Knowing how to use a Photoshop layer mask is at the heart of any type of creative image work. In this tutorial we explain the different ways in which you can master them.
What is a layer mask?
Layers and masks set Photoshop apart from many of the alternative image-editing software packages available.
Layers can be explained in simple terms as a stack of images, with the top layer the one that’s visible.
If the opacity of that top image is reduced, or sections of it are erased, the layer beneath will be revealed.
This concept enables us to do a variety of things, such as create composite pictures from several images, or merge shots taken at different exposures to create images with greater dynamic range.
Furthermore, each layer can be moved and adjusted independently from the others. They can also be modified by multiple adjustment layers, which are positioned above the target layers in the layer stack.
Masks add an extra element of sophistication to layers because they can be applied to any layer individually, and rather than simply erasing image data to reveal the layer beneath, they hide it.
Masks are also editable, so if you mask off too much of an image, it can be painted back in quickly and easily. Essentially, they enable the opacity of a layer to be selectively and reversibly edited.
One click is all that’s required to create a mask, and once that’s done, it’s simply a question of painting it in using a brush or the Gradient tool.
A black brush paints in the layer mask (increasing the opacity of the attached layer) while a white one removes it (decreasing the opacity of the attached layer).
Best photo editing tips for beginners: 18 quick fixes for common image problems
10 reasons your photos aren’t sharp (and how to fix them)
34 Photoshop effects every photographer must try once
Crop photos the right way: classic mistakes and how to avoid them
Adobe Lightroom: what every photographer needs to know about the ‘alternative Photoshop’