Knowing how to create and work with layer masks in Photoshop can save you time and offers control and versatility when editing and manipulating images that is superior to just using selections. For some reason layer masks have the reputation of being difficult to do, which is simply not true. Mastering this technique can aid immensely when prepping images for printing; selective color adjustment, lightening, and sharpening can often make the image pop and come to life when printed.

Jay Kinghorn for shows you how to get started. He explains exactly what layer masks are, the benefits and how they work, and why it is a better workflow than just using selections of an image.

Harnessing the Power of Layer Masks

Layer masks are one of Adobe Photoshop’s most powerful, yet least understood features. In this tutorial, I’ll demystify layer masks by highlighting the benefits of incorporating layer masks into your image correction workflow and demonstrating the use of these tools in common, real-world situations. This tutorial is designed for photographers who are comfortable working with layers in Photoshop and have at least a basic familiarity with Photoshop’s painting and drawing tools, including the Marquee selection tools, the Brush and Gradient tools.

You can use layer masks most effectively if you first understand what they are and what they do. Layer masks allow you to selectively hide, or mask, portions of a layer while allowing other portions of the layer to show through. For example, you may use a mask to make the background of an image transparent. This allows a designer to combine the photo with text or graphics in a page layout program.

More commonly, photographers use layer masks for applying changes to specific portions of an image without affecting the rest of the photo. Similar to burning and dodging in the wet darkroom, these changes give you tremendous control over your photos. These selective corrections can bring a photo alive, add depth, improve contrast and shape your photo in subtle, yet powerful ways.

Photographers also use layer masks to composite multiple images for an entirely new creation, or, blend multiple exposures taken of the same scene to expand dynamic range, blend multiple white balances, or extend the depth of field.

Understanding how to use layer masks is one of the keys to unlocking the true potential of Photoshop. Once you’ve mastered the use of Layer Masks, the doors to Photoshop are wide open for you to explore.