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A Deeper Look Into Layer Masks

LET’S TAKE A DEEPER LOOK INTO LAYER MASKS AND SOME OF THE EXTRA THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH THEM

We’re going to revisit the soccer player from a previous tutorial and do some other cool stuff with him. Layer masks have a lot of tiny features that make them easier to work with. Plus, back in Photoshop CS4, Adobe added an entire panel (the Masks panel) to help make working with layer masks easier and more intuitive.

Step 1. OPEN THE PHOTOS FOR THE MASKING PROJECT. DRAG THE BOY INTO THE RIPPED IMAGE

Go ahead and open the photos you’d like to combine. We’ll revisit the soccer player from the first tutorial to create an image that looks like he’s coming out of a ripped page. Just like in that tutorial, press-and-hold the Shift key, and use the Move tool (V) to drag the photo of the boy into the ripped image, so now you’ll have two layers there.

04-21_deeperlook-1a.jpg

Click to view larger image

©ISTOCKPHOTO/BORIS HAJDAREVIC

Step 2. USE THE QUICK SELECTION TOOL TO MAKE A SELECTION INSIDE THE RIPPED AREA

Click on the Eye icon next to the top layer to hide it, and click on the ripped image layer. The Quick Selection tool (W) combined with the new Refine Edge feature in Photoshop CS5 is one of the most powerful selection tools in Photoshop. Since it’s a brush, you can just paint on the ripped area to select it. Be sure to use the Right and Left Bracket keys to resize the brush and get any areas you may have missed. If you select too much, just press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key to go into Subtract mode and erase away the areas you don’t need.

Step 3. ADD A LAYER MASK TO THE LAYER WITH THE BOY ON IT TO HIDE THE REST OF THE PHOTO

Unhide the layer with the soccer player on it by clicking where the Eye icon used to be, then click on the layer to make it active. Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel to add a mask to this layer. Since we have a selection active, Photoshop will hide whatever is not selected. Remember, when you have a selection, adding a layer mask will keep the selected area visible and hide whatever is not selected.

Step 4. HIDE THE LAYER MASK. USE THE QUICK SELECTION TOOL TO SELECT THE REST OF THE BOY

At this point, we only have part of the soccer player visible in the ripped area. We need to get the rest of the soccer player showing through, too. Let’s make another selection with the Quick Selection tool. This time, we’ll select the soccer player, but only part of that layer is visible, right? It’s because the rest of it is hidden by the mask. Well, Photoshop will let you temporarily turn the mask off, so you can see everything. Shift-click on the layer mask thumbnail, you’ll see a big red X appear on it, and you’ll be able to see the entire layer again. Now, use the Quick Selection tool to put a selection around the soccer player.

Step 5. FILL THE SELECTION WITH WHITE

We need to add this selection to the existing layer mask, so the entire soccer player is visible through the ripped area. First, Shift-click on the layer mask thumbnail to unhide it. Then go to Edit>Fill. Select White in the Use pop-up menu and click OK to fill the selection with white. You’ve just added the soccer player to the layer mask, so now the sky and the soccer player are visible through the ripped section of the background photo. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to get rid of your selection.

Step 6. CHECK OUT THE MASKS PANEL. IT HELPS YOU CHANGE YOUR LAYER MASKS

Check out the Masks panel. It usually appears nested with the Adjustments panel, but you can go to Window>Masks to open it. This panel (added in Photoshop CS4) gives you an easy way to adjust your masks without having to know a lot of the secret handshakes that layer mask users used to memorize. The Density slider is like an Opacity slider for the mask. At 100% density, the mask is at full opacity. When you drag the Density slider below 100% though, you’ll start to see whatever the layer mask is hiding. You’ll even see the layer mask itself turn gray and approach white the closer you get to 0%. The Feather setting softens (or blurs) the edges of the mask (as seen here), so they don’t appear too harsh.

Step 7. USE THE MASKS PANEL TO REFINE THE SELECTION EDGE

Density and Feather are cool, but the real power of the Masks panel comes when you click the Mask Edge button, so go ahead and click it. If you look at our selection around the soccer player, you’ll see it’s not perfect. Without turning this into a selection book, the most powerful feature here is the Refine Radius tool (the little brush icon on the left side). Click on it to turn it on, then brush along any edges that seem too harsh or poorly selected (like the hair). Photoshop does some crazy computing, and most of the time it comes out looking amazing. Brush around any other areas and click OK when you’re done. That’s it. Photoshop was adjusting the mask as you made changes, so it should look a lot better now.

