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Using Masks to Make Adjustments in Photoshop

Lesson 28 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

Using Masks to Make Adjustments in Photoshop

Lesson 28 from: Travel Photography: The Complete Guide

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

28. Using Masks to Make Adjustments in Photoshop


Class Trailer



Course Introduction


Camera Gear for Travel


What Camera Gear Should You Buy?


Gear Bags for Travel Photography


Location Research and Pre-Trip Planning


Importing and Naming Conventions in Lightroom


Processing Images with Presets in Lightroom


Lesson Info

Using Masks to Make Adjustments in Photoshop

Now I wanna control where precisely, that layer on top shows up. Zoom up a little bit so you can see. And, I do that with a layer mask. A layer mask is a grayscale picture attached to a layer, where any part of that grayscale picture that is white, leaves the layer alone. Just makes it show up like it does normally, and any part of that that turns black, hides the layer. And so, once I attach this little grayscale picture to the layer, I can paint with black and it'll hide anything, any part of that layer. Here's how you do it. The bottom of your Layers panel, there's an icon that looks like a circle inside of a rectangle. I can see it right down here. That's my layer mask icon. I just need to make sure the layer that I want to hide parts of is selected, it's active, so it knows where to put it. And when I click on that icon, watch that layer, there's that grayscale picture attached to it. Right now, the grayscale picture is full of white so it's not really doing anything yet, but it's...

