Layers and Masks — Linda Murdock Photography

Quick Tip: Layer Mask vs. the Eraser Tool in Adobe Photoshop

In many of my tutorials you may find a command: "Remove the part using a Layer Mask or simply the Eraser Tool". As a beginner, you might react to it by selecting the Eraser Tool because you're familiar with it, and a Layer Mask sounds like some professional technique.

The truth is that using a Layer Mask is not much different from using the Eraser Tool, but it gives you more possibilities. It saves you a lot of time and it gives you flexibility. The only advantage of the Eraser Tool is that it's a substitute for the "real thing" that you're already familiar with. But why would you limit yourself to substitutes for traditional tools when working digitally?

Try this quick tutorial to see how you can use Photoshop and its digital tools to your advantage. Discover a new type of eraser, a non-destructive one, that lets you bring back things you've erased before without any loss!

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

1. Why the Eraser Tool Isn't the Best Solution

Let's see a very simple situation in which you could use the Eraser Tool. You have sketched a snow leopard:

The Eraser Tool

You've got a feeling the tail is a bit too long, so you use the Eraser Tool (E) to remove the tip.

Now it feels wrong, so you do your research and it turns out that snow leopards do actually have disproportionately long tails. You can now do three things to fix your "fixing":

Use the Undo command ( Control-Z ) as many times as needed to get back to the previous state.

command ( ) as many times as needed to get back to the previous state. Close the file without saving your last changes, and open it once again to see the previous state.

Redraw the previous state.

The first solution works great if you have enough history states (the more of them you keep, the slower Photoshop may work), and if you didn't do anything important after erasing the tail. The second solution works only if you have saved right before erasing—not much earlier or somewhere during it. And the third solution wastes your time.

Layer Mask

If you used a Layer Mask instead, you could even remove a great part of the tail, like this:

And then you could use an "anti-eraser" to bring back any of the parts, even after closing the file and opening it once again!

Looks like magic, doesn't it? Let's see how to achieve it!

2. How to Use a Layer Mask

You can download this file as the attachment to follow my steps:

Step 1

We attach Layer Masks to particular layers. Select the one you want to add a Layer mask to.

Step 2

Click Add Layer Mask.

A white thumbnail should appear to the right of the main one:

Step 3

Notice that you can select both thumbnails. It's very important to pay attention to which one is selected, because they are like two layers placed at the same level. If you draw something on this layer, you'll affect the thumbnail that's been selected.

Step 4

Make sure that the mask is selected. Pick a brush of your choice and draw a big black dot right in the middle of the leopard's body.

See what happened? When the mask's thumbnail is selected and you draw something black, you actually select the parts of the main image (the layer you're working on) that you want transparent.

Step 5

Now switch to white. Draw a white dot inside.

This part came back! This is our anti-eraser.

Step 6

For now you see only the effects of the mask. To see the mask directly, press . The red parts symbolize full black.

Step 7

To get your original image back, simply take a big white brush and paint on the mask.

Step 8

As we've noticed, white defines opaque parts, and black transparent. You can also use grays—the darker the shade, the greater the opacity of that part.

Step 9

Let's use this technique to hide the leopard's paws deep in the snow. Select the mask, take a soft brush, and paint the paws with black.

You can use any brush you want, and mix them for a proper effect:

Step 10

When you right-click the mask, you get a list of options. Only the first three of them interest us:

Disable Layer Mask—turns off the effects of the mask, so that you can see the original image. You can enable it at any time. Delete Layer Mask—removes the mask entirely, leaving the original image unaffected. Apply Layer Mask—merges the effects of the mask into the image. The mask is then removed, and the original is permanently changed.

Step 11

If you want to copy the masked image, you need to hide all the other layers and use Copy Merged (Control-Shift-C). If you use a normal way of copying, you'll copy the original image instead.

3. When to Use a Layer Mask

Even though it's such a great tool, a Layer Mask shouldn't be used every time you want to remove a part of the image. When you're sketching, the Eraser Tool is much faster and more effective. If you combine it with constant copying of the layer you're working on, you'll also have a lot of back-ups to come back to.

