all, and it basically would have been the same principle.
Except that instead of revealing the background as we painted, we would have been revealing the foreground. So, I am just going to finish this up really quickly. And you know, this tool is actually so useful that you can do all kinds of thing. If you don't want to combine photographs. You can just simply improve the exposure or the contrast of your background. And use a layer mask to really blend that in to your image seamlessly. So there are all kinds of ways that you can use layer masks to improve the backgrounds of your craft photos.
But hopefully by combining backgrounds, and really improving the overall look of your image, you'll be happy with the final outcome. So now, I have my finished butterfly and he looks very cute. It's not a perfect job, I could still go back and finish in some detail and kind of change the color bounds so it looks like he's, he's actually flying. I might even consider putting in a little vector graphic here so that it looks like he's got a little trail of motion behind him. But that's the basic principle, I went from having just a plain butterfly, with my little staging tool sticking out of him, straight into a nice, crisp blue sky that I took from another photograph entirely.
Hopefully, you've picked up a couple of tips using layer masks, and you will be encouraged to try it in your own craft photography, for improving or combining backgrounds of photographs.
- Beyond the basic camera settings
- Advanced composition and staging techniques
- Image editing in Photoshop and Lightroom
- Shooting for a client
- Caring for your gear
- Keeping it simple