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Easily Refine Any Photoshop Mask With A Brush

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You can refine any mask in Photoshop with a brush. How? Choose any Brush tool and paint on it. The Brush, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Eraser, Gradient, Blur, Smudge, Dodge and Burn tools all have their uses. Whether simple or complex, layer masks are just black and white images; you can do anything to a mask that you can do to a black and white image.
It’s important to remember this because you might not realized just how much you can refine a selection or mask. Sometimes tools like Quick Selection do an amazingly fast job of selecting specific image areas, but their results can be improved further with a brush. Many times the sophisticated selections made with tools like Select By Color Range (which will allow you to quickly select Shadows, Highlights, or single colors like Red, etc) end up selecting too many areas and you may want to remove some of those areas from the selected regions in a mask. Painting over those areas with a black brush is one way to do this. (By contrast painting over areas with white will remove any gray values and let the effect of a layer pass through unimpeded.) While there are many brushes you can refine them with, more often than not you’ll find yourself using a simple soft-edged brush to paint black and/or white at varying opacities. It’s a simple but powerful technique, making it extraordinarily useful.
There are many times you’ll want to manually refine a mask with a brush.
Here are a few examples.
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The edge of a contour made with the Quick Selection tool can be refined.

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A gradient can be removed from an area.

Here a gradient only affects the sky but not the mountain.

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Specific areas of a luminance mask can be removed.

Only the highlights of the lower portion of this image are affected.


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Specific areas of a selection made with Select By Color range can be removed.

One orange area is removed from the selection of other orange areas.

Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How To Choose Which Photoshop Mask Color To Start With

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Image before selective adjustment.

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Image after selective adjustment (dodging).

Mask

It takes fewer white strokes than black strokes to make this mask.

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So, instead of starting with a white mask, start with a black mask.

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The layer stack.

When you’re making masks in Photoshop, you can get the job done more quickly and easily by starting with the right color mask. When you make a mask, you can start with one of two colors – white or black. What’s the difference? A white mask shows everything on a layer as if it were at 100% opacity. A black mask hides everything on a layer as if it were at 0% opacity.
So use this simple strategy when you’re brushing in image adjustments with masks.
If you want to affect most of the image, start with a white mask and add a few black brush strokes to reduce the effect in smaller areas.
If you want to affect just a few areas of an image, start with a black mask and add a few white brush strokes to show the effect in only the areas you paint on.
For even more control, you can vary the opacity of the brush strokes you make to reveal or reduce effects partially. (Keep the Opacity of the layer being masked at 100% and then you can make the opacity of different areas vary based on the brush strokes you make.)
How do you make choose the color of the mask when you make it?
You can get a white mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. Or, simply click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Alternately, you can get a black mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Or, hold the option/alt key before you click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
A mask is automatically created when you make an adjustment layer. By default an adjustment layer mask is white. If you want to start with at black mask instead, hold the option/alt key before you make an adjustment layer.
To make masking even more efficient, you can start with a simple selection (made with any selection tool, including the Lasso, Marquee, Magic Wand, or Quick Selection tools) and then, while the selection is still active, make a mask. If you do this, the selected areas will appear in white and everything else will be blacked out on the mask. You can then brush the mask to refine it further.
But wait, there’s more! Remember, you can always invert a mask (making black white and vice versa) by going to the menu Image > Adjustments > Invert or pressing the keys Command I. So if you forget to start with the right color mask, just invert it.
These simple techniques will save you a great deal of time.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Photoshop’s Quick Mask Combines All Selection And Brush Tools

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Edit In Standard Mode (Press Q) shows selected areas inside an active selection outline.

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Edit In Quick Mask Mode (Press Q) shows masked areas with a red overlay.

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Quick Mask Options can be activated double-clicking it.

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Quick Masks appear temporarily in the Channels palette.

Consider Photoshop’s Quick Mask feature as an easy to access nexus point that allows you to make and modify selections by efficiently moving between all selection and brush tools.
In addition to being fast and flexible, Quick Mask makes it easy to see both the image and the mask at the same time – and this view can make it easier for you to make more precise selections and masks. When you’re in mask mode, you’ll see the mask as a transparent red overlaying the image. You can change the color of the overlay and its opacity with the window activated by double-clicking on the Quick Mask icon. This is particularly useful when masking images with red colors.
When you use Quick Mask you can start with either a selection or a mask.
To start with a brush tool, click on the Quick Mask icon and you’ll see a temporary (It’s title will be in italics.) alpha-channel appear in the Channels palette. Use a black brush and you’ll see the masked areas appear over the image in a transparent color. When you’re finished brushing, click once again on the Quick Mask icon and the mask will become a selection; the temporary alpha-channel will disappear, so if you want to save your work click the Save selection as channel icon or use the menu item Select > Save Selection; you can tell the resulting alpha-channel is permanent because its title is not italicized.
Or, you can start with a selection before clicking on the Quick Mask icon and using a brush to make modifications. When you’re done click on the icon again to return to selection mode and save the results.
You can move back and forth as many times as you like between selection tools and brush tools to create any result you desire. That’s the beauty of Quick Mask feature. When you hit the limits of one tool you can move to another.
Just remember, after you finish refining a selection, if you want to use it later, save it. And if you save many results along the way to a final solution, delete the ones you don’t plan on using again, so that you don’t get confused with too many choices.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How To Be More Creative

