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For more information, please see full course syllabus of Adobe Photoshop Elements 11
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Lecture Comments (4)

3 answers

Last reply by: Professor Brown
Thu Jun 12, 2014 7:05 PM

Post by John Dufour on June 11, 2014

HI Mike,  you show that by copying the background layer to the top,  you can turn it off and on to do a before and after.  Just an fyi, you know that you can click on the Background layer and do an alt and click to turn all other layers off and on.    John

Layer Masks

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:06
  • Layer Mask Overview 1:04
    • What is a Layer Mask?
    • Why Use Layer Mask?
  • Create & Modify Layer Mask Example 6:49
    • Sharpen the Image
    • Assessing the Image
    • Selection of the Sky & Ocean
    • Cove: Selection & Color Adjustment
    • Ocean: Selection & Color Adjustment
    • Sky: Selection & Color Adjustment
    • Land: Selection & Color Adjustment
  • Lesson Summary 24:00

Transcription: Layer Masks

Hi, everybody--Mike Brown back with you--welcome back to's Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 course!0000

In our last lesson, we took a good look at layers--how layers work--and adjustment layers--how adjustment layers provide options for exposure and color corrections that are non-destructive, that do not affect the pixels, that can be changed as much as you want and will not hurt the pixels.0006

When you saw, every time we created an adjustment layer (and here are adjustment layers, right here), it comes automatically with a mask attached.0028

That is a layer mask.0039

In this lesson, we're going to take a good look at layer masks--what they are, why we want to use them, and how you modify them.0041

What it is; why use it?; how to create and modify the mask; a mask correction trick that is not in the textbooks; and we'll use an example of using and modifying layer masks to correct an image.0049

Let's get started by answering, "What is a layer mask?"0064

Let's take a look at this particular image of this young lady.0068

If you look over in the Layers panel, there are a whole lot of layers to this image.0072

There are physical layers; here is your background layer; here is the duplicate of the background layer, and I duplicated it one more time, up at the top here, and it's turned off.0080

Remember how our layers work: so if I turn it on, we view that layer, and there is the original file; if I turn it off, there is everything underneath it.0089

There is an easy way to do a before and after.0099

Copy your before from the bottom; move it all the way to the top; and there you go!0103

Now, we also have a series of physical layers here: you notice that this says "left lower lashes" and "left upper"; I want you to look at the original shot of this girl--and it's rather sparse in the eyelashes, top and bottom.0108

But, I want you to look at the finished product; eyes are corrected; we're going to do this actual one.0124

This layer here is physically (turn it on) the (turn it off--sorry; I need to see the finished product; I got confused)...there are your left lower lashes.0130

Notice the bottom lashes; I turn it off; turn it on; the upper lashes--off and on; same thing with the other side.0144

But here are physical lashes on a blank layer; I painted, just like I'm doing with the check marks in our lesson; I painted these lashes, and then I individually selected around one, just a loose selection with 0-pixel feather; copied and pasted, rotated and twisted, and put them in.0151

There are some more, right there, for the other side.0173

Anyway, that is physical layers, right there.0176

We come down to the bottom; you see our original, our background layer, and a layer 3 (which I think is a blank layer that doesn't have anything to do).0180

Then, we have all of these adjustment layers, and look at them: Hue Saturation, and you see Curves--this particular image was done in Photoshop, not Elements--in Photoshop, the exposure control is Curves--here, the exposure control is Levels.0189

Same thing: adjustment layer: Hue Saturation and Curves.0205

We just keep coming up, and you see one that is color; that is Color Balance, which, in Photoshop, has an adjustment layer; here, it's Enhance Color, Color Variations, and it actually works on the pixels.0209

So, that is one slight advantage Photoshop has; you can do this as an adjustment layer, which is non-destructive.0224

But all you see--Hue Saturation, Curves, and Color Balance--mostly the Curves, and then, interspersed, you see physical layers, but you notice, in this case...0231

If you remember (before I go on): every time we automatically add an adjustment layer (let's just open one up for Levels, and I'll show you), it opens up; there is the layer, and attached to it is a mask or a thumbnail.0244

That is an actual selection mask, which is also a mask; remember, our Selection brush tool does selections and masks.0262

That is a mask, but being white means it affects nothing--it's not isolating an area; it affects the entire image.0273

Down here, you see masks attached to Hue Saturation, with just a part of the face.0281

We can view a mask by holding down Option on a Mac/Alt on a PC, and when the blue window or the blue frame is around it, click the mask, and there you see the black and white version of that mask.0289

