The Basics of Masking for Elements

NOTE: Some versions of Elements have adjustment layers, which you may prefer to use for adjustments like those done in our first example. However, reading and viewing the screenshots may still be useful to you. In addition, near the bottom of this page we show an example of other uses of layer masks that cannot be done with adjustment layers.

For our first example, let's assume that you want to brighten some areas of your photo, while leaving other areas untouched. Here's one way you could do that, using layers and masks:

In the Elements Layers window, select the layer you want to work on. If you have only one layer, this will be the Background Layer.

Apply the DuplicateLayerAndMask effect. It will create a copy of the current layer, and will add a mask to it. After duplicating and masking
Click the Layer Thumbnail to select it, and use your main Elements menu to make the adjustments you want, such as adjusting levels. Your adjustments will affect the entire image, but we'll fix that later. Just pay attention to the effect on the areas you want to change. Selecting the Layer Thumbnail
When you've finished the adjustment, you're ready to use the mask, so click the Layer Mask Thumbnail to select it. Selecting the Layer Mask Thumb
What we want to accomplish is to turn the mask black where we want to hide this layer (letting the layer underneath show through), and leave it less black (white or gray) where we want the effects to show (hiding the layer underneath).

There are many ways to do this. If you want most of the new layer to show, you can just set the Foreground Color to black and use the Brush Tool on the image to paint the few areas where you don't want it to show. If you want only a few areas of the new layer to show, it's probably easiest to use the Paint Bucket Tool to fill the mask with black, and then use the Brush Tool and a Foreground Color of white to paint the areas you want to show. This is what we've done here.

Notice that we're doing the "painting" on the image itself, but since we have the Layer Mask Thumbnail selected, there's an effect on the mask, too.
Painting on the image to erase the mask

In any case, it's usually best to use a large, soft, brush, and a low opacity (7-15%) to blend in the changes gradually, for a natural look.


Some versions of Elements have adjustment layers, which you may prefer to use instead of these actions for this type of change. However, there's another type of masking that can't be done using adjustment layers, and we'll discuss it next.

Other uses of Layer Masks

For a different example, let's assume that you have taken two exposures of a high-contrast scene, and want to blend them together. Masking is one way to do that.
  1. Paste one image over the top of another (this creates a two-layered image).
  2. Run MaskCurrentLayer to create a mask on the top layer.
  3. Select the Layer Mask Thumbnail.
  4. Use the Brush Tool to control which parts of the top layer are visible, as discussed in the first example.

Other Ideas for Layer Masks

  • Selectively apply filters

    You can duplicate your image layer, apply one or more filters (such as artistic effects or sharpening) to it, and then use a layer mask to "erase" the effect from some parts of your image.

  • Remove color from some parts of your image

    Duplicate your image layer, remove color from it, and then use a mask to restore the color to some areas.