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Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 2 of 6

Masking Multiple Images Together

Ben Willmore

Using Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

2. Masking Multiple Images Together

Lesson Info

Masking Multiple Images Together

First here, I'm taking a photograph in Iceland, of a waterfall and, instead of just taking one version of the image, I ended up capturing two. I took one with a fast shutter speed that would freeze the water. And then I took a second one with a slower shutter speed that would give a silkier look to the waterfall. And when I look at those two images, I find that I like the silky version where the water is falling. But, when the water hits the bottom, and, this area and in summer is up at the top before it actually goes off the edge. I prefer, the crisp version that has the faster shutter speed. So, I wanna combine those two together so I can get the best of both. To do so, I'll start off here in bridge, and I'm gonna select the two images I'd like to work with. I'm gonna then go up to the Tools menu. I'm gonna choose Photoshop, and, I find a choice called, load files into Photoshop layers. Now, I can do the same thing from Adobe Lightroom. If you happen to use that for adjusting your pi...

ctures in organizing them, I would select the two images there. And, I would go to the photo menu, where I would find a choice called edit in. And then I would find the choice of, load files into Photoshop layers, which would do the exact same thing as this. When you load files into Photoshop layers, you should end up with a single document, in one layer for each of the files that you had selected. So, in this case, I have my two layers. And, if I turn off the eyeball on the top layer, it's obviously the top layer was the fast shutter speed because the water is more frozen. And, then I can reveal what is on the layer below. Now, if I turn this off and on, off and on, I might notice that the land moves the tiniest amount. Like if you look at the rocks, in the lower right of the image, and, I turn this off and on There might be the slightest movement. So, before I end up masking this, I'm gonna first do something to ensure that the two layers are lined up as closely, as they can be. To accomplish that, I'm gonna select both layers. The top layer is already selected, so, I'll hold SHIFT and click on the layer that's below. Then I'll go to the Edit menu, where am gonna find a choice called, auto align layers. That's the same technology, that's used to stitch panoramas. When you put them together in Photoshop, it looks for content that is identical in two layers, and if it finds it and tries to line them up. I'm just gonna to use a setting called auto and click OK. And I don't know that, that's going to make a big difference in this particular image. But, if you ever shoot images like this handheld, you'll most likely need to use auto align layers. Now, if I hide the top layer, I think I see less movement, in the rock that's there, one layer is a little brighter than the other, but, that's not gonna matter. Now, with the top layer active, I'm gonna add a layer mask. So, I go to the bottom of my Layers panel, I find that icon, it looks like a rectangle with a circle inside of it. And I click, when I do, the layer mask is added to the layer that is currently active, and, if there was no selection, on my screen at the time I did that, the mask should start out being white. White in a layer mask, allows that layer to completely show up. And so, now if I grab my paintbrush tool, I wanna paint with black, because, black is gonna hide this layer. And the only thing is I'm gonna come up here to my brush, I'm in the standard Brush Tool. I'm gonna click on the brush preview in my options bar, and, I'm just gonna make sure that my hardness setting is turned all the way down. So, I have a really soft edge brush. Therefore, you won't be able to tell exactly where I stopped painting, because, it will fade out on the edge. All right, now, I'm gonna get my brush, and start painting wherever I would like, the more silky version of the waterfall to appear. So, I'm gonna come over here to the right edge of my picture, and paint right where the waterfall is. I'll stop when it hits the, bottom, the pool of water that's there, look at that, I'll go to the next area of the waterfall and do the same thing. As I paint, when I released my boss button, I can look at my Layers panel and actually see the black paint that I'm adding. That black paint, is hiding the layer that the mask is attached to. That happens to be, the layer that contains, the fast shutter speed, water. Do that, if I were to hide the layer that's underneath, you might be able to get a better idea for what's happening, because, then you'll see, the top most layer with some areas missing. Those are the areas, where I've painted with black and the layer mask. And so, the black areas, hide the layer that, it's attached to. I turn on the layer, that's underneath and it's just filling in those holes. So, only portion of that layer you see, is where you could see it through those holes. When