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By Seán Duggan |

Using Layer Masks with Video in Photoshop


Photoshop has been able to handle video for several versions now, but the video features got a big upgrade with the CS6 release—in the form of a Timeline panel. This was significant because the timeline interface has long been a fixture in other dedicated video editing programs.

The nice thing about working with video in Photoshop is that you can rely on all the skills and techniques you already know about working with layers, adjustment layers, and layer masks. The ability to use layer masks with video layers allows you to create some really interesting custom transitions and composites for your video projects.


If you’re beginning with a new, empty file, click the Create Video Timeline button on the Timeline panel (if you can’t see the Timeline panel, choose Window > Workspace > Motion; the Timeline panel will appear on the bottom of the interface). To import video clips into Photoshop, click the filmstrip icon on the left side of the Timeline panel and choose Add Media. Navigate to the clips you want to use, choose them, and click Open.


Once the videos have been imported, if you look at the Layers panel, you’ll see that they have been placed inside a Video Group. Video clips in a video group are arranged in a sequential order—that is, one following the other. You can see this sequential arrangement reflected in how the video layers look in the Timeline panel. You can rearrange the layers/clips simply by dragging them to a different position in either in the Layers or the Timeline panel.


For this example, however, I want to remove the video layers from the video group to allow for some different effects that I can create with layer masks. To do this, right-click on the Video Group folder in the Layers panel and choose Ungroup Layers.


The video group folder will be removed, but other than that there’s not much different in the Layers panel. In the Timeline panel, however, you’ll see that each video clip is now placed on a separate track. This will allow for more flexibility when it comes to compositing them together using layer masks.


Just as there are many ways to create layer masks for still image projects, the same is true for video projects. In this example, after the light bulb turns on, I want to have the solar panels clip appear on the right half of the layout. To do this, I’ll make a selection with the Rectangular Marquee tool of the right half of the file. Then I’ll simply click the add layer mask button at the bottom of the layers panel, just as I would with any other image. Now the solar panels clip will only be visible within the area I had selected, which is now represented by the white areas of the layer mask.


To finish this off, after a couple of seconds of the camera panning across the solar panel, I’ll have the windmill clip appear in the same area of the layout. After positioning the windmill clip in the Timeline panel where I want it to appear, I can easily copy the layer mask in the Layers panel by Option-dragging (Mac) or Alt-dragging (Windows) the layer mask thumbnail from the solar panels layer to the windmill layer.


In order for the windmill to appear on the right side of the layout, I’ll unlink it from the layer mask by clicking the chain link button between the layer and mask thumbnails. Then, clicking the layer thumbnail to make sure it is active, I can use the Move tool (V) to move the layer so that the windmill can be seen on the right side of the composition.

There are a lot of ways you can use layer masks in your Photoshop video projects and I cover many of them in my lynda.com course Creative Video Compositing with Photoshop, and specifically the free video on Combining multiple clips in one shot using layer masks.

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