Step 8. ADD A TEXTURE LAYER TO THE ORANGE BACKGROUND

Okay, the soccer player is looking good. But, I think the orange background is a little plain, so let’s bring in a texture. Go ahead and open the other image for this tutorial if you want to follow along. It’s a simple layer with hexagon shapes on it. Press-and-hold the Shift key (to keep it centered), grab the Move tool (V), click on the Hexagon layer, and drag it on top of our soccer player image. If it doesn’t appear directly above the soccer player layer in the Layers panel, click on the layer and drag it to the top of the layer stack.

Step 9. COPY THE MASK FROM ANOTHER LAYER SO WE CAN REUSE IT

You can probably tell that the hexagon texture we just dragged in covers the entire photo. We could go through the whole process of making selections and masks again to hide it, but instead, we’ll do something that’s a lot easier than that. We can copy masks from other layers. If you simply click-and-drag a mask, you can move it from one layer to another. But if you press-and-hold the Option (PC: Alt) key before you click-and-drag the mask, it makes a copy of it. Try it. Option-click-and-drag the mask from the soccer player layer to the hexagon layer. You’ve just made an exact duplicate of the mask on another layer.

Step 10. USE THE MASKS PANEL TO INVERT THE MASK ON THE TEXTURE LAYER

We have one small problem: the mask that was on the soccer player was there to show us the soccer player through the ripped portion of the photo, and to hide everything else. That’s why we now only see the hexagon texture over the soccer player and not the orange background. We want the opposite here. We want the hexagon to appear on the orange background. No problem. Make sure the layer mask thumbnail is selected. Then go to the Masks panel and click the Invert button. This turns everything that was black to white, and whatever was white turns black. It essentially reverses the mask and gives us just what we want.

Step 11. ADD A SHADOW BY MAKING A SELECTION FROM A LAYER

We’re just about done. I think the soccer player looks a little flat, though, so let’s add a drop shadow under him. First, remember that a layer mask is basically a selection. Many times they are created from a selection to start with, right? Well you can load that selection and make it visible again. So, let’s load the soccer player’s selection by first clicking on that layer, then Command-clicking (PC: Ctrl-clicking) on the layer mask thumbnail.

Step 12. ADD A NEW LAYER. FILL THE SELECTION WITH BLACK. ADD A GAUSSIAN BLUR TO SOFTEN IT

Now, we’ll create a shadow for some depth. Click on the Background layer, then click on the Create a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Fill the selection with black by going to Edit>Fill, and selecting Black from the Use pop-up menu, then clicking OK. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to Deselect. Now let’s blur the selection a little to soften the edges. Go to Filter> Blur>Gaussian Blur and enter 6 or 7 pixels for the Radius setting. Click OK, and you should have a nice soft shadow emanating from behind the soccer player.

Step 13. BREATHE FOR A MOMENT AND TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON

Okay, breathe for a second. There are lots of layers and masking going on here. Notice that the black shadow only appears over the orange background. It doesn’t show up on the sky at all. Why? Think about it for a second. The black shadow is on a layer below the soccer player, so we’ll only see the glow, not the full black figure we created. Then, the mask on the layer above (the soccer player) only lets the sky and soccer player show through. So, anything we add on a layer below (like a shadow) won’t show up on the sky (which is a good thing, because we don’t want it there). It only shows on the ripped background image.

Step 14. ERASE THE AREAS OF THE SHADOW WE DON’T NEED

You may have noticed the shadow emanates from behind the soccer player like he’s glowing. Since it’s a shadow, we only want it to cast in one direction (down and to the right). So add a layer mask to the shadow layer. It’s all white, so nothing happens yet. Select the Brush tool (B), set your Foreground color to black, and paint away the left edges of the shadow. Try reducing the shadow layer’s opacity to around 60% to soften the shadow even more.

Step 15. ADD ANY TEXT AND FINISHING TOUCHES

I finished things up here by adding some text. We’ll cover using Type layers more in Chapter 5, but I’ve also provided an image with the layers, in case you want to add them, as well.

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