Layer Masks are much more useful for photos and digital painting, where you have big areas of the image to work on.

1. Blending Images Together

You can use Layer Masks to create a soft blending between images. In contrast to the Eraser Tool, with a Layer Mask you get countless chances to adjust the blending.

2. Applying Only Parts of a Texture

When you apply a photo texture to an object, you may want to use only parts of it. By using a Layer Mask you can easily remove the texture from the parts where it's undesired.

3. Painting Light Off the Shadow

Beginners often paint light and shadow separately, but the truth is that shadow is only lack of light. In digital painting you can first cover all the scene with the shadow, and then illuminate some parts (remove shadow) by painting them on a Layer Mask.

4. Adjustment Layers

You can also notice that Adjustment Layers have their own Layer Masks by default. You can use the same mechanism to apply the adjustment only to parts of the picture.

That's All!

Photoshop has a lot of tools that are not obvious to use, but once you find them, they prove to be incredibly useful and more effective than their more intuitive counterparts. The Layer Mask is one of them, but I'm sure it's not magic for you any more!

If you want to learn more about Photoshop effects, try these tutorials as well:

Applying Filters and Using Other Tools in Photoshop Elements 15

Filters change the look of your image. They can correct images that have flaws, or they can add fun effects to your image that make your image appear painted, tiled, etc. You can apply a filter to almost any image that you work with in Photoshop Elements with the exception of Bitmap and Indexed Color. In addition, not all filters will work on images in Grayscale mode.

Applying Filters

In Photoshop Elements, filters can be applied in three different ways:

1. The Filter Menu. To access the Filter menu, click Filter on the Menu Bar, then choose a filter to use from one of the filter categories.

2. The Filters panel. Go to Window>Filters to access the Filters panel in the Panel Bin. We'll learn how to work with the Filters panel later in this article.

3. The Filter Gallery. Go to Filter>Filter Gallery to apply a filter. Save a copy of the original image when applying filters in the Filter Gallery.

The Basic Filter Categories

All filters fall into two basic categories.

1. Corrective Filters fix a problem with your image. Perhaps you need to adjust the color of an image, remove scratches, etc. When you use a corrective filter, your image's appearance stays the same. It's just improved. Sharpen and Blur are two of the most popular corrective filters.

2. Destructive Filters create a special effect, such as making a photograph look like a painting. Destructive filters can make an image look very different from the original, such as warping an image.

All filters, whether corrective or destructive, are either:

One-step filters. One-step filters don't have options or a dialogue box. You simply select the filter, and it's applied to the image.

Multi-step filters. These filters have options and a dialogue box. You specify options to control the intensity of the filter.

Reducing a Filter's Effect

Since one-step filters don't allow you to control the intensity of the filter, there are other steps you can take to control and reduce the filter's effect.

To reduce a filter's effect, you apply the filter to a duplicate layer instead of the background image.

Let's see how it works.

We are going to apply the texture filter to our original image without adding a duplicate layer in the snapshot below.

We can't control the intensity of the layer, though, so we are going to undo the filter, then create a duplicate layer so that we can control the intensity.

To create a duplicate layer, go to the Layers panel, then go to Layer>Duplicate Layer in the Menu Bar.

You will then see the Duplicate Layer dialogue box.

Click the OK button.

You can see the duplicate layer in the Layers panel.

Next, we will apply the filter to the duplicate layer using the Filter panel in the Panel Bin. You can use the blend mode and opacity to adjust the intensity of the filter on your image.

We'll apply the filter and adjust the opacity in the next section of this article.

Using the Filter Panel

To view the Filter panel, click the Filter button below the Panel Bin, as shown below.

You will then see the Filter panel in the Panel Bin.

Select the type of filter you want to use from the dropdown list.

We've chosen Texture.

Click on the thumbnail of the filter you want to apply.

Next, let's reduce the intensity of the filter by going to the Layers pane. To view the Layers panel, click the Layers button located beneath the Panel Bin.

We reduced the opacity of the duplicate layer to 38%.

As you can see in the snapshot below, the intensity of the filter has been reduced.

Filters and the Filter Gallery

As we've already learned, filters are used to clean or touch up images. You can also use them to add special and distortion effects. When you apply a filter, you can easily change the mood or tone of an image.

