Masking: part one / 22 comments + post
online tutorials

In this tutorial we will discuss a variety of masking techniques including: creating complex and compound masks; repairing images with less than ideal masks; and adding vignettes.

The specific topics covered in the tutorial include:

• Why we need complex masks.
• Constructing complex masks.
•Alternative methods of creating complex masks.
• Creating compound masks.
• Repairing a mask.
• Using masks to add a vignette.

Read more about this issue here:


oldest comments first
comment by Mike at 01:48 AM on 8 March, 2008

Very good tutorial, very well done. I must say it was nothing new for me. I have 2 things that i must say did jump to my face... the lasso tool? i though it was not in photoshop anymore ;-0 Every photoshopper knows it is the worst way of making a mask... and the second thing is the corrected layer using the copy merge layer technique... then if we want to change or re-use the mask how do we use it?? i would have gone directly to the good stuff.. using the color range, duplicate channels , and-or the calculation command, painting with overlay etc... i know this is the basic, but why, if it is not the good way of working..? i guess people here wants to know how to do it the professional way... my 2 cents..

comment by Mike at 01:54 AM on 8 March, 2008

I can add, and i may be wrong..the technique for the vignetting, would it be better to blur the mask after the selection is done? when you use feather, you have no preview... if you blur it, you have immediate feedback and you can adjust better.. i think..

comment by djn1 at 09:58 AM on 8 March, 2008

Mike: as I mentioned in the introduction to this one, the various techniques that it covers aren't especially complicated, but when they are used together they can be extremely effective. I should also add that these are techniques that I use every day. As for the "good stuff" you mention: I didn't see the point of introducing a whole series of more complicated techniques, ones that I very rarely use, at this stage. These will be covered in a later tutorial.

My aim with this one, as with all the tutorials, is to show you how to "transform your photographs into powerful and compelling images" - if this can be done using relatively straightforward techniques, so much the better.

In terms of your question about the 'copy merge layer technique': this is one of the last stages you would perform during post-production. If you subsequently altered the mask that had caused the error in the final image you would need to repeat this step of the process too.

And finally: your point about the vignettes is a good one – blurring rather than feathering would provide immediate feedback in much the same way as the Refine Edge command that I mentioned. What I could add though is that generally, when working on a high-res' image, you will want the amount of blur or feathering to be as high as possible (i.e. 250px) if the vignette is going to look effective. I take your point though.

comment by Michel Roy at 01:38 AM on 14 March, 2008

Thank you for the answer, have a great day !

comment by Jamey at 11:11 PM on 17 March, 2008

Great tutorial. Didn't know about that halo correction technique (clone stamp in darken/lighten modes) but have just used it on a photo.

comment by Tim Smith at 10:05 PM on 19 March, 2008

I was very glad for this tutorial. It takes me a few time through something to really feel comfortable with it to the point that it becomes natural to think of using it on a regular basis. Mastery of these basic techniques paves the way for the more complicated ones, at least for me. So thanks, and please keep up the great work!

comment by Jordan Cartwright at 09:15 AM on 20 March, 2008

Thanks David; another fantastic tutorial. I've been searching for more blend mode tricks, overlay is almost overused in my workflow these days, and this darken (and presumably lighten) technique will be receiving much use in the future!

One thing that I found myself wondering when reading/viewing the bucket portion of this lesson is what factors determine whether you use the magic wand *inside* or *outside* of the object you're isolating.

Generally the larger of the two areas would be my initial choice because more 'information' is available to the wand (thus allowing you to add wider range of pixels to the selection with each click). Is there anything else that would influence your decision?

comment by djn1 at 10:20 AM on 20 March, 2008

Jordan: I would agree, it's generally the larger of the two areas that will be easier to work with, especially if the larger area is the sky (as it contains a range of more or less smooth tones).

comment by Brooks at 05:48 PM on 31 March, 2008

I'm kicking myself now that i see the "darken" part of the clone tool. I would spend literally an hour on horizons trying get the point. Thanks so much for the tutorials dave. They really are a blessing.