you use a layer mask, you can at any time, switch over and paint with white. And, let's say I want the little bitty part of the waterfall in here to be more of the, short shutter speed. So, I paint that back in. Anytime I paint with white, it makes the layer I'm currently working on visible, and so in this case, I see that, more short shutter speed. Now, if I hide the top layer, you'll see just the layer that's underneath which is where it's all the slower shutter speed, and turn this layer back on and, you get the idea of what I've done. Now, let's do that to a bunch of other images. Here I took a picture of some birds. I don't like that all the birds are looking to the right, so, I didn't take just one shot. I took a second one but when I get the second one, I liked that the middle bird, was looking to the left but I don't like the bottom bird, is looking straight on. I wish he was looking towards me or somewhere else. So, I continue to taking shots and each time the birds were in slightly different positions, I would like to create a more optimal version of that, by masking multiple images together. Again, here in bridge, I'll select all of those images, I'll go to the Tools menu, choose Photoshop, and choose load files into Photoshop layers. Remember that could be done from light room, but you would have to go to the photo menu and choose Edit in, to find those same choices. Then, I believe I was shooting handheld when I shot this and therefore if I were to turn off these eyeballs, you see the tree move up and down. So, that means I need to select these layers. Top layer is selected, I'll hold shift to get at the bottom one. And, I need to go to the Edit menu, and choose auto align, to make sure the tree is in the same position, in each image. And, I just use a setting called auto and click OK. After doing so, if I turn off the top layer You'll see that the branch is in the same position. And, turn off the next one down and you'll see the branches on the same spots, in each shot. So, then I'm gonna choose one of these images to be the starting or base image. And maybe, I'll use this one, let's say that I think that, one of the birds is in an optimal position, either the middle bird or the one on the right. For me, I'm just gonna say one of those two I like, I'll go to the next layer up, and I'm just gonna turn on its eyeball and decide, are any other birds in that layer more desirable? So, I turn that on and the bird at the bottom suddenly looks to the left. And so, I don't mind that. But let's see if there's a better version of him looking to the left. So I'll turn that layer off and turn the next one on. No, the next one, no, the next one. Okay, now he's looking to the right. I have to decide, do I want that bird looking right or left? I think I'd prefer him to look to the right, because, then he's looking into the frame instead of out. So, I'm gonna use Just that bird, from the top layer. So, I'm gonna click on the top layer, and I'm gonna add a layer mask. But so far, whenever I've added a layer mask, if there was no selection active, the mask I ended up with was full of white by default, and that allowed the layer to completely show up. But at the moment, I only wanna use a small portion of this layer, and so, I'd rather have the mask started as black. That's gonna hide the entire contents of the layer. Then I could just paint in the little area that I want. To get a black mask, all you need to do is when you click on the Layer Mask icon, hold down the Option key Alton windows before you click. So, I have the option key held down right now. I'll Click the Layer Mask icon, and when I do, you see that the mask, that was added was full of black. Don't worry about it if you forgot to hold down the Option key or you forget that that's the key that needs to be held. Because, you can always choose this as well. Image, adjustments, invert, to get the opposite. Invert always make something a negative of itself. So, if you had black, you'd get white. And, if you had white, you'd get black. So, you could use that after, making the mask. I'll grab my paintbrush tool. And now ,I'm gonna paint just right here where that bird is, I need to have a soft enough big brush here. So, I can get that to blend out where the sky is, because the clouds are moving, between these shots. Right now, I have him looking in towards the middle And now, I'm gonna look at the guy on the right side. I'd rather not have him looking out of the frame if at all possible. So, let's see if he's looking in, on any of the other shots. I'll go to the one right above the background, turn on its eyeball. And, I didn't see him move. I'll go to the next one up, and then he moved a little bit. Next one up, then move. I'm wondering if the same layer I've already masked, his head might be pointing in. If it's not, then I won't have an option to choose from, but I need to figure out how, to bring that area to be visible. Because right now it's only this part in the lower left that's visible, I could just paint with white right here, I'm working on the mask. And no, he's always looking to the right, I think on each layer, he must be looking to