You can find filters in the Filter Gallery by going to Filter>Filter Gallery.

The Filter Gallery shows thumbnails of each filter and what it will look like when applied to your image. It also lets you apply a filter more than once to strengthen its effect.

Perhaps the best way to show you how filters work for your images is to show you by example. Since we already have the picture of the turtles in the snapshot above, we'll use it for this example.

Next to the image in the Filter Gallery, you have a menu that gives you your options.

You can choose from any of these types of filters:


Brush Stroke





Let's click on the Texture filter folder.

Now the thumbnails are displayed, as shown below.

This gives us our options to texturize.

We're going to select Mosaic Tiles.

The Mosaic Tile Filter

Let's apply the Mosaic Tile filter to an image using the Filter Gallery.

Go to the Filter Gallery once again as we did in the previous section of this article.

Click on the Texture folder.

Click on the Mosaic Tile filter in the Texture folder to apply the filter.

To the far right, we can further specify our preferences for the Mosaic Tile filter.

We can change the tile size, grout width, or lighten the grout.

Let's enlarge the tile size and increase the grout width.

You can see how much the filter changed the mood of the image. Then, you can also see how adjusting our preferences for the filter also changed the image.

The Liquify Filter

The Liquify Filter can work as a filter, but it can also work as an image editing tool. You can use the Liquify filter to manipulate images by pulling, twirling, bloating, and twisting. Once you learn how to use the filter, you can use it to "slim down" a subject in an image -- or even plump it up. You can use the filter on an entire image, a layer, or even on a selection.

To use the Liquify filter, go to Filter>Distort>Liquify.

You will see your image in the preview area.

Now, choose how you want to distort the image using the buttons on the left side of the window.

Warp allows you to push the pixels forward by dragging the mouse. This creates a stretched effect.

Twirl Clockwise. Twirl Counterclockwise allow you to rotate pixels to create a moving, twirling effect.

Pucker allows you to pinch pixels toward the center of the brush area.

Bloat allows you to push pixels toward the edge of the brush area.

Shift Pixels allows you to move pixels to the left if you drag straight up – or to the right if you drag straight down.

Reconstruct allows you to reverse the effect of a distortion by dragging your mouse over the distorted portion of the image.

You can also use these tools:

Zoom allows you to zoom in to better see the distortions.

Hand allows you to move the image in the preview window.

We are going to use the Pucker tool by clicking on the Pucker button.

Next, select your options on the far right side of the window.

Brush Size is the size of the brush you'll use.

Brush Pressure. The distortion effect will be applied faster if you have a higher pressure.

Stylus Pressure. If you're using a graphics tablet with a stylus, set the pressure of the stylus.

Click the OK button in the dialogue box to apply the filter.

In the before and after images below, you can see the slight changes in the subjects after using the Liquify filter.

Lighting, Color, Contrast and Clarity

If you've ever had a photo or an image that was too dark, just had poor color, or even problems with red eye, you can use elements to fix all these problems and more.

This section is going to focus on adjusting the lighting, color, contrast, and clarity in your photos. If you're a hobbyist photographer, you'll really benefit from everything we discuss, so sit back and get ready.

Quick Fixes

To go to the Quick editing mode, click the Quick tab at the top of the Photo Editor window.

The Red Eye Removal Tool

For some photographers, red eye is a common problem. Red eye is when the people in your photos all look like they have red eyes.

To fix this, you can use the Red Eye Removal tool located in the Tools panel. It looks like this: .

We are going to fix the red eye issue in the image below.

Select the tool, then go to the Tool Options panel.

Use the sliders to adjust the pupil radius and to darken the pupils of the eyes.

Next, click on the pupil of the first eye that you want to fix.

Elements will automatically fix the red eye for you.

Follow the same steps for any other red eye issues in the image.

Adjusting Shadows and Highlights

If you want to adjust the shadows (the darker parts or your images) or the highlights (the lighter parts), you can do this in Elements very easily.

Go to Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Shadows/Highlights.

You will then see the Shadows/Highlights dialogue box.

