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Photo Masking Tools You Need to Know

If you have ever attempted to manipulate a photograph, you have probably worked with photo masking. Erasing a cloud from the sky or using a clipping path to trade a white background for a green are excellent examples. Photoshop comes with several tools to help you accomplish this, like the magic eraser, magnetic lasso and magic wand.
These tools can be a great way for beginners to get a feel for creating clipping paths and overlaying images, but they will eventually notice how crude they are. The magic wand is great for making quick paths on high-resolution photos with solid backgrounds. But it will create jagged lines or ghosting in a more complex image. The magnetic lasso bears a similar fate when used on images since it cannot make smooth curves. The worst, however, is the magic eraser. For minor jobs it is fine, but this is a destructive tool and one mistake means you have to start all over.
Once you begin to understand this, it is time to move on to the more advanced photo masking tools. These take a lot more precision and time, but they produce amazing results. Any mistakes you make are also easier to correct without backpedalling too much.

Your number one photo masking tool is the pen. This tool is the older brother to the magnetic lasso. It operates in the same way, making you draw around the object to create the path. However, it has the added benefit of being able to create natural, smooth curves. The path created by the pen tool can also be altered as much as you need even after it is complete, unlike the lasso.

If you are ready to give up the eraser tool, it is time to learn more about layer masks. Layers play a very important part in altering entire or only small selections of your pictures. Open your layers panel and click the “Add Layer Mask” button. It will show up as a white box beside your picture. Now, just like you would use the eraser, go over the mask with a black paintbrush to cover the area that you want hidden. Apply the mask and you are finished. What makes this better than the eraser is that it does not touch the picture. If you don’t like the mask you can always remove it and edit it further with no harm done.

The final tool is actually more of a technique and it involves channels. If you have a very complex image with intricate borders, like hair, that needs cutting out, using channels is your best bet. First you need to find your channels panel. Go through your options and choose the channel that gives you the highest contrast and click the other two off. Drag this channel into the “New Channel” window for duplication. Your image should be a stark black and white. Find the burn tool in your control panel. Use it to erase grey highlights and other outstanding details. Return to your regular channel and the clipping path will be complete.

Learning advanced photo masking techniques is the only way to create high-quality manipulations. Don’t forget to save duplicates of the picture just in case and never stop experimenting.

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