Layers and Masks 2 – Adjustment Layers

Adjustment layers do just that, they allow you to make adjustments to your images in a stack of layers. This has two benefits to the way you might normally adjust a picture;

  1. You can go back and change any part of you adjustment, i.e. the curves or levels
  2. You can use masks to affect only certain parts of the image.

Let us start with an image and create an adjustment layer.

Click on the button and choose 'levels'

Click on the button and choose 'levels'

This will create a new layer with the sole purpose of adjusting the light levels of the image. See Basic adjustments – levels and curves for more details of how to make your adjustments.

Your new layer will be called ‘Levels’.

You can see the levels dialogue box and the new adjustment layer

You can see the levels dialogue box and the new adjustment layer

Now you can make your adjustments and click OK.

Make another adjustment layer, but this time choose ‘Curves’ from the drop-down box.

You can see the 'curves' dialogue box and a new adjustment layer.

You can see the 'curves' dialogue box and a new adjustment layer.

Make your curve adjustments and click OK. The new layer is automatically called ‘curves’. Notice that each adjustment layer is created with a mask.

Masks

What exactly is a mask?

Have you heard of masking tape? What does that do? Yes it will protect an area as you paint another. Photoshop masks work in the same way, they allow us to make changes that affect only a certain part of an image. Masks are only black and white (and grey), basically speaking, if the mask is black, you can see the layer underneath, if it is white you can’t.

With you image open in photoshop, I want you to make very gentle levels adjustments, but make extreme curves adjustments… give you curves layer a BIG ‘S’ shape.

Now select the mask (click on it) and choose the paintbrush tool, you should see black and white on the paintbrush tool palette.

Select a black colour for your paintbrush tool

Select a black colour for your paintbrush tool

You can adjust the size and softness of the paint brush tool at the top of the photoshop window. Adjust it so that you can easily see it on your image.

Now start painting on your image, maybe just randomly, maybe you want to paint the sky or an object, I am going to paint the sea in my image.

You should see two things start to happen:

  1. Your image will start to change
  2. Your layer mask will have some black on it
I have painted the mask black in the bottom half.

I have painted the mask black in the bottom half.

Now, you can click on the eyeball to take the curves adjustment layer away. Bring it back and click on the layer mask. Now press ‘alt’ and ‘i’, this will invert the mask. How does this change your picture? Why?

Remember that the mask will let you adjust certain parts of your image without affecting the rest. The black will let you see the layer beneath and the white will mask it. The lovely thing about masks is that if you make a mistake with the paintbrush, you can just change the colour to white and paint over it again.

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