Option/Alt, click, again, and it's gone.0303

Now, if we do that with the white one--Option/Alt, click, it's all white, or, again, it comes away.0306

So, you understand what the layer mask is; it's simply a selection attached to an adjustment layer or a physical layer.0315

Sometimes you don't want to have a problem, and you'll use this case, you see a face--a portion of her face (let me make sure this is turned off--yes, it is), and the reason these masks are there--there are blurs.0323

Notice the skin when I turn it on and off; notice the pores of the skin; I cut out part of the face and masked it, pasted it in, and did nothing but blur it, and I wanted the mask, the black part, because I didn't want to blur anything else but part of her face.0342

I want you to see (let's do that) right around the eyes: I'll turn it off and turn it on; you notice, it doesn't affect the eyes, but it does affect the skin.0360

That is where a mask comes into play, there.0375

There: what is a layer mask? A layer mask is, very simply, a selection that is attached to a layer--either an adjustment layer or a real layer.0378

Why use layer masks? What it allows you to do is make your adjustment layers with selections, so that you isolate areas non-destructively.0393

How do you create and modify a layer mask?0409

It's very, very simple: here we have this image right here, and we're going to work with this image--actually, what we're going to do is create and modify the masks.0414

I'm going to show you a correction trick that is really cool--not in the textbooks--how to correct masks.0425

An example--that is what this will be--of using and modifying layer masks.0433

So, here is our image, right out of the box.0438

We want to duplicate our background: remember, Command on a Mac/Control on a PC, the letter J.0441

We're going to duplicate it again, because we have not sharpened this image.0447

We're going to change our blend mode to overlay--remember the High Pass Filter sharpening--go to the Filter menu, down to Other, down to High Pass, and all we want to do is make it large enough (we don't want to see color; we just want to see edges).0451

That is pretty good, right about there--maybe a little less; we'll click OK, and let's zoom up and see how much that affected the sharpness.0470

We'll turn it off and on; a little bit--maybe we could use more; and remember, rather than having to do it again, we'll just duplicate the layer, and that will double the effect.0480

Command/Control+J; and notice the sharpening; it came up really good.0492

We're going to keep all of these layers, and now, we want to merge the layers.0496

Remember from the last lesson: this one is highlighted; Command/Control on a PC, click; Command/Control, click; they are all highlighted.0501

Go to your list dropdown; Merge Layers; Layer menu, Merge Layers; or the shortcut: Command/Control+E.0510

Now, they're merged, and we'll zoom it up and check our sharpening.0520

Off; there is the original image; there it is sharpened; it looks pretty good.0528

All right, we're ready to go; this is our working layer.0532

Now, we look at this image: the first thing I want to do is crop it, so I'll take the Crop tool, and (am I on the correct tool? no it...) just take the bottom and move it up a little bit; oh, I should have cropped the...0537

Oh, that is the wrong tool; that is the Recompose; sorry--I hit the wrong tool; you're going to learn about that in another lesson.0561

Crop tool (my fault--getting ahead of myself): click and drag; we'll take the image, and take some of that foreground away that we really don't need there...maybe we could come in a little on this side...that's looking pretty good.0566

We'll accept that; the image is cropped; and we're ready to go.0582

All right, so let's assess our image; this is one of the things we need to do when you first look at your image.0587

The sky has clouds and color, but it needs to be saturated and brought out.0593

We need to make a selection of the sky, right across the horizon; we need that selection.0598

The outer ocean, all the way up to about here in the cove, is pretty washed-out, so we need a selection from the horizon down to the cove of the ocean--that is 2.0607

The cove I would like to snap; that is 3.0619

The land mass--this is not bad; we snapped out a little bit, but it was darker over on the point, so we want to do that.0622

So, we have the point; the foreground; the cove is 3; the outer ocean is 4; and the sky is 5--different, isolated areas.0629

We can do this all from one selection, by modifying a layer mask, and I'll show you how this trick goes.0638

This is all creating masks and modifying them.0647

The first thing we'll do is make the selection of the ocean; let's go ahead and take our Quick Selection tool, and drag it in the ocean, and it's going to pop looks for edges.0650

We'll go a little further in the cove, and there we have it.0665

The first thing we'll do is use our Selection brush as a mask to see how well we have done.0668

Let's zoom up and take a look!0676

It looks pretty good around this edge; let's get that brush size way down; we'll go around the edge--it looks pretty clean--I see a little water there that we could get rid of.0681

