Digital Outback Photo
- Photography using Digital SLRs

Ben's PS Tip #003


Precise Masking

by Ben Willmore & Uwe Steinmueller


For many tasks in Photoshop we use Layer Masks. Often all or parts of the masks are painted. In these cases it is crucial to inspect your mask carefully.

You probably all know photos like this:

Sample Photo by Ben Willmore

You like the flower but one imperfection ruins it. Here is a technique to save your work.

We work at 300% magnification to be as precise as possible.


Add an empty (100% transparent) new layer:

Use the healing brush to clone parts from below the defect area:

Cloning parts

First issue: The cloned part has a wrong angle

Solution: Edit->Transform->Rotate


Second issue: Wrong offset

Solution: Move layer with the Move Tool

Move layer

Third issue: Transitions look very bad

But remember we only need to fix a much smaller region.

Solution: Restrict the correction to the defect area.

Add a Layer Mask to the correction layer:

Hit the "\" key to show the mask in color. The default mask color is "red" which is not very helpful working with a red flower. Double click on the Layer Mask icon and change the mask color to green.

Use a brush (100% opaque) in black to hide the complete correction area. Black on an Adjustment Layer means that all changes from the layer are not shown where the Adjustment Layer is black.

The screen now looks like this:

Hide the correction with a black brush


Now the masked area (where it is back) is shown as green (remember you paint in black). Because the Opacity is 50% we can clearly see the defect area.

Finally use a fine brush (2-6 pixels wide) in "white" to ensure that only the defect area is used from our previous correction. Pure white on an Adjustment Layer means that all changes from the layer are shown where the Adjustment Layer is pure white.

Precise mask

This is all we need:

Final correction

Best you try this yourself with the original image. Interesting, you sometimes think to find some not so perfect transitions but then realize that they have been already in the original image.

Final Image at 100% magnification

It is pretty clear that we needed to visualize our mask while painting in the corrections. Showing the mask overlay and changing the overlay color to "green" did the trick.

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