there ready for me to paint on it and control exactly where this layer appears. Usually in Photoshop though, if you have a layer mask, you could either paint on this, or the paint could show up over here. And the way you determine what is active where paint would show up if you grab a painting tool, is with these little brackets on the corners. They tell you, is this thing active? So if you painted, the paint would actually show up on top of the picture. Or, is this active, where it would show up inside the mask? See what happens when I click between them. So, I just double check that what I was thinking of is active. Then I'm gonna come in and grab a Paintbrush tool on the left side of my screen, and down near the bottom here is where I have my foreground and background colors, the top of which is the color I'm painting with. This little double arrow is gonna switch these two, so I'm painting with black. Now, wherever I paint with this brush, the paint is gonna show up in that mask. And the way masks work, is black hides the contents of the layer. So, I'm gonna just grab my Paintbrush tool, come up here, and start painting. Like that, and right now, I'm not gonna be that precise, just for time sake. Usually I would be zoomed up more and I would be much more careful about where I'm putting this paint, but we're not gonna save this image and frame it. We're trying to learn about how to use things. And so therefore, I hope you don't mind if I just be a little bit sloppy so it doesn't take as much time so we can cover more. I can let go and click again as many times as I want. I happen to be doing it all with one paint stroke here. And, the other reason I'm not gonna be quite as precise, is I'm using the trackpad built into my laptop. You know that little thing you drag your finger across to control your laptop? Not the best thing for painting. What would be much more ideal for painting is, oh a mouse is okay, but what's most ideal is usually a graphics tablet, where it actually feels like a pen or a brush in your hand and you're painting on that. Those can be very nice, but I like having an excuse to be sloppy when I'm teaching, otherwise, if I have that, you're like, okay, show me it being precise. And I'm like, no. So, let's see what I've done. Look at my layers panel. Here we have our original picture down here. We have a special duplicate of it here that has different settings applied. And now we have a mask, and wherever the mask is white it leaves the image visible. Wherever we've added black, it hides this layer, and therefore reveals what's underneath it. It comes directly underneath. If you're not used to layers, they're just like papers on a table. If I have papers on a table, the top paper covers up the sheet of paper underneath it. And if I take this, a layer mask would be the equivalent to hiding this part of the paper. It's just unlike this, not permanent. If I paint with white, this would go back. But all it's doing is, when I paint with black, it's just creating a hole in this layer. So, it's as if I'm standing above looking down. I can see through it to what's underneath. So anyway, there's my mask. Now, I'm gonna do a few more of those. I might make it so that mask, if I turn this off, I'll zoom out a little bit for you. Just so you know if you see me zoom out ever, I'm typing Command+0. That's Control+0 on Windows and it means fit in window. I'm just so used to doing it, I do it before thinking, so I don't mention all the time. But, if I now hide the top layer, do you see how the outer part of the image is getting darker? That's what's in the top layer, is a darkened version. Now, I'm not limited to using the choices that we would usually have in Lightroom or in Camera Raw. I can also use features here in Photoshop. If I go to the bottom of my Layers panel, we have another icon that's a circle, half black and half white. If I click on it, these are adjustment layers. These are the types of adjustments we have in Photoshop. So, instead of having things like the Exposure slider and Shadows and Highlights like we have in Lightroom, here we have assortment of kinda specialized adjustments. And so, I'm gonna come in here and try one of these. I'm gonna come in and maybe choose something called Curves. Curves is my favorite adjustment. We really don't have time today to get good at Curves, so I'm just gonna have to use it. You could pick any adjustment in here. I'm just showing you conceptually how do we do this. It's up to you to choose what adjustment to use. But I can come in here then, and decide that I'm gonna click on the dark part of my image, and just lock in its brightness. And then I'm gonna go to the brighter area here, click and drag up, and when I do I should be able to pull out contrast. It should make that little guy pop a little bit more. Anytime you make a curve steeper, more towards vertical, you're increasing contrast. And anytime you do that, the detail pops out. If you wanna learn a lot about Curves I've classes just dedicated to that and adjustments as a whole, but right now, you could be in any Adjustment. It could be Brightness and Contrast, could be Levels, anything, whatever you're comfortable with. Now what I'm gonna do, is whenever you use an adjustment layer, it automatically comes with this mask attached. And, that mask is automatically highlighted, so it's ready for you to paint on it, but the problem is the change that I just made, I only want to have happen to that little lizard guy, or is he a gecko, I don't know. Well, the problem with that, is in order to get the adjustment to stop affecting the rest of the image, I need to get black on top of the rest of that mask, everywhere except for where the lizard is. That's a lot of painting, huge areas. So, instead, I'm gonna go to the Image menu, I'm gonna choose Adjustments and I'm gonna choose Invert. Invert is going to take what we're working on, which is not the picture, if you look at what's active in our layers panel, it's this guy. Do you see the little marks around it? That means any adjustment I make, we're adjusting that thing. And if I choose Invert, that means turn it into a negative of itself. Give me the opposite of what we currently have. So, when I choose Invert, watch the mask. See it just turned black. So now, I can grab my Brush tool, and instead of painting with black, which removes an adjustment, we already have our mask full of black, so right now the adjustment is doing nothing to the image. I need to switch over and paint with white. And then I'll get a smaller brush, and just so you know to change your brush size, you have many different methods available. I'm using the old school method, which is the square bracket keys on your keyboard. There are more modern methods