When I was learning Photoshop several years ago and I was reading, or at least buying, countless books on Photoshop, the concept of Masks was introduced or explained and, quite frankly, the concept of Masks eluded me on several fronts. Most importantly, I failed to understand how critically important Masks can be for fine-tuning an image in Photoshop, and how often and how versatile a Mask can be for doing all sorts of fine-tuning. Secondly, the concept and explanations for creating and using a Mask generally made me confused, and I never felt as if I understood the concept of Masks properly or used a Mask effectively. That was then .... this is now, and I now feel like I'm a master of Masks. Why?
I must credit my two main Photoshop instructors, Ellen Anon and Rick Holt, for clearing up the concept, for in our first year of doing Photoshop courses here at Hoot Hollow Rick or Ellen employed Masks frequently, and in those courses -- where I functioned more as a lab assistant than an instructor back then -- I finally understood what I'd been reading about for years. And it was easy, and it's gotten easier.
What can a Mask do? It can target an area for target-specific adjustments via an Adjustment Layer, it can fine-tune an area for focusing, it can selectively blur out an area, it can assist immeasureably in compositing images, and it is incredibly versatile and flexible in doing so. There are tricks to see a mask, to fine tune the edge, to have a Mask overlay to see where you're applying an effect, to make a Mask out of a selection or, even better, after fine-tuning a Mask making that Mask INTO a selection.
While the above paragraph provides some insight into the uses, it doesn't address the question - How difficult is this to do? And the answer is, it is easy, provided you are guided correctly. Although we spend a great deal of time on this concept, and the application of Masks in our Photoshop classes, I even do so in our Digital Complete Nature Photo Courses, where most students master the concept after just one afternoon.
How do you learn it? There are plenty of books that cover Masks, some entirely devoted to the subject, but I've observed that virtually ALL of our students, regardless of the course, have felt confusion and a sense of not fully utilizing a Mask (when they knew anything about it) before taking our courses. I'd say that the best way to learn Masks is to do one of our courses, and next year we'll be offering a host of Photoshop and Digital Nature Photo Courses that will make Masks a cherished part of your photography life!
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