Remember, to remove a mask, Option on a Mac/Alt on a PC, and just paint it away.0691

We have a little more water over here: Option/Alt, paint it out; don't worry too much, because it's just a little exposure correction we're going to do.0698

It's not going to hurt it.0706

Option/Alt right there; we need to paint in this island, so we'll just paint it.0707

This is really easy stuff, creating these selections.0713

I like this for non-really-precise selections; the Selection brush tool is really kind of cool.0716

All right, we have that; let's go around--it looks pretty good in there; there is a little water--Option/Alt; get that out.0724

You don't have to worry too much about it...the spacebar is allowing me to move around here...there is a little more...Option/Alt, paint.0732

A little more down here; I think that whole thing is is, indeed.0742

OK, so now we have modified our selection by painting, just the selection, mind you; we'll go back and we'll make it into a selection, and we're going to go up to the Select menu, down to Refine Edge.0748

We're going to feather at 2, and that is all we need to do.0770

It's feathered; let's zoom it up and just take a look at the edge, and see how it looks as a mask.0775

Smooth, clean edge...looks good; let's make it a selection: Select, Save the Selection, since we spent all the time doing it: Sky and Water--now we have it if we need it.0782

All right, so now, the next thing we're going to do is start...all we need to do here is make exposure and color adjustments to the sky, water, and land.0795

It's only those things; and what are our exposure and color controls?0807

We have Levels for exposure and Hue Saturation for color--that is all we need to use--those two here.0811

But first, I need several selections--one for the sky, one for the water, one for the cove, one for the point, and one for there.0819

Now, here is how I look at this: I have all the water, so if I modify this selection and paint out everything but this cove part, I have a new selection.0827

What we're going to do--and here is the trick that they don't tell you in the book: first, we're going to go over here and highlight this layer.0840

We're going to go to our adjustment layers for Levels (that is the exposure), and we make an adjustment layer.0848

I'm going to turn that off for a moment: notice what happened; the selection is now saved as a mask, attached to the exposure.0856

Let's show you what happens.0865

It's just working on that area, right there.0867

We're going to run that back to the original spot of 1...close enough.0871

Now, I need to modify that selection; the mask that is attached is for all of the ocean--I just want the inner part.0877

How do we modify that? I could have done it separately with the Selection brush, but I need perfect blending.0885

So, watch what happens: if I use--and here is the trick that is not in the books; big trick--hit your backslash key; it's the key immediately to the right of the right bracket key.0895

Watch what happens to the layer mask and the image.0905

It looks like I turned on the Selection brush, but I did not; all I hit was the backslash key; on; off.0914

It's just the mask that is now active.0922

What I can do: backslash key, take my paintbrush, which will paint directly--remember, black and white paints on a mask--it will paint right there as I paint on the image.0926

All I need to do is just get the cove.0940

I'm going to take the brush size and bring it up to a nice, big one; it's a soft brush--I want to double-check that.0944

The opacity, the size of the brush, settings: hardness is 0, exactly what we wanted; and all I have to do is paint.0952

Now, I'm isolating the cove from the remainder of the selection.0961

Is that cool or what?0968

Now, notice that the mask has now changed, because I painted the mask; when I hit that backslash key, now the mask (Option/Alt) is nothing but the cove, with a perfect shoreline and a nice blend over here.0970

Option/Alt back; let's open up the Levels, and now...notice, it only affects the cove...snap the contrast and brighten it up a little bit; that looks pretty decent.0985

We'll turn that off, and now let's turn it off and on; we have a little snap in the cove--notice how the sea foam looks better.0999

Now, what we want to do is: we want to go in, and now, we want to do the rest of the ocean--that is the next step.1006

So, we're going to reload the selection of the sky and water.1018

Now, you see the crawling ants; we have that, so now what I want to do is paint out the cove.1026

So, I'm going to make another adjustment layer for Levels.1034

You will see that there is that selection again; I'll hit the backslash key; there it is again; I don't want the cove now, so paintbrush: I'll paint away the cove area, and I also don't want the horizon line--I just want the ocean--so now what I'm going to do is make the brush size smaller, and I'll show you another trick.1041

We're going to go to Shift, click with a brush just above the horizon, and drag; and it drags a straight line across the horizon.1066

Now, we can make it a little larger and do the same thing right above it, to make sure that we get a nice, clean selection.1078

Now, we'll just paint everything above that.1087

You get what we're doing: we're painting on the layer mask.1090

This is a little bit advanced, but this is one way to do it.1096

All right, so I'm painting the sky out, and notice what is happening over on the layer mask.1103