to that, but I'm so used to that from 20 years of using it, it's hard for me to change. And now, I'm gonna paint, and as I paint, it's actually painting that adjustment into my picture. And, I can get right in there. And, after I'm done I can also go over and fine tune the adjustment itself. And after awhile, I might open some other images where you just see where did I use this concept in other pictures, but let me see first, did this work? Take me just a second to check, yes, it did. I couldn't tell because usually you can see little remnants of paint in here that you've deposited, but I did it in such a tiny, tiny area of the image. this thumbnail is too small to really be able to show it. And so, I had to do something to check. So, if you're gonna end up doing this, I'll turn off this little adjustment layer. Here's before, here's after. Do you see him popping out? There's a few tips you should know about working with masks. So, you can have an image over here with a mask attached to it. Or, you can have an adjustment, with a mask attached to it. You can attach a mask to any layer you want. And just remember that in a mask, black hides whatever the content of that layer is, and white allows it to show up. Well, a few tricks you can use with the masks, first if you wanna see visually on your picture where that particular layer is showing up, on your keyboard press the backslash key. The backslash key is right above the Return or Enter key on most keyboards. And watch what happens when the layer I'm working on has a mask attached to it. If I hit backslash, do you see the red overlay? All it's doing is taking wherever there's black in the mask and overlaying it on the picture. It just happens to turn it red to make it stand out. And now, I could zoom up on that, and see how precise was I, and I can modify it, and paint in whatever areas I think need it. Now, I often switch between painting with black and painting with white, and usually you can do that by clicking this little arrow here or the keyboard shortcut for clicking the arrow is the X key to exchange them. When you're done with the color overlay, if you no longer find it useful, press the backslash key a second time. And so, I could do that also for the other layer. Just click on the layer and type backslash. And that can be useful when I come over here and paint, 'cause then I can see did I go to far beyond the edge, or did I not make it out far enough? And, I can paint while the overlay is there. That's very similar to the overlays you saw in Lightroom. In Lightroom, remember the overlay was green in color? Just so you know in Lightroom, you can change the color of the overlay. There was a little checkbox at the bottom when I used the Adjustment Brush, that said something like Show Overlay. That's how you turned it on and off. If you wanna change its color, while the overlay is visible, you go up to the menu at the top of your screen, and it'll take me a moment to remember what menu it is. I don't remember the name. I think it's the Tool menu. I'll go to my Adjustment brush. Yeah, right here. Just so you know, if you're in the Adjustment brush in Lightroom, I switched to Lightroom. You can come down here and choose when it should how up, and somewhere in here will be the color. (person muffled speaking off mic) What, you see it? Adjustment Mask. There we go, Adjustment Mask Overlay, right there, you could choose the color, just so you're aware, 'cause some of you guys might try your Adjustment brush in Lightroom and you might find that it's not green. Mine was showing up as green. Yours might show up as red or something else. You might be going what's going on? Where do I change that? And, that's where it is. I just switched back to Photoshop. So, we're doing this, other things that we can do, when we're working with a mask. So far, I showed you you can press the backslash key to see our masks, and we can work on the mask while that is visible, is we can also view the contents of the mask directly. By directly I mean, where you don't have to see the picture at the same time. Instead you're gonna see it, just like the little thumbnail shows up in the Layers panel. It'll look like that contents, just full size. And so, if you want to see it full size, oops I went over the edge. I'll hit X, get rid of the overspray. If you want to see a full size what you need to do is to, go in your Layers panel, hold down the Option key. That's Alt in Windows, and click on the thumbnail image for that mask. Then you'll see it's contents. There it is. That's really useful, because oftentimes there will be gaps in your paint strokes that you did not notice. I wish we had that view in Lightroom, and I wish we could edit it while having a view like that, so I can see hey is there a little gap right there. There was a tiny gap right there that I didn't realize I had. To get out of this view, hold on the Option key, and just click the mask again. It's the same way you got in. And so, one thing I end up doing is, when I find that Lightroom starts becoming a little bit inconvenient in some kinds of changes, oftentimes that has to do with using the Adjustment brush. I end up taking my image over to Photoshop, and substituting the Adjustment brush for the Adjustment layers in Photoshop. If you want to see before and after, whenever you do that process, the bottom most layer is the original image that we opened into Photoshop. And if we were to just turn off the eyeballs in the layers above, we would hide them temporarily, and you could see the original. I turn those back on, and we see the end result. There's a shortcut for doing that. If you move your mouse to the eyeball for the bottom layer, you can hold on the Option key, Alt on Windows, and when you click it, all Option clicking does, is automatically turn off all other eyeballs. It means turn off everything but this eyeball. And if you do it a second time, it will turn them back on. And so, that's a nice convenient way to see before and after. Now, that's enough just to conceptually change this image. I don't know that I made it dramatically better, but it just gave you a few ideas. Now what I'm gonna do is go over here and save it. Now, I can choose Save, and if I do, it's gonna automatically save it back into the same folder that it came from, meaning wherever that original raw file is, it will end up in that folder, and Lightroom will automatically name it with the same name as the raw file. It'll put a dash and then the word edit, to mean this is an edited version edited in Photoshop, or I can choose Save As, if I wanna give it a different name. And if I choose Save As, it should hopefully bring me to the same location, and I can give it a name and save it there. I'm not gonna do