Adobe Photoshop Elements: emulated layer mask

Adobe Photoshop Elements: emulated layer mask – Part 3 Of 3

Stan Ashbrook

This is the last of a three-part series on Adobe’s Photoshop Elements.

In the new release of Elements version 2.0, Adobe has provided the ability to save selections, which in itself is worth the upgrade price. They have also added a Selection brush tool that allows you to paint a selection. This looks a little like Quick Mask and provides some of the features, but not all of them. It is nonetheless a welcome tool that should allow you to make difficult selections.

One of the most powerful features of Photoshop’s full version is called Layer Mask, which allows you to add a mask to a layer, similar to the mask that is automatically added when you create an Adjustment Layer. This allows you to edit a layer by hiding or revealing what is on that layer. You can use the Eraser tool to remove unwanted areas of an object copied to a new layer, but once erased it’s gone; if you make a mistake, the History palette is your only recourse. If you save and close the file the History palette states are lost.

In using the Layer Mask, you paint with black on the Mask, masking where you paint and hiding that which is opaque on the layer. When you paint with white, you reveal what is on the layer.

Another useful feature of Layer Masks allows you to blend two images together. As said above, you paint with black to hide and white to reveal, but when you paint with a shade of gray, you partially hide depending on the shade of gray. A darker gray will result in more of the image being hidden; a lighter gray results in more of the image being revealed.

Adobe omitted Layer Mask from Elements, but in the following example, I will show how you can emulate a Layer Mask and use it to hide portions of one image and to blend two other images together. The technique described here came from Jay Arraich and more Photoshop tips can be found on his website,

For this example I used three images. One image was a photograph of the sky that I named sky.tif and it will be used as the background layer. The second image was a photograph of the American flag, named flag.tif that I brought into the sky image as layer 2. I used the emulated Layer Mask technique described here to blend this into the sky background. Lastly I used a photograph of the Blue Angels Navy flying team. This image was called blueangels.tif and was moved into the composition as layer 3. I used this technique for emulating the Layer Mask to select the airplanes by hiding the sky portion of this layer. The procedure I used is as follows:

1. I opened the three images named above.

2. With the flag image active, I used the Move tool and clicked on the name of the layer in the layers palette and while holding down the Shift key dragged the layer into sky.tif. Holding the Shift key when moving with the Move tool centers the moved image into the receiving image.

3. After I closed sky.tif my open image and layers palette looked like Figure 11.


4. I then added an Adjustment layer by selecting New Adjustment Layer from the Layers menu. You can also click on the Add Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Using this procedure I could select any of the Adjustment layers, such as Levels or Brightness/Contrast. After selecting Levels, I clicked OK without making any adjustment. See Figure 12.


5. Note that an Adjustment Layer has two icons. The left one is the icon for the Adjustment and the right icon is a mask. If you paint in an Adjustment Layer, you are painting on the mask. When you paint with black on this mask you hide the adjustment and when you paint with white you show the adjustment. Shades of grey partially show or hide the adjustment.

6. I then dragged the Adjustment layer under the flag layer.

7. Now comes the interesting part. With the flag layer as the active layer, in the Layers menu, I selected Group With Previous. See Figure 13.


8. Now with the Adjustment Layer as the active layer and with Default colors and white the foreground color, I chose the Foreground- to-Background Gradient (see Figure 14) and applied the gradient to this layer by dragging in the Adjustment Layer. Notice when you apply the Gradient you are applying it to the mask. See Figure 15. If you don’t like the result the first time, drag again until you get what you want. Each time you drag you cover up what you did previously.


9. It’s now time to add the Blue Angels. With the flag layer active, I clicked on the Blue Angels image to make it active and with the move tool, I dragged it into the flag by dragging the name in the background layer in the Layer palette. I positioned it with the Move tool.

10. Next I added an Adjustment layer to the Blue Angels layer as I did in Step 1 and dragged the Adjustment Layer under the Blue Angels layer and grouped it with previous layer as I did in Steps 2 and 3. The Layer palette should look like Figure 16.


11. I followed the same procedure on the Blue Angels layer as I did in Step 9. Only in this case I eliminated the sky from this layer by selecting the sky with the Magic Wand and then filling this selection with black to hide the sky.

12. With the Magic Wand tool, I used a Tolerance of 20 and clicked on the sky in the Blue Angels image to select it. Holding the Shift key, I clicked twice more in the sky to add to this selection. The sky portion of the Blue Angels layer was now selected.

13. With Default colors and Black as the Foreground color and with the Adjustment Layer active, I filled the selection with the Foreground color by choosing Fill with Foreground color from the Edit menu or I could have simply used the Alt (Opt) + Backspace or Delete for the Mac. The sky was now masked showing only the planes. The Palette at this stage can be seen in Figure 17.


I found that there were parts of the planes that were also hidden because their color was close to the sky color when I selected the sky, so I needed to correct this.

14. I zoomed to 200% to help see the image and made the Adjustment Layer active.

15. With a small brush, I painted the planes with white to reveal the parts that were hidden. Sometimes I revealed too much so I painted with black to correct. I fine tuned by alternately painting with black or white.

16. With this technique I couldn’t discard the Adjustment layers or merge the layers together (i.e., the Blue Angels and Grouped Adjustment layers) which I would do if I were using a Layer Mask in Photoshop. When I was satisfied with the composition I selected Flatten from either the Layers menu or the Layers Palette.

17. If I want to position the Blue Angels, I would make the Blue Angels layer active and click on the little square next to the Eye on the Adjustment later so as to link this layer (Adjustment layer) to the Blue Angels layer. Now I can move the two layers together.

18. When I was finished I added a Grouped Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer to the airplane image to increase the blue and yellow color saturation. I then added a Grouped Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer to the flag layer to increase the saturation of the reds.

19. The final image is shown in Figure 18.


When you do this procedure with your images you should save the image as you go along to make sure you can return to the image before a mistake was made if something goes wrong.

This concludes this series of articles on Photoshop Elements. For the price, it is an extremely powerful image editing software program.

Stan Ashbrook,


Largo, Fl

COPYRIGHT 2003 Photographic Society of America, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group