Photoshop Tutorial- Mystery Masks

Introduction

Masks can often be a source of confusion and mystery for people when you first set out on your Photoshop journey. However, once you get the hang of them they soon become a “can’t live without it” tool. In this tutorial we will go through some of the basics and how they can be used.

What is a Mask?

Putting it simply, a mask either shows or reveals parts of a layer or a layer effect. Where the mask is White, the layer or effect it is attached too will show through. When the mask is Black, the layer or effect it’s attached to will be invisible. A big plus with this is that we can make an adjustment to part of an image in a non destructive way so the original layer remains untouched.

Lets go through a few steps to demonstrate this. If you want to download the image I’m working on to follow step by step you can find it here by right clicking and “Save image as”. And as always clicking on an image in the tutorial will make it BIG 🙂

Lets Get stuck In

Once you’ve opened the image (Or your own) than the first step is to duplicate the layer, this can be done by selecting the background layer and pressing “Ctrl J” (or Cmnd J on Mac) or by going to the menu bar and clicking LAYER>>DUPLICATE LAYER . This is generally good practice whenever you work on an image. If things go wrong at any point you can always come back to the original.

Duplicating the background layer is good practice when editing just in case you make a mistake

What we are going to do is change the colour of one of the peppers by using a mask. To do this we will first add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. This is achieved by either clicking on the icon that is a circle coloured half black and half white at the bottom of the layers tab, then selecting HUE/SATURATION from the pop up menu. Or by clicking on the HUE/SATURATION button in the Adjustments tab. The image below shows the location of the button and the Adjustments Tab.

When you do this you should see a window pop open in the adjustments tab (The location will vary depending on what version of PS you are running and how you have your workspace set up) The window will have three sliders, Labelled “Hue” “Saturation” and “Lightness” as seen in the image below. You will also see that in the Layers Tab, an adjustment layer has been created, and it already has a mask attached.

This is where you will find the Adjustments Tab and the Add Adjustment layer Button
Notice that the new Hue/Saturation layer (in Blue) has a mask already attached

We are going to use the Adjustment layer to change the colour of the peppers. As Hue and saturation only affect colour, the background will remain white. So grab the top slider and move it left or right to change the colour. I went for a nice shade of purple found at -62 on the hue slider.

If you move the Hue Slider to a value of -62 you will see the peppers go purple. The adjustment effects the whole layer because the mask is set to white

The first thing you will notice is that all the peppers are now a pretty shade of purple but we only want one purple pepper. The reason the adjustment is effecting the whole image is because the mask on that layer is white. Remember that where the mask is white it lets the effects of the layer show through. The next step is to turn the layer mask black to hide the effect from the whole image. Single click on the mask so it is selected, then Invert it. To do this either press “Ctrl+i” (Cmnd+i) or make sure the mask is selected then on the menu bar click IMAGE>>ADJUSTMENTS>>INVERT .

Make sure the Layer mask is selected by left clicking it, then invert the mask.

You will now notice that the peppers have gone back to being red, and that the layer mask icon on the adjustment layer has turned black.

Paint the effect back in.

To make just one of the peppers purple, we need to tell the layer mask where the effect needs to be visible. We do this by simply painting the mask white. Select the brush tool by clicking this icon2013-08-04_205252

Alternatively press “B” on the keyboard and select a round brush with a hardness of around 60%. Select white as the foreground colour for the brush by pressing “D” on the keyboard which is the shortcut for selecting the default colours of white for foreground and Black for background. Now make sure you have the mask selected and just paint over the pepper that you want to make purple.

Paint WHITE on the layer mask to let the effect show through

The beauty of masks is that if you make a mistake you just change your brush colour to Black (If you press “X” on the keyboard this is the shortcut to swap background/foreground colours) and paint the mask black again to hide the effect.

If you want to change the colour of another pepper then just repeat the steps, The mask controls the effect it is applied to. Add another adjustment layer by selecting Layer 1 then clicking on the Adjustment layer button (Circle half black and half white at the bottom of the layers tab) and selecting Hue/Saturation. You can change the colour again with the slider (I went for a sickly green at +67 on the hue slider) Again the adjustment effects the whole image until we invert the layer mask by selecting it and pressing “ctrl (cmnd) + i “ Now just paint white on the mask where you want the pepper to be green.