the right, I'll double check. So, if that's the case, I won't have an option for that. Now, let's look at the middle one and decide which version we'd like to use. I'll turn on the layer right above the background, decide if I like it better than what was in there previously, go to the next one up and do the same thing. Like his little tail wag in there, I kind of like his tail more in this position. And then, I can go to the one above, and decide between these. Now like that one. In this particular case, I don't even know that I need to do any further masking because, let's see, it all depends on what happens to the guy. The far bottom, if he changes, he looks the same. But, I think the bird on the right, if you look at him, when I turn on this layer, I don't like it, what happens to his neck, so, I'm gonna mask him out. All right, I'll add a layer mask, and, then I'll paint where this bird is, because, that's what I don't think I liked. I do need to paint with black though, if I want to hide him to reveal the one that's underneath. And I just need to paint far enough out in the clouds to get them to blend together. Now, if you have some layers in here that are unused, and you just don't need them in your file, I wouldn't leave them there because my file size would stay larger than it needs to be. So, I can go to the side menu of the Layers panel, click on what's known as the hamburger menu or flyout menu. And, there's a choice within here that should be called and it takes me just a moment to find it. But, I think it's delete hidden layers. If it's not, yeah, it's right there. That's gonna throw away any layers that have their eyeball icons turned off. So, let's try that, I'll choose don't show again. And, the only thing I could do is if I wanted more sky at the bottom and that additional sky was in one of those layers, I could have gotten it. But, I think we're fine there. And, the final thing I would do, is crop the image to get rid of the empty space. So, I'll choose the crop tool in my tool panel. And then bring this in, to get an optimal crop. If you don't need the layers, if you know you're not gonna be changing, making changes in the future, then you're more than welcome to merge these layers together. But, instead of merging the layers together, let's just see how could we simplify this image in another way. The other thing you can do is if you have layer mask, you can click on a layer mask and drag it to the trash can. If you do, it'll ask you a question. And, you can delete the layer mask, which means, bring back the entire contents of that layer, so, that nothing is hidden, the same as filling the mask with white, before getting rid of it, or I can choose apply, and if I choose apply, then it's actually gonna delete the areas that are black in that mask. So, I'm gonna choose apply and watch what happens to this layer. You can see through part of it (mumblels) a checkerboard indicates an area that's completely empty. And so, now you see it was actually deleted. If I go to the layer above, I could also drag its mask to the trash Intel and tell it to apply, and then it will truly delete those areas that were filled with black. To further simplify the image, I could select the layers and choose merge or flatten. Now we're down to a single layer so my file size would be very small. But, that's only if I don't need to make changes in the future. I'd rather keep those layers cause you never know, I might print this image one day. And, when it gets printed large, look at it really close and notice an issue where I stopped painting a little bit shy of where I should have, and maybe the sky doesn't blend together right, I'd rather have the option to make changes later. So, I rarely merge those layers together. Now, let's use this to remove tourists in a shot. Here, I was shooting on this nice little road with the church at the end. But, there were always people around and they just kept walking by and walking by. And they didn't care that I was taking pictures. They were just constantly walking by. Well, I don't mind that I'm used to it. So, all I do is I stand in one position. I take a photograph and I try not to move much. I'd take another one a few moments later. And, I might wait two or three minutes, and take another picture. And, if I remember there was somebody in a particular position like, over there in the distance, then I will end up just waiting for that area to clear, before I take another picture. I'll select those images. I'm gonna load files into Photoshop layers and then we can turn these off.

Class Description


  • Understand the relationship between Selections and Masks
  • Use brushes and gradients to create complex masks
  • Understand how filters and selections affect masks
  • Use masks to combine multiple exposures to remove unwanted objects
  • Temporarily disable, overlay or view any Layer Mask


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)


Jean McMillan

Just loving this with 'bite size' chunks, I have picked up so much and it's great being able to jump in and do a short blast to re-fresh the memory. Wish all classes were short, sweet and to the point like these