that. I'm just gonna go over here and choose Save. Then I'm gonna close this image, say I'm done with it. And, let's go over and return to Lightroom And in Lightroom, now if you look at this area where I was, right now I was just viewing the contents of a collection, here's the image we working on previously, and here's the one we just made in Photoshop. And if you look at it, you can see the name has the word edit on the end, otherwise it's identical. And, this particular case it happened to stack the two. Do see that there's a number up in the corner, and if I click the number, it would slide the other one underneath this to keep it a nice clean little thing. So, we could leave it there stacked like that, or if I was working in a folder instead of a collection, I could take this and throw it in the outtakes if I wanted to. It's up to you how you wanna manage your files. So, that's one way we can work. Now, this is when Command+E works out. Command+E means edit. And, Command+E is when I wanna edit a file that was already gone to Photoshop. That means it's usually a TIFF file, or a Photoshop file format image. A lot of people will ask, which of those to file formats should I use? The answer is it's up to you. Both file formats give you identical quality. Both file formats support almost all the features in Photoshop. And so, you could use either one. So, if you're used to using one, I'm not gonna try to talk you out of it, but I'll just tell you what I use, I use TIFF. There are some, a couple advantages of TIFF, but they're not huge ones, so if you're currently using Photoshop file format, you're welcome to keep going with it. There used to be some additional advantages of TIFF before they added new features to Lightroom. Do you remember in Lightroom, we can now stitch panoramas and we can now do HDR? Well, there used to be a trick, where we could do something with HDR, but only if we used a TIFF file. And since we can do them now in Lightroom all together, that's no longer an advantage. So it now, TIFF versus Photoshop, it's still pretty close which one to use. So, personal choice I just use TIFF. So, here I can type Command+E, if I type Command+E, make sure I have that, I didn't have it selected, Command+E, this will pop up. This says hey, do you wanna edit the original? Which means act as if I never left Photoshop. Give me back exactly the way I was, or would I rather edit a copy of that file, because Lightroom is not, is thinking about, you probably want things where you can easily undo them and get back to where it used to be. You could make progressions, more and more files, to show your the progression of this. I don't usually need to do that. Now, there's a choice up here called, Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments. That's if you happen to have moved the Lightroom sliders to brighten or darken this file. That's not a raw file, instead it's a file that came from Photoshop. I wish that this particular dialog box would, if I've never made any adjustment whatsoever in Lightroom to this file, 'cause I haven't touched it since I made this, since it was in Photoshop, it just wouldn't show this, 'cause this when it comes up makes me assume that I must have moved the sliders in Lightroom and adjusted this picture after they've been in Photoshop, otherwise why would it say? Why would he give me that option? And so, I wish it would just not show it there, but I usually choose Edit Original. Hit Edit, and now I'm gonna be back in Photoshop, working on the file, and I can do whatever I'd like, make additional changes to it. Maybe I come up and do an adjustment layer. I don't think Photoshop liked, I was zoomed up on my screen. I use that feature in my operating system to zoom up, make it easier for you to see the screen, and that confused Photoshop. It thought I only had a screen that big, so it might do some weird things here. Never run into that before. You won't run into that, 'cause you don't zoom in on your screen like I do. That's a bug in Photoshop, but let's say I made additional changes. Let's say I went over here and I said, well, let's do something like Vibrance, and let's crank up the Vibrance. And then, let's use a trick. We already have a mask that isolated the little lizard guy. I don't wanna paint in the lizard guy again, 'cause I want this adjustment to only affect the lizard. Well, if I were to grab its mask, the one where I painted to isolate the lizard, I could drag it up here to the other layer. and if I did and let go, it would move it there. The problem is, it took it off of the original. You see it's no longer on the one below? I'll choose Undo by typing Command+Z. If you hold down the Option key, Alt in Windows, that means Move a copy, and that's the universal. If you have the move tool in Photoshop, you hold option and you drag, you move a copy. If you're in your operating system, and you drag a file and you hold down the Option key, you move a copy, it's like a common thing. So, I'm gonna hold down Option and drag this up to there. And now, you see the two look the same, so I just made that adjustment be limited to the little lizard guy. So, it's making it more colorful. When I'm done, I just type Command+S for Save. Same thing as going up here and choosing Save, and then I can close the file. So, you see how the round tripping works, just in case you're not used to it, but now let's do some stuff, after we go through any questions you might have that relates to travel photography, and the kind of common tasks you might run into. So, but before I do, any questions or comments about we've done in Photoshop thus far? I have one clarifying from folks at home. So, going to Photoshop as a smart object in raw, when saved back to Lightroom comes back as a TIFF, Yep. Can it come back as raw? No, it can't. You can't in general save back into a raw file. A raw file comes from a digital camera, and you'll, the idea is it's the raw data that the camera captured with no changes. Did you get that last part, with no changes. Once you make changes to it, it's no longer a raw file. It's not the raw data from your camera anymore. And so, that's why when Lightroom makes changes, how does it save the changes? as text attached to the picture, so it's still the original untouched raw file, with just some text added. Strip away the text, and you have an unchanged file. Photoshop can't do that. Even though one of those layers might contain a copy of the raw file, it can't save things like that as text. We've done too much to the picture, in a way that can't be saved as text, so it can't do that. It has to create a TIFF file or Photoshop file format image. Just throw the, flip a coin, and pick between those two file formats, but I happen to use to TIFF, okay?

