The creative tutorial home of image wrangler, Lesa Snider.

Secret Layer Masks

September 28, 2005 by
Layer masks lurk within adjustment layers!

Recently, Dave Cross of NAPP turned me onto secret layer masks that live within adjustment layers. So this week I decided to recreate the Softening Freckles Photoshop tutorial in Photoshop Elements to show you how easily they work.

Step 1: Pop open a freckly photo and press Command + J (PC: Ctrl + J) to duplicate the background layer.

Step 2: Make sure the duplicated layer is selected in your layers palette, and choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Blur the image a fair amount, to the extent that you begin to lose detail.

Step 3: Create a Levels adjustment layer by clicking the half white/half black circle at the top of your layers palette, and immediately press OK to dismiss the Levels dialog box. This is where the secret layer mask lives, and we're creating this adjustment layer *solely* for the mask tags along with it.

Step 4: Fill the layer mask with black by choosing Edit > Fill Layer. Choose Black and press OK. When working with layer masks, black hides and white reveals. In a moment, this will hide the blurry layer completely.

Step 5: Drag the adjustment layer to the middle of your layers stack, and choose Layer > Group with Previous. This command enables the layer mask to interact with the blurry layer that's now right above it. Your image should be blurry no longer.

Step 6: Choose a fairly large, soft-edge brush and set your foreground color chip to white. Select the layer mask in your layers palette and paint over the freckled areas. Painting with white directly onto the layer mask allows those bits of the blurry layer to show through.

When finished, my layer mask looks like this:

When you're finished with the mask, you can lower the opacity of the blurry layer in the top of of your layers stack to lessen the effect.

Until next time, happy layer masking in Photoshop Elements!