You can use as many Adjustment layers as you like, each layer comes with its own mask that allows you to control where the effect will be seen

Now at any point you can click back on an adjustment layer and change the settings and the changes will only be visible where the mask is white.

Masks are capable of doing much MUCH more than this, but hopefully this tutorial will have helped you grasp some of the basics and get your mind round how they work. In the future we will look at some more complex ways of manipulating masks. Cheers for reading guys, and please feel free to leave any questions in the comments section 🙂

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Photoshop Tutorial- Soften Skin, Keep the texture.

Introduction

Softening skin is something that can come in very useful for anyone who likes to shoot portraits, whether it’s just for a hobby or full beauty/portfolio head shots. This technique is very useful because it Keeps the texture of the skin whilst the same time softens areas of imperfection. You can see the before and after effect in this beautiful image of my face 🙂

I'm no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial :-)

I’m no model, but after 15 years of working outside my skin is perfect for this tutorial 🙂

This technique is fairly simple to achieve using only a few layers and two filters. read on to find out how. Continue reading

Photography Techniques – Low Key Portraits

Ever wondered how to create a “Low Key” portrait like this?

This tutorial will teach you an easy way to do it, WITHOUT a studio and using only one Speedlight.

Firstly to kill the jargon around what is and isn’t “Low Key”?

Generally, any image in which most of the tones are dark is a low key image, so if it’s a portrait like this one, or a full body shot where the subject is wearing dark clothing and is stood in shadow it will be classed as a Low key shot.

To Achieve this shot you will need a few things.

  • A camera that lets you adjust shutter speed and Aperture value. (For a basic run down on this, you can check out This Article ) The camera also needs to be able to fire a Speedlight/Flash from a hot shoe/ or sync cord.
  • A Speedlight that has manual power adjustment. 

Setup

You can see from my setup shot that you don’t need a studio, and you don’t need to black out all the light or do the shot in the dark. The flash ideally needs to be on a stand. If I hadn’t have left my DSLR on the tripod to show the setup for the shot, then I would have mounted the flash onto the tripod. This can be done using the plastic feet that come with most brands of speedlights. If you haven’t got one, you can pick them up very cheaply on internet auction sites.

Firing The Speedlight.

I use a radio trigger to fire my off camera flash, but the cheapest way to do it is to buy a TTL extension cord (Also available for very little on-line)This allows you to fire the flash whilst it’s not on top of the camera. One end of the cord slides onto the hot shoe on the top of the camera body, then the other end attaches to your flash.

 Control The light.

The first thing we have to do is set the camera to the highest shutter sync speed that the manufacturer allows. This is the highest speed that the camera can use and still see the light from the flash. It is a little more complex than that, but for the purpose of this exercise it’s not important. You can find the maximum sync speed of your camera in your user guide, or if you’re not sure, stick to a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second. (This is normally the speed for most consumer DSLR’s and bridge cameras)

Once you’ve done that and you are set to the widest aperture your lens will allow, if you press your shutter release you’ll probably have something like this. (Although your subject will probably look more interested than my son does !)

The next step is to get rid of all the Ambient light that the camera sees. This is all the natural light that’s bouncing in and around the room. To do this we adjust the aperture until the light is no longer visible. You can take test shots at each setting and just have a look on the LCD screen to see when you have the right setting. I’ve shown this in the images below, but bear in mind that your values might be different depending on what lens you are using. And the shutter speed needs to remain at 1/200 or whatever your maximum sync speed is.

Once you have a completely black image like the one above, you can bring in the Speedlight. What we want is the camera to only see the light that the Speedlight is giving off.

Setting your Speedlight.

The Speedlight needs to be in nice and close, set to manual (If you set the Speedlight to TTL it will try and put enough light out to properly expose the whole room and that’s not what we want this time) Your Speedlight needs to be set on the lowest power in my case 1/128 of full power.If your Speedlight doesn’t have a power adjustment, don’t worry, I’ll cover that at the end.