Click on the percentage value. Enter in a value to lighten or darken the photo. The larger the value, the greater the effect will be. You can also use the sliders.

We're going to lighten the photo below.

We adjusted the lighting by 50%. This was the result:

Adjusting Brightness and Contrast

You can also adjust the brightness and contrast in your photos just as easily as you did the highlights and shadows.

Go to Enhance>Adjust Lighting>Brightness/Contrast.

You will then see the Brightness/Contrast dialogue box.

Again, enter in a value.

Using same photo as before, we're now going to increase the contrast. Look at the results.



Hue and Saturation

You can also correct the hue (color) and saturation (purity) in any photo. You can adjust hue to add special effects, and you can adjust saturation to make the images more vivid or muted.

To correct the hue and saturation, go to Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Hue/Saturation.

You will then see the Hue/Saturation dialogue box.

Adjust the hue, saturation, and lightness by moving the sliders.

Click OK to save your changes.

Adjust Skin Tone

Sometimes in an image, the skin tone of the people pictured isn't correct. Maybe it's too dark or too light. In this section of the article, you're going to learn how to adjust skin tones in your images.

To adjust skin tone, go to Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Color for Skin Tone.

You will then see the Adjust Color for Skin Tone dialogue box.

Next, click on a person's skin in an image.

You will see the entire image adjusted so that the color is improved.

You can use the Tan and Blush sliders, as well as the Temperature slider, to make further adjustments.

Click OK when you are finished.

You can see the before and after snapshots of our image below.

Color Curves

When you adjust color curves, you improve the highlights, midtones, and shadows in each channel of your image.

As you adjust the color curves, you can view the before versions of your image to get it exactly as you want.

To adjust color curves, go to Enhance>Adjust Color>Adjust Color Curves.

You will then see the Adjust Color Curves dialogue box.

Select a style.

Use the sliders to adjust the color curves. Use the before and after snapshots to help you achieve the desired effect.

When you achieve the results that you want, click the OK button.

We're going to use the photos above for an example, and adjust the color curves so you can see the effects.

By switching the style to Increase Contrast and moving the sliders, you can see the improvements we've made. The colors are more crisp and vibrant now.

Saving, Printing, Sharing, and Creating

One of the most important things you can learn about Elements is how to save images. Once you make changes to an image, you will want to save the file to preserve all your hard work. The good news is saving your images is easy. What's more, you can save from any editing mode: Quick, Guided, or Expert.

When saving images in Elements, you have two choices when you save an image that you've edited.

You can go to File>Save and save the file under the same name and format. When you do this, the previous versions will be erased.

You can also go to File>Save As. When you select this option, you will see the Save As dialogue box, as shown below.

In the File Name field, enter a new name for the file.

In the Save as Type field, select a file format. For example, if your image is currently a jpeg, you can change its format to gif, bitmap, png, or any number of other formats.

When you've made your selections, click the Save button to save the file.

Color Variations

If you're going to publish an image to the web, it's helpful to see what your colors will look like on the web. Remember, different devices show colors differently. This includes the Internet browser windows and your monitor.

To see how the colors in your image will appear, go to File>Save for Web.

Select the optimization settings.

Click Save when you're finished making changes to save your file for the web.

Printing Images

When you're finished organizing and editing your images, you may want to print them out.

You can print images from any workspace or editing mode in the Elements software program. For this section, we're going to print from the Photo Editor.

To print an image, open the image that you want to print.

Go to File>Print.

You will then see the Print dialogue box.

Click the Page Setup button at the bottom of the dialogue box.

Under the Layout tab, select the orientation. You can select either Portrait or Landscape.

Under the Paper/Quality tab, select the paper source, as well as if you want to print in black and white or color.

Click the OK button. This takes you back to the Print dialogue box.

On the left-hand side of the Print window, you can see thumbnails of all images you have open in Photo Editor. These are the photos that will print.

If you want to add photos to print, click the Add button. If you don't want to print a photo, click on the photo, then click the Remove button.

Select the printer that you want to use, the type of print, then the size. You also need to specify how many copies you want to print.

Click Print when you're ready for your pictures to start printing.

