Using Layer Masks

One of the more advanced features of Photoshop separates the casual user from the serious user: Layer Masks. These specialized layers let you hide or expose specific parts of a layer by painting the portions you want to hide — or emphasize or expose — with the Paintbrush tool.

You have many ways to accomplish the same task in Photoshop. Using Layer Masks is just one of many techniques you can use to hide portions of images and replace with other effects, layers, or adjustments. Some pretty slick uses of Layer Masks include these:

l Creating a layer in a portrait to blur or soften the subject's skin (a portrait-editing technique). With most portraits, the subjects don't want to see their wrinkles, pores, or blemishes! Many photographers use techniques such as a Gaussian blur to blur the flaws, but then paint in the sharpened portions of the portrait (such as hair and eyes) that they do not want blurred.

i Creating a Layer Mask to selectively paint in the effects of an overall adjustment, blur, or sharpening. Using Layer Masks is a common technique for retouching photographs selectively.

l Selectively darkening a background. Darken the entire image using the Hue/Saturation Lightness slider to the level where the background is darkened to your liking. (Don't worry! You can create a Layer Mask and then paint back in the areas that you don't want darkened.)

i Replacing the background of an image by masking a selection from an image.

The following steps give you a detailed taste of the Layer Mask's power, showing you how to use one to hide the sharp portions of a blurred image and then selectively "paint back in" the parts of the image you want to remain sharp. You can apply many such effects and filters, and then use Layer Masks to selectively paint in the effects. I call this process the "Bad Tie Day" effect.

1. Make a duplicate of the image's background layer by choosing LayerODuplicate Layer or pressing Ctrl+J (^+J on the Mac).

Provide descriptive names to your layers when you create them. You can change the layer name by clicking the layer name in the Layers palette and typing in the new text.

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