Why are people so afraid of layer masks? They are ESSENTIAL components to custom editing. Without them, any effect you apply in Photoshop is visible over the entire image. With them, you can use a simple paint brush to either paint on effects just where you want them, or paint off effects where you don’t want them. Today I’ll be sharing an edit from start to finish with screenshots along the way to demonstrate how vital layer masks are to deep, rich editing. So many people want the vibrant, rich editing but don’t want to take the time or effort to use layer masks to achieve a successful edit. The bottom line is, if you want a deep rich color to your images, you’re going to have to take it off the skin by hand. People don’t look good when you leave darkening color pops on their skin. That’s where layer masks come in. Follow down through the images and see for yourself how layer masks make all the difference.
Bland to Brillant, Imperial, Plush Color, Anti-Pasty Skin, Basic Boost-Color Keeper, Glisten, Euphoria, Flawless Face. Edit took less than 5 minutes to complete.
Below: Just Bland to Brilliant. It give a nice overall clarity and slight contrast boost. It’s one of my favorite actions to start with.
Below: Bland to Brilliant and Imperial. Imperial gives a deep, rich color to images. Here it’s been played right on top of Bland to Brilliant and the action group opacity was kept 100%. The internal layer called clarity was turned off, because Bland to Brilliant already had a clarity layer and two layers of clarity would be overkill. You can see that Imperial really popped the color, but the contrast also increased, causing the skin to look horrible and the darker parts of the image to completely lose detail. Losing detail is a very bad thing.
To remedy the areas that are too dark and too contrasty, I used a soft, black brush at an opacity of about 30% to paint over those areas. The painting or masking, was added to the white layer mask that was attached to the Imperial action group. It’s really important to get used to changing your brush opacity instead of painting with a 100% opacity brush and lowering the entire action’s opacity in the layers palette. Doing that greatly decreases the ability to get the most out of an action effect and layer mask. Some areas you might only want to remove 30% of an effect. Other areas you might want to remove 80% of the effect. In regards to masking, always change your brush opacities for control, not your layer opacity. Of course there will be times when you’ll want to alter the layer opacity if you need an overall increase or decrease of an effect. That’s perfectly fine. But when masking, think brush opacities.
White layer mask – paint with a black brush to hide the effect.
Black layer mask – paint with a white brush to reveal the effect.
Notice the white layer mask attached to the Imperial action group. The areas of black or grey are where I’ve painted/masked the effect off.
Below, you’ll see a quick mask of where I painted with a black brush on the Imperial layer mask to remove the darkening effect. I look for funky areas in the skin and other areas in the clothes and background that are too dark and lose detail.
Here’s how it looks after masking Imperial off those areas. The skin looks normal and the background areas have detail again.
Next, I played the Plush Color action, which increased the color vibrancy and richness quite a bit. However, I’m left with the same issues as before… skin is too dark, hair too vibrant and the background has become too dark and lost all detail. All I see is black nothingness in the background. That’s not good. I need to use the Plush Color group’s layer mask and remove the effect a bit in those areas to return them to normal.
Again, the quick mask view of where I’ve painted with a black concealing brush on the white mask. These areas will no return to a lighter state and detail will return.
Here’s what Plush Color looks like after masking off those areas. Much better.
This is how my layers palette is shaping up so far. Bland to Brilliant 100%, Imperial 100 % with the clarity layer turned off and masked off a bit, Plush Color 70%, masked off a bit. As you can see, all the actions have run on top of one another very nicely and I have access to ALL the layers below. I was never forced to flatten before running a new action. I made sure the action group was closed down (you can open or close them by clicking the triangle to the left of the folder icon). Closing the action groups ensures that actions play on top of one another instead of the layers getting intertwined inside action groups, which would be a hot mess.
At this point I ran Basic Boost-Color Keeper and lowered the action layer opacity to 20%. This gave a nice light punch to the color and gave some definition to the face.
Next, I played Anti-Pasty Skin and kept the action group at 100%. This action has a black layer mask that conceals the effect, so I had to use a low opacity white brush to paint in or reveal the effect on his cheeks. They were a bit too light and void of contour, so Anti-Pasty Skin masked in gave it some oomph.
Then on to the eyes. I’m not a fan of overly edited alien eyes. The whites should really never be touched. I do like a little punch to the irises and catchlights though. Below is what the eyes looked like before Glisten….
And here’s after Glisten. Again, I used the layer mask and a white brush to paint over the irises to reveal the effect of Glisten, which is a brightening clarity.
Just two more simple actions…. I ran Euphoria, from the Delicates set in the Creative HeART collection. Lowering the opacity to 34%, I inverted the white layer mask that comes with the action to black to conceal the entire effect of Euphoria. Keyboard shortcut for inverting a layer mask color is cmd or ctrl + i . Using a white brush on the black concealing mask, I painted Euphoria IN on just the areas you see below that are not red. The red represents the areas that did not receive the Euphoria effect. Euphoria gives a slight creamy brightness to the skin, clothes and a bit of the weeds.
Here’s how the image looked after Euphoria.
And finally, the last step was to play Flawless Face and mask it over almost everything EXCEPT the face! Flawless Face works wonders for smoothing backgrounds and creating a very creamy, lovely feeling. It also reduces noise. You’ll probably notice this effect most in the green areas of the machinery.
Below is the final shot of the layers palette for this edit. You can see all the layer masks that were involved with creating this look. Where you see black, the effect was not visible. Where you see white or shades of gray, the effect was visible.
To reiterate, layer masks are essential to a great custom edit. They are not as daunting as you might think. We all want fabulous edits and the fact of the matter is, if you expect to hit play on an action and walk away satisfied, especially when you’re trying to create a rich and colorful look, it’s simply not going to happen. Once you get the hang of layer masks (white reveals, black conceals) and how to manipulate them with differing opacity brushes to mask effects in and out, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
Hope this helps to demystify the concept of using layer masks in your editing. Try it. You’ll like it!
If you haven’t purchased the Michelle Kane HeARTy actions for yourself, do so HERE! They’re the most versatile actions you’ll ever own!
Try YOUR hand at this edit.
If you would like to recreate this edit for yourself, click HERE to download the unedited version.
You may not post the edit in your portfolio galleries and claim it as your own, as this image is copyrighted to Michelle Kane Photography. You may however post before and afters on my FB page, your FB page or your blog, but you MUST credit the image back to me. If I see any violation of these terms, I will no longer make these learning tools available. Don’t ruin it for everyone else. And most importantly, have fun!
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