Layer masks were very confusing to me the first
time I tried to use them, but I persevered, and now
they are one of the techniques I use most often to control
where my effects are applied, and how layers
For this tutorial, I will use Adobe Photoshop CS2 on a
PC. This tutorial will very likely work just as well
on a Mac system, although your mileage may very with
older versions of Photoshop, depending on their
I will be using the
stock image below. This is a Gibson Les Paul that I
sold to buy my D70s camera. Trust me, I'm a much
better photographer than musician! Feel free to copy
it so that you can follow along, or use a comparable
image of your own.
Open your base image in Photoshop and make sure that you
have the Layers window open. If its nowhere
to be seen, you can open it by clicking on Window > Layers
in the main menu.
In the layers window you'll see a tiny version of
your image accompanied by its name, 'background'. Somewhere next to
the word 'background', right-click with your mouse and select
Duplicate Layer from the pop-up menu that
appears. You can rename the new layer if desired
(a good habit). Click OK.
Notice that the new layer is highlighted in the
layers window? That's the activated one. You can
click on any layer to activate it. Only the
activated layer will change when you apply effects
Step 2: Select
Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur from the main
menu, enter 3px in the Radius box, and click OK.
The image looks ruined... but not for long! We will
now remove the blur from the Les
Paul body by painting a mask that keeps the blur
away from the guitar body.
Step 3: Click on the Add Layer Mask
icon at the bottom of the layer window. It's the one
that looks like a piece of paper with a hole in the
middle of it.
You'll notice a white box that appears next to the
layer picture in the window. That is now the active
portion of the layer. Click on the little picture
next to it and click back on the other thumbnail. You'll see what I mean.
If a layer mask is active, all of your painting tools work a little differently
in that they will only paint black or white. This
may seem like something you don't want, but you'll
see the magic in a moment! I generally only use the
brush tool to paint the layer mask, but the bucket,
gradient, Smudge Tools, etc, will work too, but with
less fine control.
Step 4: Before we continue, lets take an inventory. Your
background layer is nice and sharp. Your top layer blurry. You are ready to remove the
blur from the guitar body, but leaving the furry case
and the other background elements alone.
You do this by painting black over the guitar body
in the layer mask. Black became the default color
when you created the layer mask, so all you have to
do is select the brush size and softness that you
are comfortable working with, and paint on the layer
Take a look at the image below - The circular thing
in the middle of the guitar is my brush. You can see
I was painting with 100% white when I took this
So paint away! When I got to the neck of the guitar
I changed the opacity of the brush to 25% - You can find that setting at the top
of the Photoshop
window. This way I carefully controlled the look of
how the blur fades-in as you look down the neck of
the Les Paul. What's cool about using the opacity
like this is that you can keep painting and the
"paint" builds, getting darker... and the
darker it becomes, the more it blocks the blur effect!
If you make any mistakes you can always Edit > Undo or, better yet,
clean up with white or an opposite opacity.
At this point save your project .psd with an
appropriate name, such as 'Les Paul v1' (as in
"version 1"). Once you've saved it, right-click the background layer in the
layer window and select Flatten Image. Right click
it again, and select Duplicate Layer.
For the remainder of this tutorial, we will create a B&W layer above
the color layer in the background and, just like
before, we'll use a mask to reveal the color body of
the guitar only.
Step 6: The above image has most of what you
need to know at this point. You'll notice that by
performing step #1 above, you'll automatically get
a layer mask ready to go. You don't have to paint
anything in the mask, and can leave it white. Now paint away the B&W layer to reveal the
sunburst pattern in the classic Gibson Les Paul
And there you go! If you've done everything
correctly and with sufficient attention to detail
you should have something that resembles my final
image... or even better. Personally, I feel that this image
needs more work, and was a quick and dirty job. For
production work you need to spend more time creating the mask
edges... but it's still OK to prove my point for
Photoshop is amazing in the multitude of
ways a user can do things. Notice the two masks we
painted in this tutorial were essentially the same.
There is a way to save the mask after you make it
the first time so you can re-apply it later without
having to paint it again... but that's the subject
another tutorial. Have fun!
- Tutorial written by NikonErik