We all know about masking – White Reveals, Black Conceals or Hide All (Black) Reveal All (White). So what about the other 253 shades/tones inbetween, have we forgotten about them, and how can they benefit us.

We can use masks to precisely perform an adjustment/filter/effect on an image, but also use it to give varying degrees of the adjustment to certain parts of an image. Think of it in terms of 255=white 100% revealed 128=grey 50% revealed or 50% hidden, whichever way to want to look at it .. and 0=black 100% concealed. It’s all those different shades inbetween that can add an extra dimension to an image – or as Chris Orwig likes to say “Subtle, yet Significant”

You can borrow my image to practise on if you like, copyright is mine etc.,

Open the image and duplicate the b/ground layer by pressing Ctrl + J on the keyboard or dragging the layer to the create new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette. Take a few moments to look at the image (your image, if you have one of yours open) and really think what you want to do with it and where you want the viewers attention to be focused. In my image I’d like to hit some of the b/ground with a Gaussian Blur to increase the shallow Depth of field. I’d also like to do something with the green stem sitting right in front of the flower. Cloning it out might be a pain in the bum, so using some of the Gaussian Blur on that might be a good idea. I’d also like to take the back petals a bit more out of focus, but not a great deal. You can do all that on one mask using different greys as well as the standard black & white that we associate with masking.

Go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and I’m going to hit this with a 10 px blur – you might want to choose something lower or higher. Hold down the Alt key and then click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette, you will be presented with a black mask (hide all). Make sure the f/ground colour is set to white and choose a soft edged brush and start painting over the b/ground area. Zoom in and out as necessary Ctrl + the plus key to zoom in – Ctrl + the minus key to zoom out. Hold down the spacebar to temporarily get the hand to move around the image. If you make any mistakes while doing this, simply hit the X key on the keyboard to get black (provided your b/ground colour is black) and paint over to fix. You may end up with something like the image below.

You can also check on your painting abilities by holding down the Alt Key and clicking on the layer mask. See image below. Hold down the Alt key and click on the layer mask to go back to the normal view. You can paint directly on the mask to make sure you have everything selected.

Lets have a look at that two petals at the back of the flower. I don’t want them to be waaay out of focus like the b/ground, so I’m going to try a 50% neutral grey i.e. 128, 128, 128. Bring up the Colour Picker and in the RGB section use 128 for each of them. Paint over the two petals behind the flower. Your layer mask will now look something like the image below

Okay, now lets deal with the leaf thing. I don’t want the blur effect completely revealed like the b/ground and I don’t want it as subtle as the petals, so lets try a darker grey. Bring up the colour picker again and in the RGB boxes try 200 and paint over the stem/leaf thing. Your mask might be looking similar to the image below.

We really need to do something about the bright green. Click on the little ying yang symbol at the bottom of the layers palette and choose Hue/Saturation from the menu. Choose greens from the drop down menu at the top of the dialogue box. Use the eyedropper tool to select one of the greens, then use the eyedropper with a + sign next to it to add some various shades. Take the saturation slider all the way down to -100. Click OK to accept that change and then click on the white layer mask and press Ctrl + i to invert it (black – hide all) Open the colour Picker (by clicking on the f/ground colour) and pick 64-64-64 for the RGB colours – paint over the stem/leaf. Change the f/ground to a neutral grey 128-128-128 and paint over the b/ground area. Your layer mask might look something like the one below.

Create a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, and this time just increase the Saturation by +15 on the Master. Click on the white layer mask and then use Ctrl + i to invert it. I used a white brush to paint over the main flower petals and then took the layer opacity down to 50%. You can carry on doing this to your hearts content, at the end of the day you will probably want to sharpen selective areas as well. You’re going to do a Stamp Visible (you may want to phone a friend to help with this keyboard shortcut) Make sure the topmost layer is selected, then Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E will place all the layers below in to one single layer, whilst still retaining the layers below. If you adjust the layers below, the adjustment will not be visible on the Stamped layer. Once you’ve done that, duplicate the layer and change the blend mode to Overlay. Go to Filter>Other>High Pass and choose a radius of 3 pixels. Hold down the Alt key and click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette. The mask will be Black (Hide All) Go about the business of selecting various shades of grey – white etc., to bring some areas into sharper focus than others. Just to finish off this image you may want to create a new selective colour adjustment layer and choose whites from the drop down menu – make sure Absolute is checked at the bottom of the dialogue box. Move the Yellow slider to about +10, click OK and then click on the layer mask and press Ctrl + i to invert it. Use a white brush to take out some of the glaring white areas and then take the layer down to 75%. And there you have it. You will probably take much more care than I have. Have fun!