The Layer Masks

Layers often have an associated black and white mask. A mask defines where it's layer is visible or hidden. You can use a mask to localize the effect of an adjustment layer, or localize where an image layer is visible. Where the mask is white, either the image or the adjustment is visible; where it is black, either is hidden. By default, the mask is entirely white, that is, the associated layer is completely visible. The key to working with masks is to control where the mask is partially black and partially white.

Masks are often created in combination with selections. Selections define a region of an image and these can be converted into masks. You will learn to use Selections to create masks in the Section on Localized Adjustments in the Workflow chapter. Masks can also be painted on with black or white using the paint brush tool.

Look at the layers used to create this image.

1 The original image is contained on the background layer.

2 I created a copy of the background image named "Blur Layer" and blurred it. For the "Blur Layer," I then created a mask that is white on the left to reveal the blur over the water and black everywhere else.

3 I created an adjustment layer named "Darken" leaving its mask default white.

4 Finally, I created an adjustment layer named "Snow Contrast." For this layer, I created a mask that is white on the right to reveal the snow and black everywhere else. Thus the contrast adjustment is applied only over the snow.

5 The final blended image results with blurred moving water, the entire image darkened, and contrast added to the snow.

You'll be doing a lot with masks: creating them, painting on them, editing them. Usually, you won't see the masks on the screen, just your image. You need to realize that the mask is an inherent part of the layer. Often you'll be editing the mask without even seeing it.

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