The Creation Wizards

The Creation Wizards give you a way to create presentations from your images. You can then either print the presentations or share them online. You can create presentations such as photo books, photo collages, and Facebook covers using the wizards.

To use a creation wizard, click Create at the top right of either the Organizer or Photo Editor window.

You will then see a dropdown menu that displays the different types of presentations you can create.

For this example, we're going to create a Facebook Cover. We want you to see how easy it is to use these wizards to create your projects.

Click on Facebook Cover.

You will then see the Facebook Cover dialogue box.

Select a theme to use for your Facebook Cover. We are going to select Memories.

Click the OK button when you're finished.

The Memories theme contains multiple images. Since we only had one image open in Photo Editor, it was the only image placed in our Facebook cover. However, as you can see in the snapshot below, we can now click on the placeholder images or drag other images to be placed on the cover.

We are going to click in the placeholder image on the left.

When we click on the image placeholder, the Choose Photo dialogue box appears.

Select an image, then click the Place button.

The image is placed on the cover, as shown below.

Now we can adjust the image using the slider that appears above it. This changes the size of the image. We can also move or resize the image using the bounding box that appears around it.

Click the green checkmark to commit to any changes.

Next, follow the same steps for the placeholder image on the right side of the cover.

When you're finished, click Upload at the bottom of the Photo Editor window to upload it to Facebook.

Click Save to save it to your computer.

Creating a Slide Show

There are three different slideshow options in Elements. In the Organizer, there is a Slide Show button in the Media Browser. You can also click the Create button in either the Organizer or Photo Editor, then select Slide Show. If you select Slide Show from the Photo Editor, you will notice that the Organizer opens. That said, you can use the Slide Show or Create button to create a slide show that can be exported as a movie file to share with others. The third option for creating a slide show is in the View menu. This option allows you to view (View>Full Screen) your images in Full Screen view on your computer. This is not the type of slide show that you'll share.

In this section, we are going to create a slide show that you can share with family and friends.

To create a slide show, select the images in the Organizer that you want to include in your slide show. Remember to press CTRL+Click on your keyboard to select multiple images.

Next, click the Create button, then select Slide Show.

Choose a theme for your slide show from the options pictured above. Simply click on a theme to select it.

We have chosen Album.

Once you've chosen a theme, click the Next button at the bottom of the window.

You will then see a preview of your slide show in full screen.

Click the Edit button to edit the slide show.

Click the Export button to export your slide show as a movie format.

Click the Save button to save the slide show to your computer.

Sharing Images

In today's world of social media, we tend to share a lot of information with others. This includes images. You can share any of the images that you upload to the Organizer quickly and easily – with just a few clicks of the mouse.

To share images, select the images in Organizer that you want to share.

Next, click the Share button (located beside Create).

You will then see a dropdown list that contains sharing methods that you can use.

Choose the method that you want to use to share from the dropdown list.

For this example, let's select Facebook.

You will then see a dialogue box that looks a lot like your Facebook page whenever you create a new post.

Select how you want to share the images on Facebook. We've chosen to share on our timeline.

Next, select the audience with whom you want to share the images.

Click the Share button when you're ready to share the pictures to Facebook.

Layers and Masks — Linda Murdock Photography

Here is our candidate. A lovely male Baltimore Oriole at Quintana during last migration. No sticks or twigs in the foreground but the background is too much in focus. And distracting with blurred sticks coming out of his head and tail. It happens a lot with little birds because the “background” is only a few inches behind the bird. Shooting wide open (f/4 or f/5.6) helps but if the bird turns you might have depth of field issues with part of the bird out of focus. If you are using a teleconverter to get more reach, then you might be shooting at f/8. Your depth of field is larger and those background sticks might be very sharp as well.

Silly bird, if he was on a solitary stick out in the open with nothing behind him for 10 feet this shot would have great bokeh.

Do you edits in ACR and open the image in Photoshop. We covered all of that in the first tutorial Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop. I save and work with .psd. but you might prefer Whatever you are comfortable with but not a jpg. You have your History and Layers panels open, right? Select the Quick Selection tool and click New Selection icon on the Options bar. Then click Select Subject. It is in a button in middle of the Options bar.

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