comment by Steven Beckett - Dubai at 04:50 PM on 6 January, 2010

David - Quick question, in adding vignettes is there a reason why you chose to use the curves tool the darken the vignetted areas rather than the exposure adjustment? As far as I can see they give similar results so was wondering why you use Curves - are there subtleties that make the curves tool better?

comment by djn1 at 05:06 PM on 6 January, 2010

Steven: there are two reasons. First, I tend to use Curves a lot, as it's a tool that I'm very comfortable using. Second, on some occasions I'll add an S-Curve rather than simply lowering the mid-tone values, i.e. I'll preserve the highlight brightness but darken the mid-tones and shadows. The short answer though is that the Curves tool gives you a bit more control.

comment by klaus at 12:06 AM on 7 February, 2010

the darken / clone stamp part is indeed really cool - very useful in all sorts of situations, I am using it all the time now. I have also successfully applied the opposite (ie lighten / clone stamp) to get rid of a dark boarder
Looking forwards to more good stuff like this

comment by Jonas (americanvirus) at 07:09 AM on 14 April, 2010

The darken / lighten clone stamp trick is especially cool. I tried to do the repair my self on the image you provided and it didn't look too good. I'm assuming because it's such a low-res image? Or does it just take practice?

comment by djn1 at 05:22 AM on 15 April, 2010

Jonas: yes, it does work much better on a high res' image, but it also takes practice to get it exactly right. It is a useful technique though.

comment by Wim at 10:46 AM on 19 September, 2011

Also, for me, the clone stamp to darken halo's was a unknown trick.
Is there a possibility for masking part two in the near future?

comment by djn1 at 06:06 AM on 20 September, 2011

Hi Wim,

I'm thinking about a second masking tutorial, but am going to take a slightly different approach with the next one insofar as I'm going to focus on how you can think about masking as a way of lighting a scene during post-production, so it will have a creative as well as technical focus.

comment by Ian Mylam at 11:43 PM on 21 February, 2012

Great tutorial, Dave.

Just a thought about saving any selection you make (Page 2: "You can save the selection for later use (Select -> Save Selection)"):

I generally save selections without adding the feather (and annotate them in the Channels Palette as 'unfeathered' so I remember that I need to apply the feather when I later use the selection to create masks). The reason why I do this is that if I later find that my feathering was too strong or too weak, I can alter it at will for any mask I may want to create from this saved selection at a later point in processing. If the feathering is performed prior to saving the selection, it would be necessary to re-create the selection (which may have been laborious and time-consuming) if the feathering subsequently needs modifying.

comment by David Nightingale at 08:43 AM on 22 February, 2012

Thanks Ian, and that's a good suggestion re saving the unfeathered mask. It's not something I've done, but it does make a lot of sense.

comment by dana at 07:35 PM on 6 April, 2012

Yes, I also enjoyed this tutorial I use masks a lot and do lots of selecting--pretty much basic to doing creative work.

I'm wondering about Dave's and others thoughts on Nik software Viveza 2, as the hype is that it gives some alternatives that are apparently a lot easier and perhaps even at times more effective than the standard masking PS alternatives.

Would love to hear the take on that.

comment by djn1 at 06:57 AM on 7 April, 2012

Viveza 2 is a good piece of software, that creates good results, and does so quickly. That said, I rarely use it as it doesn't offer quite the same degree of control as working with (precise) masks and layers. For quick fixes though, where 100% accuracy isn't important, it does work well.

comment by dana at 02:38 PM on 18 April, 2012

I have a pretty basic question. Why not just select the the bucket or the kite separately as opposed to including them in the foreground mask, which seems like more work. Couldn't you just copy the curve for the foreground to the masked layer for the bucket or kite if you simply want to duplicate that?

comment by djn1 at 02:58 PM on 18 April, 2012

I'm not entirely sure I understand what you're asking, but my main reason for including the kite and bucket as part of the foreground is because it creates a more natural effect, i.e. both the element and foreground are lit by the same light. By using the same curve on both the effect looks more natural. Does that clarify thing?