Photoshop - Inverting your Layer Masks - Digital Photography School
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Photoshop – Inverting your Layer Masks

You may know layer masks as those awesome functions that allow you to mask out parts of your layer. For example, if you want to add texture layers and you don’t want them affecting the face or if you run an action which results in layers you can tweak.

If you want the layer to only affect a small portion of your photo, you have to erase/mask out everything except that little area. In reality, this only takes a second but that’s a long time in the editing world where everything is created to make your job super fast and easy. So instead of wasting a whole second, I just click the layer mask and hit Ctrl+i for ‘invert’. This turns your layer inside out so instead of spending time masking bits out, you can now use a black or white brush to mask portions in.

Two ways I use this often:

  • I like to use MCP Actions‘ Skin Cast blast to turn on layers like ‘bye bye Shrek’ to remove a yucky green colour cast or ‘bye bye lobster’ for red. But when you turn on those layers, it removes green or red from your entire photo. I just quickly invert my layer and then paint the colour correction over the face instead of masking out the whole layer, leaving only the face.
  • A second way is I like to use texture layers to add depth and pop to the iris of eyes. So I invert and layer and paint the texture into the eyes with a soft little brush.

Want to actually see this in action? Watch below and have fun!

Read more from our Post Production category.

Elizabeth Halford is a Hampshire Photographer and keeps a rockin'photography blog where she writes about photography and business in "real.plain.english". She's addicted to Facebook and can be found answering photography and business questions every day here on her page

  • http://www.wendymayophotographer.com Wendy Mayo

    Thanks Elizabeth! I never thought about using texture of the eyes before! Hmmm… learn something new everyday! BTW, I love MCP too!

  • http://www.philbphoto.com Phil

    I use the lassoo tool to select eyes, copy and paste creates a new layer of just the selection. Then add the overlay – done. No masking. As always there are 101 ways to do everything.

    you can make a selection (with the lassoo or other methods) and click the layer mask button. Or hold ALT while you click the layer mask button to create the inverted version.

    Interestingly, if you create a layer mask from a selection, you can always go to the refine selections options at any time and it will apply the changes to the mask (like feathering or smoothing etc…)

    While working in the layer mask the color pickers automatically switch to black and white, and you can use the shortcut “x” to switch them back and forth quickly while you work.

    I started using a tablet a little while back and for detail work it makes a huge difference and I highly recommend it.

  • Lars

    wow invert a layer mask… who could have thought something like that is possible….

  • Lars

    ps: that´s irony…..

  • http://elizabethhalford.com Elizabeth Halford

    @Lars: Beginners

  • Jan

    I’m guessing Lars has never had to learn a thing in his life?
    Well, somebody has to be the jerk in the crowd ;)

  • Laura

    is it so wrong to be a beginner? thank you for the tip….for us beginners anyway.

  • http://ricardogalvao.tumblr.com/ ricardo galvão

    How she complicated..
    just pressing ALT / OPT and add a layer mask
    it will be black

    one step minus..
    easily

    ask who knows…

  • http://digital-photography-school.com/ Darren Rowse

    not everyone has the vast experience that you might Lars :-)

    this is a ‘school’ type site where we cater for people of all experience levels – particularly those starting out. If you’re a little beyond this tutorial perhaps you could put your knowledge to use by writing us one that shows us something more advanced?

  • Jack Salzke

    You’re doing this the hard way, if you really want to just paint back into you layer masks, when you’re about to add a layer mask you can hold down Alt on a PC, Option on a Mac, and your mask will be black, alternatively, you could add the layer mask, make sure your brush colours are default by pressing D, then holding down Alt on a PC or Option on a Mac and hitting backspace, which will also fill your mask with Black.

  • http://jimmartinphotoblog.blogspot.com Jim

    Nice, clear workshop!
    If you use Lightroom as your first step of post-processing, you can “pop” the eyes with the paintbrush tool. Simply push the clarity to about +70, the saturation to +25 and the brightness to +10 (play with these levels to suit your taste) and, in 100% view mode, paint the iris with the brush. Voilá!
    You can then take a new brush and lower the saturation to -40 and increase the brightness to +10 and clean up the whites of the eyes (and, with another brush, also the teeth).

  • TrentReznor

    Inverting layers really is basic Photoshop knowledge but using textures for enhancing eyes was new to me. Gonna try that some time.

  • Jamie

    Nice response Darren :)

  • Mike

    @ Lars: I am not sure what is ironic about yout post. Perhaps you meant sarcasm. The ironic part is you were trying to make the author look bad but instead you made yourself look bad. Good Job.

