Photoshop Elements 9: Layer Masks

If you’ve been following along, I’m currently doing a review of all the cool new stuff in the latest version 9 of Photoshop Elements. If you haven’t yet tried Photoshop Elements, Adobe offers a free 30 day trial. You can download it here.

In this tutorial I’m going to demonstrate the layer mask tool. In previous versions of Photoshop Elements, in order to use layer masks basically you had to add a new layer, change the settings, and group it with your main image, which was perfectly doable if not a little messy but required a lot more thought processing. But we don’t want to think that much – it hurts! So thank you Adobe for including layers masks in the new version 9! Now, with one click it’s done!

Layer masks can be used in lots of different ways, but basically they allow you to hide or mask certain parts of an image without destroying the image. In other words, you make all your adjustments on the layer mask, leaving the image untouched. It’s called non-destructive editing.

One other thing to note when working with layer masks is that you are working in greyscale. Any part of the mask that is white will reveal the layer, any part of the mask that is black will hide the layer.

So let’s do a quick tutorial to show you how easy this works now.

Recently I posted a photo called “Fairies in the Garden” on my Facebook page. This photo is really cute and was assembled using layer masks so I’ll use this as an example for the tutorial.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Download my toadstool image (right click and save).

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

And you’ll find the cheeky fairy here on Flickr.

Open both images in Photoshop Elements and resize the fairy to 300px wide.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Using the quick selection tool …

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

… select the outline of the fairy …

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

… and copy and paste her into the photo of the toadstool.

You can see that she’s standing in front of the toadstool, but I’d like to move her behind it.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Right click on the toadstool image in the layers palette and select Duplicate Layer.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

This makes a copy of the toadstool photo.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Drag the copied layer so that it’s sitting on top of the fairy layer. Make sure this layer is selected. You can tell it’s selected because the background turns dark.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Now you can see that the fairy has temporarily been hidden from the main image.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

With the quick selection tool …

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

.. select the outline of the toadstool.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Select the color Black for your foreground color.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Click the Layer Mask Tool which is the square icon with the little circle in the center located on the bottom of the layers palette.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

This adds a layer mask to the copy of the toadstool image …

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

… and automatically hides the background on that image, leaving only the toadstool visible, and revealing the fairy who is now peaking out from behind the toadstool.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

You can see how this works by looking at the layer mask. The outline of the toadstool is white – which is revealed, and the background is black – which is hidden.

Photoshop Elements: Layer Masks

Pretty cool, huh? And easy too with the one click layer mask tool. I love it!

10 thoughts on “Photoshop Elements 9: Layer Masks”

  1. Great tutorial, Linda. That fairy looks a little bit like you! I’m still having trouble figuring out how to have two photos open in the same frame in Elements. I have Elements 5.

  2. Hi Kathy,
    I think maybe I looked like the fairy 30 years ago, or maybe it’s the pointy ears. (hee hee)

    I’m not sure what you mean by the same frame, I’m guessing you mean one photo on top of another. Using your mouse you can drag one photo on top of the other. Or you can copy and paste one on top of the other.

    Let me know if you mean something different.


  3. Debbie Meyers-Geraets

    Hi Linda,
    I just watched the tutorial on masks with the toadstool and fairy. I liked the tutorial until the end. You didn’t say how to get rid of (or hide) the fairy’s legs.


    1. Debbie, once all the layers are in place, you can then edit them as you would any other images. So to remove the legs you could use the eraser tool to rub them out. Or if you wanted to simply hide them, for the masked layer you could select a larger area of the image say from the top and around the mushroom down to the bottom of the photo including the grass area.

  4. i am Having Troubles Downloading the Fairy any Suggestions ? on Flickr it says something about property ?

    1. Hi Donald, I checked the link and I can see that the image is still available for download. If you’re having trouble downloading, you can check the help files on flickr for detailed instructions on how to download their images.

  5. Linda, I think your tutorials are fabulous. There much better than the actual Photoshop ones. I love the way you zoom in and out throughout the tutorial. It makes it so much easier to follow along. Photoshop doesn’t do that in theirs. I’m curious as to how you learned all this? I’m just starting to learn CS5 (trial version) and it’s totally confusing to me, so many steps to remember. You’re very talented and generous to offer these lessons, keep up the good work. Again much easier to follow than the actual Photshop instructors. By the way are you a teacher?
    Have a good day!

    1. Linda Matthews

      Thanks Marlene, yes I’m a textile art teacher so I guess that counts 😉 Learning anything is easy if you break it down into small bite-size chunks and work through it a bit at a time. It takes time and you gotta be patient.

  6. I hope you can help me-my layers panel is not showing-how do I get it to show?

    Thank you.

    1. Linda Matthews

      You don’t mention what version of Photoshop Elements but on mine you can hide or reveal the layers panel by going to the Windows option on the main menu and clicking “Layers”. If this doesn’t help, please refer to the Help section of your program.

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