Using Channels to Create Masks!

by Jeff McLain

One of the most powerful uses of Adobe Photoshop is the ability to composite multiple images into one. This is something that you aren't able to do in Lightroom and it allows photographers to have complete control over their images to a creative or practical end.

The process of compositing images can be done in a number of ways. One of these is to utilize channels to build a mask of the areas you want to hide, and those areas you want to reveal on an image. This is the method we'll look at today.

Masks are a black and white representation of the areas that will be visible and invisible in an image. The saying commonly goes "White is on, black is off," or "Black conceals, white reveals." Both sayings mean the same thing. On a given layer, the areas of the mask that are white will be visible, and the areas that are black will be hidden. Masking allows us to have complete control over a composite.

As I said before, there are many ways to composite images. While we can use Channels to get a good starting place, we can also use tools like the Select and Mask Utility to further refine the masks we use in our composites.

In the tutorial below, I show you how to use Channels to create a mask of the moon and move it into another image. Check it out!


Jeff McLain

Jeff McLain is a photographer, videographer, and digital retoucher. After his photography education, Jeff got his start as a freelance photo assistant in San Francisco working on editorial, catalog and advertising shoots. His skills in Photoshop and computing allowed him to help photographers bridge the gap between the film days and all-digital workflows, and he stood at the forefront of the advent of the career of the "Digital Technician."

Jeff soon moved into shooting, and then moved laterally to video capture. His background as a multi-instrumental musician has also benefited his understanding of sound design and audio capture, which can be a technically challenging aspect of film-making.

He worked for many years as a digital technician for Pier 1 Imports, Pottery Barn, Logitech, and Crate & Barrel. As a photographer, he has shot for Williams Sonoma, Mountain Living Magazine, Keen Shoes, Mountain Hardwear, Red Envelope, Robert Mondavi Wines, Mountain Living Magazine, and Cottage Journal Magazine... among others.

He has been a freelancer for over 18 years and takes a 'real-world' approach to his perspective of the photographic industry and the skills needed in today's market. Locally, he and his wife operate a videography business.

Jeff is a 2001 graduate of Hallmark Institute of Photography and holds a B.A. in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Montana. When not working on still or video projects, Jeff spends time with his wife, son, dog and cat in Missoula, Montana. He plays bluegrass dobro, banjo, guitar and harmonica to unwind.