When it comes to Adobe Photoshop, masking parts of an image is a very popular task to undertake. In my opinion, the more keyboard shortcuts and clever tricks for this type of thing, the better. When I discover them and stumble over them on the internet, I enjoy bringing them to you.
In today’s post, I’ll reveal two of the more simple, but extremely helpful tricks I recently uncovered that will assist with hastening your masking workflow in Photoshop.
In order to show you the tips, I think that working through a quick project would be best. I’ll start off by displaying the original image I’ll be using.
The reasons I chose this photo are obvious. First, it’s far too yellow. I want to dampen down the saturation. Next, there is some weird noise in the rear part of the photo, so I’d like to blur that out. After that, I think the record covers in the lower, front part of the photo could use some sharpening and finally, I think the same area needs to be brightened up a bit. During the process of accomplishing these tasks, I’ll use various methods and tools. Like usual, I’ll explain exactly what I’m doing and why.
Blurring the Background
Since the majority of the image needs to be blurred, I figured I’d begin with that. To do this, I’ll first (after the image has been opened in Photoshop) drag the background layer down to the bottom of the Layers panel and drop it on the Create New Layer icon. This will duplicate the layer, which will allow me to apply a filter to it. I’ll also name the two existing layers. The bottom layer will be named Background – Original and the one I just created will be named Background – Blur. Remember, to rename a layer, simply double-click on its name in the Layers panel and start typing. When finished, hit Enter on your keyboard.
Now that I’ve got the new layer available, I can go ahead and blur it. I’ll click on it and then head up to the Filter > Blur menu and select Gaussian Blur.
After that, the Gaussian Blur dialog box will open, where I’ll push the Radius slider to the right, just enough to remove any of the noise in the photo. I think a value of 5 pixels will be just fine.
To finish, I’ll click on OK to exit out of the Gaussian Blur dialog.
At this point, I’m left with a very blurry image. This isn’t exactly what I want to end up with because I can’t see anything.
I’ll need to make use of a mask to non-destructively erase some of the blurred area. I want the front area – the record cases – to remain clear.
Now, this is very important. When I select the layer I want to apply the mask to (Background – Blur) and then click the Add Layer Mask icon down at the bottom of the Layers panel, the mask will appear white, which means that the entire blurred layer will be visible. Here, take a look:
To erase part of the mask, I’ll need to click on the Color Picker, choose the color black and then use the Brush Tool to erase where I don’t want any blur. I’ll do that now.
And if you take a look at the Layers panel, you’ll see the black and white areas of the mask thumbnail.
The reason I say this is important is because it brings me to the first tip.
When you click on the Add Layer Mask icon, the default mask is white. To reverse that and have the mask appear black, all that needs to be done is to hold down the Alt (Windows) or the Opt (Mac) key on your keyboard and then click that same icon. Instead of white, we’ll get a black mask.
Since I need to do some sharpening to the area of the image that I erased the blur, I can show you how this works.
Sharpening the Record Covers
To sharpen the area, I’ll follow the same exact method I outlined above. I’ll duplicate the background layer again, rename it to Background – Sharpen and then use the Smart Sharpen filter to add some edge distinction. Since I already when over similar steps, I’ll just go ahead and do it without any screenshots. Well, I’ll give you one to show you the settings I used to sharpen inside the Smart Sharpen dialog box.
At this point, I want you to pay particular attention to the order of the layers I’m creating. Since the blur layer covers everything, except one area, I have that on top. Then comes the sharpen layer. The sharpened area will be visible below the blur layer because some of the blur layer has been erased. This can get confusing with many layers, so it’s important to keep track of things. Any place the blur mask is black, the layer below will be visible.
Here’s a refresher on masks in Photoshop, if you need it:
Since I don’t want the sharpen layer initially visible, I’ll press the Alt key on my keyboard and then create a mask. Here’s a glimpse of the Layers panel.
All I want to do is reveal a small area of this layer, so I’ll make sure the color white is selected in the Color Picker and then I’ll paint the front record covers with the Brush Tool. This will uncover the sharpening for this area of the photo.
Remember, any part of a mask that’s white is visible.
Brightening & Desaturating
The next two tasks I’d like to complete have to do with using adjustment layers. If you’re not that experienced with adjustment layers in Photoshop, you can become more familiar with them by reading this post.
Since I’ve already named the previous layers, I think it would be a good idea to continue naming them. Which brings me to the second tip.
To save a step when naming an adjustment layer, simply press the Alt (Windows) or the Opt (Mac) key on your keyboard and then click on the adjustment you’d like from the Adjustments panel. This will create the layer and display the New Layer dialog box, where you can name the layer.
I named this first Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer Brighten. I’ll click OK to close the dialog and push the Brightness slider in the Properties panel to the right. Then, I’ll click on the mask thumbnail in this new adjustment layer, choose black from the Color Picker and then use the Brush Tool to paint any area I don’t to be brightened. In this case, that would be everything except the front record covers that were previously sharpened.
Next, I’ll follow the same steps I just shared, but this time, I’ll click the Hue/Saturation adjustment and name the new layer Desaturate. Since the default mask appears white in this new adjustment, I don’t need to do anything but push the Saturation slider in the Properties panel slightly to the left. I want this to affect the entire image.
Here is a screenshot of the layers I currently have:
And here is the final image:
I know this post was kind of long, but I thought that showing you these tips, along with a real world example would hammer the point home. I hope you enjoyed. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comments sections below. Thanks!