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Photoshop Elements Layers Trick

Create a layer mask using Photoshop Elements layers!

photoshop elements layers

The Photoshop Elements layers system is simple and effective. It allows you enhance and improve images in any number of ways without damaging the underlying background image.

There's almost nothing that can't be done working with layers in Photoshop Elements. Almost! There is a reason why Photoshop CS is so much more expensive. A number of the additional features it contains really allow you to notch your image editing up to that next level.

Amongst the most frustrating omissions from the Elements software is the 'layer mask' feature. This is allows you to make adjustments on a new layer that apply only to specific areas of the layer below. Now that’s handy!

But, there is a way to, in effect, use layer masks in Photoshop Elements. It's a very cool Photoshop trick and one that you will soon be using all the time!

It relies on the fact that adjustment layers in Photoshop Elements do make use of layer masks. Essentially, by creating an adjustment layer that doesn't actually feature any adjustments(!), then linking an additional layer to it that does, the changes on this top layer can be brought through selectively using the first adjustment layer's layer mask.


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Confused!? You won't be after following this step-by-step guide.


1. Let's say you have a picture of someone, like this street portrait, and you'd like to change the colour of their eyes! A simple 'Hue/Saturation' adjustment layer would affect the entire image. How can we use Photoshop Elements layers to apply the desired changes only to the eyes?

photoshop elements layers

First up, open your picture in the 'Editor' workspace. Right click on the background image in the layers palette and choose 'Duplicate Layer'. Repeat this, so that you have 2 identical layers on top of the background.

photoshop elements layers

2. With the top layer selected, create an adjustment layer and make the changes that you eventually wish to apply only to a specific area - in this case the eyes. Choose 'Hue/Saturation', tick the 'colorize' check box, move the hue and saturation sliders accordingly and then select 'OK'.


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3. So the whole picture now looks bright green (or whatever colour for the eyes you have chosen). Don't fret! It gets fun now! Right click on the hue/saturation adjustment layer and click 'Merge Down' so that it becomes part of the top duplicate layer.

photoshop elements layers

4. Create another adjustment layer - Levels, Hue/Saturation or Brightness/Contrast. Just select 'OK' immediately, without making any actual adjustments! Drag this 'empty' layer between your two other layers (the bottom one and the green one!). Link the green, top layer with the empty Levels layer by holding 'Alt' and clicking on the line that separates the 2 layers.

photoshop elements layers

5. With the empty Levels layer selected (this is your 'layer mask'), make black your foreground colour in the toolbar.

photoshop elements layers

Select the paint bucket tool and click on the main image to fill this layer with black (black gets rid of things and white brings them through). Your image will now appear normal again, without the green tint.


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6. Finally, change the foreground colour in the toolbar to white. Select the brush tool, be sure to use a feathered edge (Press 'shift + [' to feather the edge, 'shift +]' to harden it). Still on the empty Levels (layer mask) layer, paint carefully over the eyes to bring through the green tint from the top layer. Use a reduced opacity, about 20% to begin with. Keep working the brush over the eyes until you reach the desired effect.

photoshop elements layers


Final Image:

photoshop elements layers


Using layers in Photoshop to create a layer mask is such a great Photoshop trick. You'll find it comes in handy time and again - not just for portraits of course - but for landscapes, still lifes, candid shots and so on.

It's also a really useful trick to use for selective sharpening. There's a full tutorial on that here.

If you need a recap on the basics of working with layers in Photoshop - one of the Photoshop essentials - click here.


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