This is my result for the first shot.

You can see that there isn’t quite enough light getting onto my subject. So leaving all settings on the camera as they are, we adjust the power on the Speedlight. The power setting is increased up to 1/64 power and the result is below.

Now you can see that the subject is properly exposed, and the background is still black. All that’s left is a slight change in the subject’s position, or moving the location of the Speedlight slightly to put more light on his face where we want it.

Overcoming Problems

If as discussed earlier your Speedlight does not have a manual power control there are several things you can do. Most Speedlights have at least a MH (Manual high) and ML (Manual Low) setting. If this is the case then set to ML, then if you find you still have too much output (The background is lighting up) you can do a few things to combat this.

You could put an ND filter on your lens to reduce the amount of light getting to your sensor. But this is not a cheap option. You could put an ND filter on the Speedlight itself to reduce the power of the output. These can be bought very cheaply, or sometimes “LEE Filters” will send out free sample packs of coloured gels and filters for free on request to one of their suppliers.  The cheapest way, and the solution I often use is to get an elastic band, and fasten one or two sheets of toilet paper over the Speedlight  head. This diffuses the light and makes it softer, and it reduces the output.

I hope all this helps, and don’t hesitate to pop over to the Photography Chat community on G+ to ask for advice and help or to share  your own images done with this technique.

Photoshop Tutorial – Selective Colour / Colour Pop

Introduction

This technique is as old as Photoshop itself, in fact it’s older. Ever since the days where the colours of a photo were hand painted, people have been altering colour, or selectively colouring images to create this very powerful effect.

Red Lady

This technique is simple to achieve and anyone with a version of Photoshop should try it out. This simple tutorial will show you the basics of creating a Colour Pop image.

Choosing an image

Any image will work using this technique, but I find the best images are ones in which the item that you want to “Pop” has a good strong colour that is well saturated, and that the rest of the image works well in Black and white. This is why you often see Selective colouring techniques used on a red subject, this is because reds are often well saturated and contrast well against a black and white background.

Duplicate the layer.

I will assume that you already know how to open your image in your version of Photoshop. Once loaded the first thing we need to do is duplicate the layer. There are several ways to do this, but I find the easiest method is to right-click on the layer thumbnail, then select >Duplicate Layer… ­

Right click on your layer, then select Duplicate Layer.

What this action does is create an exact copy of the original image directly on top of your starting image.

Convert To Black and White

The next step is to convert this “Top” layer into a black and white image. To do this, make sure you have the top layer selected on the right hand side, then click “Image” (located on the top menu bar) >Adjustments>BlackAndWhite .

Make sure you select the top layer (single left click) then “Image”>”Adjustments”>”BlackAndWhite”

When you do this you will notice a dialogue box pop up, with several sliders to adjust. For the purpose of this exercise you can ignore these and just press ok.You should see your image be converted into black and white.

Create a Layer Mask.

Layer masks seem to be a mystical force of sorcery according to many people I speak with, but it’s really quite a simple concept. When you put a layer mask over a layer, it hides the contents or effects of that layer where the mask is black, and shows them where its white. That’s as complex as it needs to get for this task.

To add a layer mask, make sure once again that the top layer is selected, then click on the button at the bottom of the layer tab, that looks like a box with a circle in the middle.

The Layer Mask button is located at the bottom right of the screen.

Once you’ve done this, you should see a layer mask appear next to the layer. It should be a white rectangle depending on your settings, but if its black then select it with a mouse click then hold ctrl (cmnd for Mac) and press “I” this should turn it white and reveal the Black and white layer again.

Paint Back The Colour

Now for the fun part. All you have to do is select your brush tool by either clicking th icon on the left hand side, or just press “B”. Make sure that you have selected the mask by clicking on it and that you have black selected as your brush colour, then just paint black on the mask where you want your colour to show through. If you make a mistake, you can undo it by simple painting the mask white again where the effect is unwanted.

Once you are happy with your result click “Layer” (Top menu bar again) then “Merge Visible” This will compress the image back into one layer and allow you to save the file in the format you prefer.

I hope this tutorial has been of some help, and that you enjoy making the most out of your images.