In this tutorial, we are going to review advanced layer masking in Photoshop using the SLR Lounge Cloud Pack. The cloud pack allows you to add clouds to your images to add that extra interest in the skies of your images.
Exercise File: Clouds – Day Time – Sun Direction -> SLR-Lounge-Cloud-Pack-059.jpg
Note: While the SLR Lounge premium membership includes the exercise file(s) pertaining each particular tutorial in the Cloud Pack, it does NOT include full download to the Cloud Pack. This addon can be purchased in our store here.
STEP 1 | DECIDE BETWEEN MASKING AND “BLEND IF”
This tutorial will be great practice for using the “Blend If” technique we just learned in the previous tutorial. The sample image, a portrait of a couple with balloons, has a perfect light blue sky that ought to be very easy to mask, however, there are trees in the image which would make simple brushing or selection techniques very difficult.
STEP 2 | OPEN IMAGES IN PHOTOSHOP
Open (import) the sample images into Lightroom, if you haven’t already, and locate the original NEF file of this engagement portrait as well as the 059.JPG file from the Cloud Pack. Next, open these two images as layers in Photoshop by right-clicking on one of the two images in Lightroom and selecting “Edit In > Open As Layers In Photoshop”.
STEP 3 | USE “BLEND IF”
Access the cloud layer’s Blending Options by right-clicking on the layer, or clicking the little FX icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Next in the “Blend If” section, drag the black end tab of the Underlying Layer slider up to start an approximate blend. Release, and then hold down ALT / Option and drag the slider again to split it in two for a feathered transition. Zoom in for closer inspection to various areas of the image, but mainly the tree leaves.
STEP 4 | FINE TUNE BLEND
Fine-tune the two halves of the slider until the cloud layer looks like it is naturally blended, at least with regard to the outer edges of the tree leaves. Even if some of the highlights (the “shine” on the leaves) still show the clouds, this can be fixed with surprising ease using a layer mask.
Normally the adjustments in the “Blend If: Gray” option of the Layer Style panel will be able to give you the desired result. However, note that you can adjust the Blend If options for RGB colors separately if necessary. In this case, since we are trying to hide the blue sky of the underlying layer, clicking on Blend If: Blue: and dragging up on the black tab of the Underlying Layer slider may help hide the blue sky while leaving the green trees visible.
Focus more on avoiding halos at the very edges of the trees only. Even if inner areas are not perfect, they are easier to mask with a Layer Mask and a brush.
STEP 5 | CREATE LAYER MASK & USE BRUSH TOOL
Once there are no hard edges on the tree areas, and the cloud layer is mostly blended, create a layer mask for the cloud layer and use your Brush tool with a Hardness of 0-50% and a Flow of 25-75% to hide anything that doesn’t look right.
STEP 6 | CLEAN UP CLOUD LAYER
Sometimes when focusing on getting the Blend If process perfect for one area, (like trees) it can cause another area to actually mask / hide too much of the clouds other areas. This sometimes occurs in the top corners of an image, especially if there is heavy, un-corrected vignetting from your lens.
The quickest way to correct this is to brush these problem areas back in manually. First, duplicate the cloud layer by hitting CMD/CTRL-J. This will create a copy of the cloud layer, including its mask and Blend If settings. The Blend If settings are what created the problem in the first place, so be sure to reset them. To do this, right-click on the second cloud layer, click on Blending Options, and then drag the black tab of the Underlying Layer slider back to the left.
Next, create a new mask for this un-blended layer, and invert it to black by selecting the mask and hitting CMD/CTRL-I. Now, you can use a white brush to reveal the second cloud layer, just in the top corners, and create a perfectly blended image.
Once the image is finished, consider a final boost in contrast or exposure to the PSD or TIF in Lightroom.