  • K

    Fantastic. Clear. Explicit. This was superbly helpful. You were GREAT. Thank you for sharing your gifts!

  • http://www.images.sharonbeth.com Sunbeams

    Elizabeth thanks for the tip, I will use it! Keep teaching you are good at it.

  • http://www.chriskenison.com Christopher Kenison

    Thanks Elizabeth! I knew how to invert the layer masks, but I’ve never used textures for eyes. Tried it out on a photograph I took of my brother – http://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherkenison/5285123514/in/photostream/

    Thanks again!

  • Dylan

    Thanks!

Some older comments

  • Christopher Kenison

    December 24, 2010 09:03 am

    Thanks Elizabeth! I knew how to invert the layer masks, but I've never used textures for eyes. Tried it out on a photograph I took of my brother - http://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherkenison/5285123514/in/photostream/

    Thanks again!

  • Sunbeams

    December 17, 2010 02:51 am

    Elizabeth thanks for the tip, I will use it! Keep teaching you are good at it.

  • K

    December 17, 2010 02:08 am

    Fantastic. Clear. Explicit. This was superbly helpful. You were GREAT. Thank you for sharing your gifts!

  • Mike

    December 16, 2010 02:56 am

    @ Lars: I am not sure what is ironic about yout post. Perhaps you meant sarcasm. The ironic part is you were trying to make the author look bad but instead you made yourself look bad. Good Job.

  • Jamie

    December 16, 2010 01:18 am

    Nice response Darren :)

  • TrentReznor

    December 16, 2010 01:04 am

    Inverting layers really is basic Photoshop knowledge but using textures for enhancing eyes was new to me. Gonna try that some time.

  • Jim

    December 16, 2010 12:17 am

    Nice, clear workshop!
    If you use Lightroom as your first step of post-processing, you can "pop" the eyes with the paintbrush tool. Simply push the clarity to about +70, the saturation to +25 and the brightness to +10 (play with these levels to suit your taste) and, in 100% view mode, paint the iris with the brush. Voilá!
    You can then take a new brush and lower the saturation to -40 and increase the brightness to +10 and clean up the whites of the eyes (and, with another brush, also the teeth).

  • Jack Salzke

    December 15, 2010 11:05 pm

    You're doing this the hard way, if you really want to just paint back into you layer masks, when you're about to add a layer mask you can hold down Alt on a PC, Option on a Mac, and your mask will be black, alternatively, you could add the layer mask, make sure your brush colours are default by pressing D, then holding down Alt on a PC or Option on a Mac and hitting backspace, which will also fill your mask with Black.

  • Darren Rowse

    December 15, 2010 09:07 am

    not everyone has the vast experience that you might Lars :-)

    this is a 'school' type site where we cater for people of all experience levels - particularly those starting out. If you're a little beyond this tutorial perhaps you could put your knowledge to use by writing us one that shows us something more advanced?

  • ricardo galvão

    December 15, 2010 08:52 am

    How she complicated..
    just pressing ALT / OPT and add a layer mask
    it will be black

    one step minus..
    easily

    ask who knows...

  • Laura

    December 15, 2010 08:16 am

    is it so wrong to be a beginner? thank you for the tip....for us beginners anyway.

  • Jan

    December 15, 2010 07:04 am

    I'm guessing Lars has never had to learn a thing in his life?
    Well, somebody has to be the jerk in the crowd ;)

  • Elizabeth Halford

    December 15, 2010 06:46 am

    @Lars: Beginners

  • Lars

    December 15, 2010 06:40 am

    ps: that´s irony.....

  • Lars

    December 15, 2010 06:39 am

    wow invert a layer mask... who could have thought something like that is possible....

  • Phil

    December 15, 2010 06:34 am

    I use the lassoo tool to select eyes, copy and paste creates a new layer of just the selection. Then add the overlay - done. No masking. As always there are 101 ways to do everything.

    you can make a selection (with the lassoo or other methods) and click the layer mask button. Or hold ALT while you click the layer mask button to create the inverted version.

    Interestingly, if you create a layer mask from a selection, you can always go to the refine selections options at any time and it will apply the changes to the mask (like feathering or smoothing etc...)

    While working in the layer mask the color pickers automatically switch to black and white, and you can use the shortcut "x" to switch them back and forth quickly while you work.

    I started using a tablet a little while back and for detail work it makes a huge difference and I highly recommend it.

  • Wendy Mayo

    December 15, 2010 05:31 am

    Thanks Elizabeth! I never thought about using texture of the eyes before! Hmmm... learn something new everyday! BTW, I love MCP too!

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