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Blending Two or More Images (Intro to Layer Masks)

I’m sure you’ve seen many examples where one image blends smoothly and seamlessly into another image. Well, thanks to layers and layer masking, it’s super-simple to do. When you add a layer mask, you’re telling Photoshop, “I only want to show part of what’s on this layer,” and then you can use either the Brush tool or the Gradient tool (my favorite) to pick which parts of that layer you want visible and which parts you want hidden. Using a large, soft-edged brush, or the Gradient tool, can make the blend between images really nice and smooth. Just as a heads-up as we get into this: any parts of a layer mask that appear in black, that part of the image will be hidden (concealed), and any parts that appear in white will be visible (revealed). A phrase we’ve been using since prehistoric times to help us remember this is: “Black conceals and white reveals.” This will make more sense shortly.

Step One:

We’re going to blend three images together here. I usually pick one to start with as my “base” image, and in this case, I chose this image of a restaurant menu.

Step Two:

Open the first image you want to blend with the menu image—in this case, it’s a photo of a champagne bottle. We need to get this image over onto our menu image, and the easiest way to do this is to copy-and-paste this layer over into the other image (yes, you can copy-and-paste layers between documents). The only problem is, it doesn’t let you copy-and-paste Background layers (ugh!), so we’ll just convert this Background layer into a regular layer. We do this by simply clicking once on the little lock icon to the right of the word “Background” (as shown here). That’s it. One click and it’s a regular layer (I know, it seems like it should be more complicated than that). Now, press Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to Copy this layer into memory.

Step Three:

Go back to the menu image and press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to Paste this champagne bottle image right over the menu image. Of course, when you do this, the champagne image will cover up the menu, and that’s okay (that’s how it’s supposed to work). We’re going to add a layer mask to create a smooth blend between the two images, and it’s just three easy clicks: (1) Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it’s shown circled here in red). Then, (2) get the Gradient tool (G) from the Toolbox (it’s circled in red, too). Lastly, (3) take that Gradient tool, click it where you want our champagne bottle image on the top layer to be transparent, and then drag over to where you want it to be visible. Here, I clicked to the right of the bottle (whereI want the menu to be visible), and then I dragged over to the bottle, and it made a smooth transition between the menu and the champagne bottle.

Step Four:

Take a look at the Layers panel in the previous step, and you’ll now see a second thumbnail to the right of the original champagne bottle layer’s thumbnail. That’s the layer mask thumbnail. See how it’s black on the right side? That’s showing you that part of the bottle image is hidden from view (concealed), and as it graduates over to white on the left, the bottle becomes visible (revealed). That’s why we say, “black conceals and white reveals.” Okay, that bottle seems a little too far into the image, so get the Move tool (V) from the top of the Toolbox, click on the bottle, and drag it over to the left a bit, so it’s not so far into the image (as seen here). Next, let’s add the third image.

Step Five:

Let’s open the image of a fresh tomato and mozzarella caprese salad. Let’s first convert it to a regular layer by going to the Layers panel and clicking on the lock icon (when you do this, the name changes to “Layer 0” and the lock icon disappears, as seen here, in the inset). Now we can Copy this layer into memory by pressing Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C).

Step Six:

Go back to the menu image document, and then press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to Paste the caprese salad layer into our menu document. Now, using the Move tool, slide that image over to the right (as shown here). Okay, the image has a hard edge on the left and it doesn’t blend, so in the next step, we’ll create that smooth blend using a layer mask and the Gradient tool.

Step Seven:

Click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, and then get the Gradient tool again from the Toolbox. Now, click the Gradient tool where you want the image on the top layer to be transparent, and then drag over to where you want it to be visible. Here, I clicked on the plate (I want that part to be transparent), then I dragged over to the middle of the tomatoes, and it’ll create that smooth graduation between the menu and salad (as seen in the next step).

Step Eight:

Here you can see the smooth blending of the images, thanks to those gradients on the layer masks. Now, let’s get the Move tool again, and drag both the champagne bottle and the salad out over toward the edges a bit, so they don’t overtake the image too much. Here’s the final image, and your introduction to layer masks for blending. By the way, as I mentioned in the introduction, you can also use the Brush tool the same way. If you paint in black, it would hide any areas you painted over. Or, if, for example, here you wanted to see more of the tomatoes, you would paint over them in white. Use a large, soft-edged brush to keep all the edges soft and blending smoothly.

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