Option/Alt, click; look: the layer mask is simply the outer ocean.1110

We have protected; we need to paint a little more here--paint with a brush, black, and there we have it.1117

So now, that is only going to be active in the outer ocean.1127

See it over there; Option/Alt, click again; open up our Levels, and we can darken down that outer ocean.1130

Snap it a little bit, and there you have that.1140

Let's turn it off, and turn it on; and I think we could open that up just a little bit more, maybe...yes.1143

That takes care of that; off and on; and now, we have the cove and the outer ocean done.1156

The only thing left is the sky, so what I'm going to do is another trick.1164

Command/Control, click this thumbnail; and that is just the cove--I need to get that exact line.1170

I'm going to do Select, Invert, and I'll show you what that looks like.1178

Follow me; the sky is clear, and everything else is not, so we have everything we need--we can paint it out; let's go for one more adjustment layer for Levels.1184

We'll just leave it as it is, and we'll just do backslash, and we just need to paint a mask over everything else--not the sky.1197

Just get that brush, zoom it up to a large size, and just paint everything else away.1209

This is how you modify a mask, and this trick with the backslash key allows you to make a preliminary mask, and then modify it directly on the mask.1218

Notice that we have modified it now to the sky; backslash key--we're back to business--there is just the sky.1230

Right there I missed a couple of spots: fix that--Option/Alt, click.1237

Bring the adjustment back up, and now we can knock down the sky until we get some color.1243

There we, I see one more thing that I'm not happy with yet; notice, the outer ocean is a little too bright.1257

We need to do one more; here is another trick: Command/Control, click the thumbnail--we've loaded that outer area--let's make another adjustment layer for Levels; we're OK there.1265

All I want to do is get this area, so I'm going to load the selection (Command/Control, click); click on my gradient; and I'm going to take a normal black and white gradient (as you see right here, it's black and white), and what I'm going to do is: on the mask, I have this selection; I'm going to do Command/Control+H, and I'm going to click and drag at 100% opacity, right up there.1280

Notice what the mask did: Option; it's a little too much, so I'm going to do it again: shift, click and drag.1314

I'll do it right on the black and white...there we go; I just got the upper part--notice that I filtered out the bottom.1326

Now, I can take my paintbrush and clean up that little edge, Option/Alt click, and now watch what happens.1333

It's only going to work on the outer ocean--notice that--it protected the inner ocean.1341

A little snap and it up just a hair...and there we go!1347

So now, we have gone with the inner cove, the outer cove, a fix on the outer cove, and the sky; now we need to do the land.1353

Very simple; sky and water are loaded; invert it--Select Inverse; take our Selection brush as a mask.1363

You see that it's the land completely; so, what we're going to do: make a selection and do a Levels one more time.1372

This one--we'll do the overall; let's brighten it up a little bit.1382

There it comes; snap the contrast just slightly; brighten it up--that looks good.1387

We just have a little problem over there--we're pretty good, so what we're going to do is load that selection: Command/Control, click; and make another adjustment layer for Levels (notice, all we've done is Levels here).1393

I'm going to modify this mask: backslash, and I'm just going to modify it so that we paint everything except the point out.1407

If you'll look over there, the mask now is only the point; backslash key, Option, click; there it is.1423

Take a look at our Levels, and if we brighten up the point a little bit, there you go...a little contrast...there!1432

What we did is made one singular selection that you see inverted here, just the ocean.1441

By painting on the various layer masks, we isolated the cove, isolated the outer, isolated the sky, modified the cove so that we could bring down just that section of the ocean, and then we did the entire land, right there, and painted that one again to modify it to there.1448

All of this was one selection, creating and modifying layer masks--all with a series of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 exposure controls; no color control necessary whatsoever, and we went from (let's copy this one) there to there just by modifying layer masks.1472

The trick I'm going to go over one more time with you: when you have a layer mask: with your backslash key, you now see it as an overlay that you paint with a normal paintbrush, and you can modify it at any time.1499

That is the key right there; otherwise, you take your normal method of creating a selection, go to the adjustment layer, and it will make the selection into a mask, and you can modify that from there.1514

That pretty much gives you how to create and modify (oops, I don't want to do that; I want to paint it with a brush) a layer mask by painting on it; a mask correction trick not in a textbook--the backslash key; and a complete example in how to use and modify layer masks in Adobe Photoshop Elements 11.1530

I'll see you back in the next lesson!1554