Simple 2 Layer Masking Technique for Photoshop

It is important that your image shouldn't exhibit areas that are over-exposed. A high contrast photo created by high directional lighting is what this technique is useful for, to bring out the details in areas which are important for proper dynamic range. Cameras, whether film or digital, cannot bring out what the human eye sees in certain lighting situations, especially when light is intense and directional. To correct this problem we have to use layers and give each layer a different overall value of exposure.
  1. Correct the color balance and over all tonality of the photo. If your photo is in 16-bit mode and you are using a version of Photoshop prior to CS, convert it to 8 bits since layering doesn't work in 16 bits.

  2. At this point we want to copy the total area of the photo and create a new layer. You can do this with a series of key strokes (Ctrl+A then Ctrl+C). Now do a Ctrl+V to paste and to create a new layer automatically.

  3. You'll notice in your layers foldout menu that you now have 2 layers with the same image. One is most likely named "background" the other named "layer 1". Now we are ready to make adjustments in "layer 1". Make sure that "layer 1" is selected in the menu before we start to change the tonality of that layer. At this point we want to bring out the area(s) in the deep shadow with levels tool or whatever tool you are comfortable with to bring detail in the dark areas. I suggest to use levels and use the middle slider to do most of the work. Do not worry about how the total photo looks at this point. All we are interested is to bring out the detail in the dark areas you are most interested in. Try to make the shadow areas look as they did at the time of the shoot. This is very important since poorly rendered shadowed areas can ruin a photo.

  4. Now we are ready to create a mask for "layer 1". There is an icon at the bottom of the layers menu that indicates the creation of a mask. If you don't know which one it is, just leave the mouse cursor over that icon until it indicates what it will do. Once you have created a mask you'll see an additional icon on the "layer 1" indicator. The icon on the right in "layer 1" is the masking preview icon.

  5. Make sure you have the masking preview icon selected. Now we are ready to fill the mask with black. Make sure black is the foreground color in the color indicator of the tools menu. To fill the mask with black go to the edit menu and select fill. Once black is filled into the mask you'll notice that the original photo seems to appear in the main photo window. If it does we know we successfully created a mask.

  6. To bring out the areas we want, use the eraser tool, paintbrush tool or the airbrush tool. To use the eraser tool make sure you have the "background" color as white in the color indicator. If using the other tools make sure the "foreground" color is white. This is to remove black from the mask of certain areas of "layer 1", which in turn allows the image "layer 1" to dominate the "background layer". I would recommend settings in the chosen tool with the transparencey set to 8-25%. You want to slowly develop these areas. Also, I tend to find brush sizes between 100-300 pixels wide to do a smoother job. Sometimes it is a good idea to use the section tools to mark off a given area to protect the image in certain situations.

I hope I have explained myself to the best of my abilities on how to accomplish this task. This is the basic way in which one can enhance a photo. From this technique one can develop other uses to help bring the best out of a photo.

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