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Harness the power of layer masks for effortless but impressive montages

Added on Wednesday 27th of June 2007 02:12 am EST
 

Application:

Adobe Photoshop 7/CS/CS2

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

 

 

Many Photoshop users don’t reap the full rewards of layer masks because they’re either intimidated or confused by them. The reality is that layer masking is quite simple. We’ll demonstrate multiple ways you can use layer masks to create successful digital montages.

 

To maximize the power of layer masks for great digital montages, we’ll:

     Show you how to arrange your images to easily create a digital montage.

     Demonstrate the different ways you can create and apply layer masks so you can remain flexible with your design.

     Give you some layer masking shortcuts so you can work with layer masks faster.

 

 

Layer masks are one of Photoshop’s most powerful features; they’re nondestructive, extremely versatile, and they won’t drain your CPUs’ resources. Not only are they powerful, they’re essential when you want to create digital montages such as the one shown in Figure A. Come along for the ride and let’s explore the wonderful world of layer masking.

 

A

 

Prepare for the montage

For the purpose of this article, we’ll explore layer-masking techniques as we compile a montage. You can use any images, but to follow along with our example, download the file layermasks.zip from the URL given at the beginning of this article, and extract the file montage.psd. Then, launch Photoshop and open the file.

 

Note: To view a low-resolution version of our completed file, extract and open the file montage_done.psd.

 

We’ve already placed multiple images into one document. If you’re using your own images, you’ll need to bring them all over to one file. To do this, open your images in Photoshop, choose the Move tool move from the Toolbox, and click and drag an image from its own image window to your montage image window.

 

 

Montage or collage?

While it won’t affect the look of your finished piece, it’s always good to use the right terminology when describing your piece to your client. Is it a collage or a montage? As defined in Webster’s New Riverside Dictionary:

        Montage. An artistic composition, esp. a composite photograph, made by combining and arranging separate or different components.

        Collage. An artistic composition consisting of materials, as cloth or paper, pasted on a surface.

Traditionally, a collage is created with tangible objects and adhered to a surface with some form of glue or adhesive. The art of photomontage dates back to Victorian Era where photographers would place items directly on photographic plates for printing, create double exposures, or utilize darkroom-masking techniques to create composite prints. A montage can also contain audio or video components, thus the type of montage is usually specified. In Photoshop, we create digital montages.

 

 

More than one way to mask

 

No doubt one of the reasons some folks find layer masking confusing is because layer masks are so versatile. You can use layer masks to create selections, to hide pixels, and to fade images into each other—just to name a few uses. There’s also more than one way to create a layer mask. For example, you can quickly add a gradated mask with the Gradient tool, paint a mask on with the Brush tool, and you can create a mask from an existing selection—just to name a few ways. We’ll explore these with our montage file.

 

Lay it on gradually

 

Applying a gradient mask is a great way to quickly hide a whole side of your image, while softly blending the visible portion of your image into the background. We’ll demonstrate this technique on the City layer of our sample file, which is currently the only visible layer.

 

To apply a gradient layer mask:

1.       Press D to set the Foreground and Background colors to their defaults of black and white respectively.

2.      Select the City layer to make it active.

3.      Click on the Add Layer Mask button add_layermask located at the base of the Layers palette to add a layer mask.

4.      Choose the Gradient tool gradient from the Toolbox.

5.      Click on the Gradient picker on the tool options bar and choose the Foreground to Background gradient option.

6.      Press and hold [shift], then click and drag the gradient starting on the left side of the image and release about three-quarters of the way to the right side of the image, for a layer masking effect shown in Figure B.

B

 

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