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lightroom Presets Quickstart Guide
Lightroom Preset Sampler
Pre-Trip Planning
Actions Sampler Guide
Travel Photography Handbook
Actions Sampler
Lightroom Keywords
Big Set of Lightroom Presets
Practice Images
Travel Photogtaphy Mobile Guide
Gear List
Lightroom Tips and Keyboard Shortcuts

Ratings and Reviews


This was simply an amazing experience! Without a doubt the best investment of time and money I have experienced in quite awhile. Ben's complete command of the subject, the practical tips, suggestions and reference information was outstanding. I have enjoyed point and shoot photography for some time and recently decided to invest in some decent DSLR equipment (Canon EOS D70). I have a trip to Cape Town and Johannesburg South Africa rapidly approaching and thought it might be a good idea to take some classes and make an effort to get up the learning curve ASAP to take advantage of this travel opportunity. "Discovering" Creativelive and Ben Willmore's class was literally an answer to prayer! There is nothing like sitting at the foot of wisdom, taking notes, and having numerous "ah-ha" moments! This was great....looking forward to more classes. Thanks for the high quality effort!

a Creativelive Student

Genius! Ben is a brilliant master teacher - focused, clear and holds back no information. The best! This course has condensed the equivalent of 10 courses into one. He is a perfectionist in his approach and knows how to present the material. He is the leader in photoshop and photography "par excellence". Highly recommend any of his courses. Save your time and start with the best - everyone loves Ben!!!!

Nichole Sams

I feel the title of this class, Travel Photography, is much to limiting for what you are really going to get. As a wedding photographer, who dreams of traveling, I attending the class live in Seattle, and was hoping to get some inspiration for on location shoots. What I got, however, was a WHOLE LOT MORE. I would recommend this class to anyone with a camera and Lightroom. What I learned about how lightroom works and how to integrate it with photoshop is invaluable. I actually think they should charge WAY more for this course. The bonuses with purchase from the keywords (we are talking every key word you could possibly imagine) and the presets (holycow everything you would ever need) are worth exponentially more than the course price itself. Ben is a gentle easy going teacher and nice to listen to. His ease of teaching pretty complex ideas was truly wonderful. If you are reading this you must buy this course, it is well worth it!

Student Work