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Want to be more creative? Whether you can’t seem to get going, find yourself stuck in a rut, or you want to break through to your next level, you’ll find these articles both inspiring and useful.
7 Simple Ways to Be More Creative in 2018
Why Exercise Makes You More Creative
Need a Creative Boost? Take a Look at Your Diet
Want to Be More Creative at Work? Take a Vacation
Why Meditating Might Make You a Better Artist
Some People Can See Sound, or Taste Color. Does It Make Them More Creative?
When Timothy Leary Got Artists to Take LSD
Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives 
The Creative Learning Spiral Envisioned
How Creativity is Measured—And Why It’s So Difficult
Pour your favorite drink, relax, and enjoy.
Hungry for even more?
Explore my creativity resources here.
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8 Useful Tips For Brushing Masks In Photoshop

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Some tools in Photoshop make the marks for you, like the Gradient Tool and Paths.

When it comes to masking, there’s no reason to fear drawing in Photoshop. Often, it amounts to little more than tracing. Plus, the History palette gives you an unlimited number of undo’s and redo’s. Still, there a number of painting strategies that can help you make masks more efficiently and precisely.
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Use colors other than true black and white only when you want to reduce opacity.

Keep it black and white.
Before you start painting masks, use the reset icon to make sure you’re painting with a true black and a true white. It’s not uncommon to find out too late that you’ve been painting with some other shade of gray. If you find out too late, you may be able to modify the contrast of the mask by applying an adjustment like Levels or Curves.
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Watch for unevenness created by scrubbing with too small a brush.

Check for uniformity.
It’s a good idea to check masks (Option click the mask to see it. Do that again to hide it.) for uniformity and to eliminate (Fill, brush, or filter.) unintended gaps between brush strokes (black specks in a white field, white specks in a black field) and unintended unevenness when brushing with opacities lower than 100%. Remember, this speckled appearance can happen not only when brushing but also when the Magic Wand Tool or Color Range has been used as the foundation for a selection.
Fill broad areas.
Avoid painting broad areas. Instead, select and fill them. Filling an area ensures that it will be uniform, where building up multiple overlapping brush strokes sometimes leads to uneven results. You don’t have to precisely select the edges of broad area you’d like to fill; after the lion’s share of the work is done, you can refine areas that require more care with a brush.
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Paint with the edge of the brush except for those rare occasions you need to paint with its center, then use the caps lock cross hair .

Be mindful of the edge of a brush.
The appearance of a brush will help you better see the marks you make. Normal Brush Tip (Preferences > Displays and Cursors) will show you the circumference of a brush allowing you to see the placement of its edges. You can press the Caps Lock key to change this to a cross hair that will pinpoint its center when necessary.
Use soft-edged brushes when you’re painting general areas. The feathered edges will blend into one another. Use hard-edge brushes when painting along specific contours. You’ll see the accuracy of your marks as you make them. When you’ve finished, you can soften them more precisely (Favor using Properties > Feather; you can reset the values at any time. Use the Blur tool for local effects.)
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Key commands make repetitive actions quicker and easier.

Use key commands.
Key commands make repetitive tasks easier. You’ll use these a lot. Use the X key to reverse foreground and background colors. Use the bracket keys to make a brush smaller ( [ ) or larger ( ] ). Use the Shift and bracket keys to make a brush softer ( [ ) or harder ( ] ). Use the number keys to change the opacity of a brush; press 1 for 10%, 2 for 20%, 3 for 30%, etc.
Get a list of useful masking key commands here.
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The History palette is great for multiple global undos.

The History Brush tool is great for undoing just one portion of an image.

Use the History Brush for local undos.
The History Brush tool can be very helpful when you want to undo changes in one area only. In the History palette, step back in history states to find a state you’d like to return to in one area; check the icon to the left of that state to set the source for the brush; return to the most current state; and use the History brush to paint back to a desired state in your file’s timeline.
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Painting masks with a series of successive straight lines yields surprisingly good results quickly, even for contours that aren’t straight.

Start rough, then refine.
Draftsmen often “block in” a contour, using a series of straight marks that cut around a contour in progressively finer increments rather than trying to draw it perfectly the first time. It’s highly efficient. It also takes the wobble out of handmade marks. You can draw a straight line with any brush by clicking once, letting go, moving to another point, holding the Shift key, and clicking a second time.
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Mask_Corner_425 Three strokes can fill a corner precisely; start by overpainting with the first stroke, then erase the excess with two more strokes.

Paint over corners, not into them.
Avoid painting yourself into a corner; instead, paint over a corner. It’s challenging and inefficient to paint into corners with a series of increasingly smaller brushes.
Instead, you can cut a corner with three strokes; with the first stroke paint over the area broadly; using the edge of an eraser (or a brush with the inverse color), make a second stroke to paint away the overspill on one side of the corner and finish the job with a third stroke for the overspill on the second side of the corner.
Adopt these simple practices and you’ll find that you’ll make better masks and make them faster too.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.