As photographers, we use some pretty complex software. These programs allow us to create stunning images that, let’s be honest, would be very difficult to replicate without said software.
Ashamedly, I have never set foot inside a darkroom. I cannot pretend to know the ins and outs of processing film but having watched many a documentary on the subject, I know the lengths that some photographers would go.
Dodging and burning has always been a large part of most photographers’ workflow. In the film days, dodging and burning was, in many respects, far more intricate. You only need to look at the test prints of master printers to get a feel for how much forethought was involved. The accuracy that we are so used to today was almost impossible to achieve.
This great video from Joshua Cripps gives us 5 techniques for creating layer masks in Photoshop. With accurate layer masks, we can make highly targeted adjustments, which the old master printers could never even have contemplated.
I loved the Apply Image method. It’s one which I already use in some of my actions, but I’d never thought about editing the mask to further refine the technique. With accurate and targeted masks, like the ones we see Joshua creating, we gain really fine controls over our images. We can then apply these masks to any layers we create and using the non-destructive method, which Joshua demonstrates, we will always be able to go back and further refine our selections.
Quick Tip | Using Blend If
One tip of my own, not mentioned in the video is using Blend If. Double clicking on any layer in Photoshop brings up the “Layer Style” dialog. From here, we have tons of options but we’re just interested in that first one, “Blending Options: Default.” At the bottom of those options, you’ll see a couple of sliders labeled “This Layer” and “Underlying Layer.” Each one allows us to restrict our effect to the shadows or highlights, depending on which slider you use. When adjusting the sliders make sure you hold Alt, otherwise you get a very abrupt transition that never looks good. Underlying layer uses the tonal information of the layer below, whereas This Layer surprisingly enough uses the info of the layer you are on.
Now go out and use these techniques to make some intricate and highly accurate masks!