Mask It Like a Pro: The Complete Guide to Layer Masking in Photoshop

Photographer and teacher Klaus Herrmann published the video tutorial Mask It Like a Pro: The Complete Guide to Layer Masking in Photoshop.

In this six-hour training you will learn how to create simple and complex selections in Adobe Photoshop, and how to further post-process your images using layers and layer masks. The highlight of this course aims at the creation of accurate selections and the different techniques that exist within Photoshop.

This tutorial contains several exercise files (jpeg and psd), and a Photoshop Action Script.

Table of contents

– Lesson 1: Introduction
– Lesson 2: The Basics of Layers and Masks
– Lesson 3: The Basics of Selections
– Lesson 4: Boundary Selection Tools
– Lesson 5: Area Selection Tools
– Lesson 6: Advanced Selection Techniques
– Lesson 7: Introduction to Paths
– Lesson 8: The Pen Tool
– Lesson 9: Making Selections with the Pen Tool
– Lesson 10: Introduction to Luminosity Masks
– Lesson 11: Using Channels to Select Objects
– Lesson 12: Simple Luminosity Masking
– Lesson 13: Masking Tonal Ranges
– Lesson 14: Luminosity Slicing
– Lesson 15: Working with Masks
– Lesson 16: Combining Masks
– Lesson 17: Vector Masks
– Lesson 18: Masking Tools (Topaz ReMask)
– Lesson 19: Basic Freehand Masking
– Lesson 20: Advanced Freehand Masking
– Lesson 21: Summary and Conclusions

Layer Masking in Photoshop


From an educational point of view, the quality of this training is excellent. The structure of the course is very well organized and logical. Each chapter has a general introduction and an overview of the topics that are discussed in that chapter. Klaus Herrmann demonstrates the different techniques using the downloadable exercise files you can find with each chapter.

The first chapter starts with a general introduction and an explanation of layers. The second chapter contains a detailed explanation of some basic selection methods such as the Lasso Tool, Marquee Tool, Magic Wand Tool and Color Range Tool. Klaus will also explain how you can combine these methods.

From chapter three on, the level begins to skyrocket. Using the Pen Tool, you learn how to create very accurate selections. This method is more advanced and is hardly discussed during a basic Photoshop tutorial. I don’t use the Pen Tool myself, although I know this tool from the Illustrator lessons I attended two years ago. In this chapter, you learn how operate the Pen Tool and which options are possible. Using one of the exercise files, Klaus shows why the Pen Tool is more suitable in this particular case than the methods explained in chapter two.

Chapter four changes up once more and focuses on Luminosity Masks: selections based on the brightness of the pixels, not on an object as in the previous chapters.

This method offers several possibilities:
– Selections using the RGB channels, whether or not by combining multiple images with different exposures to obtain an HDR;
– Splitting up Highlights, Midtones and Blacks through a manual method and using a Photoshop Action;
– Finally, we go one step further by dividing Highlights, Midtones and Blacks using an automated Photoshop Script (Luminosity Slicer) which allows very precise controls.

Next, you can add an Adjustment Layer on one or more of these split up layers.

The lecturer explains which method is appropriate for each situation.

Layer Masking in Photoshop

In chapter five, Klaus Herrmann talks extensively about layers and layer masks, which options are available, how layers or individual parts of it can add or subtract from each other, etcetera. In addition, he talks about Vector Masks, which consist of Paths, and not of pixels as in the methods described so far. Vector Masks are probably less known to most photographers and will therefore not be used as commonly.

He spends a half hour on Topaz Re-Mask, a powerful plug-in for Photoshop which lets you create selections as well. Now and then, they are preferable to the tools of Photoshop simply because they achieve the desired result with fewer steps. It is also possible that you apply this plugin because the selection is just too difficult to create using only Photoshop. Using a picture of the inside of a cathedral, Klaus illustrates the power of this plugin.

To conclude, he discusses “freehand masking” for 70 minutes, a technique that you can apply if all other methods fail. Using this method, you operate the Brush Tool to create manual selections. First, you become familiar with some basic skills, and then gradually you learn how to handle more complex techniques. Again, the instructor uses a picture of a painting on the inside of a cathedral’s dome. Using a programmed Wacom tablet and the Brush Tool, he paints a detailed – and also time consuming – selection.

Layer Masking in Photoshop

Technical details

Unlike most tutorials I have bought recently or in the past, this course uses PCS Video, a proprietary platform that you install and launch from your computer. During this training, everything happens offline.

Once the purchase is completed, the installation files are ready for download. The total package consists of six files and takes 1,8 gigabytes. PCS Video is compatible with both Windows and Mac. It is designed as a web application you can access from an internet browser. Not just any browser, it only works in Google Chrome. The program also requires Java Runtime Environment (JRE). If this is not the case, the installation won’t be able to execute. Normally, this tool should already be present on most computers. Software installations are prone to errors. The FAQ on their website confirms that suspicion.

I didn’t encounter any problems. Everything worked smooth from the beginning, which doesn’t necessarily mean that this procedure can’t be simplified.

Layer Masking in Photoshop

PCS Video

PCS Video is simply required to access the interactive user interface in which the user can easily navigate to other topics within the same chapter or other chapters of this training. You can also mark chapters as a favorite so you can quickly find them later on. The collapsible bar on the left side of the screen gives you the ability to send suggestions or to ask a question.

During the lessons, a large paperclip will appear at the bottom which means that you can download one or more exercise files for that particular lesson.

The screenshots below show the interface in both normal and full screen mode. You no longer have access to most menus in full screen. As you also notice using full screen, the information bar still appears at the bottom, and on the right two camera views are still visible. When viewing this training on a 13″ or 15″ laptop, you won’t have the same experience as on a 24″ or 27″ desktop monitor. While in full screen, the camera view showing the teacher remains active. He regularly looks into the camera, which makes it more personal, but for my part, those two camera views didn’t need to be shown.

Layer Masking in Photoshop

Layer Masking in Photoshop


These days, most photographers make their videos accessible through a password protected Vimeo account. Klaus Herrmann doesn’t and chooses a proprietary platform that is both practical and convenient. The installation procedure is probably the only downside to an otherwise excellent training.

The techniques explained in this course are certainly very interesting for landscape and architectural photographers.

It doesn’t happen very often anymore that I’m hooked to the screen from the beginning till the end. This video training took care of that. Thanks to the useful exercise files, you can convert the acquired knowledge into practice.

Mask It Like a Pro: The Complete Guide to Layer Masking in Photoshop is available at the Farbspiel Photography’s webshop and costs $84,64 (€77).

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