Photoshop – Blend Mode Masking

Introduction to Bend Mode Masking

In my previous article, I posted how to mask using one of the most time-consuming but reliable methods of performing subject isolation for inclusion in another background: Masking with the Pen Tool. In this article, I am going to cover Blend Mode Masking. This method is one of the easiest ways to isolate a subject from its background and blend into a new background.

Blend Mode Masking works really well where your subject has been photographed on a flat grey background, but it can also work with a more complex background, like the one (article featured image) I have selected for this article. Again though, when compositing you need several tools in your tool-kit, and this one is really effective with the right image. Of course, if this method does not work, you can always use some of the other methods in the tool-kit. All of which I will cover in other articles.

In writing this article, my assumption is that you know your way around Photoshop. I will describe each step we go through, but not cover the basic mechanics of the Photoshop software.

Layers & Blend Modes

To start with, launch Photoshop, open up the image you want to mask and duplicate the layer twice. We will edit the two new layers, leaving the background (original image) layer alone. The two new layers should sit above the background layer.

Now pull in the new background layer that you want to transpose the selection into. This layer should sit 2nd in the stack of layers.

Set one foreground layer to invisible, and then set the blend mode of the 2nd foreground layer to Hard Light. This will ignore the grey background on the foreground image, and allow the new background to show. Obviously though, the background also shows through on the subject, we will take care of that in a minute with a mask. Also, you will notice that the colour saturation levels on the subject have changed, and you will have e.g. a yellow tinge to the skin. So, lets firstly take care of this by de-saturating the offending colours (see figure 1).

Blend Mode Masking - Layers
Figure 1: Blended Layers

Colour Saturation

Click on the Adjustment tab in the Right Hand Panel, and add a new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. By default, you get a “Master” panel setting, but we want to select the individual offending colours. So remember, these will be different depending on your image, but I went ahead and desaturated the yellows, reds, and also a little blue (see figure 2).

Blend Mode Masking - Saturation
Figure 2: Colour Saturation

Subject Masking

Our next step is to take care of the areas where the background is showing through the subject. Now, what we want to focus on is the main areas of the subject, because if you look closely at the fringes around the hairline, these will already look pretty good. So essentially what we have done using this technique is to make our masking job really easy, as we don’t need to go near the foreground edges. Which means it’s going to be much easier for us to keep all the details in the edges of the foreground where there are fine hairs.

From the Layers panel, select the top layer, and create an inverted (Black) mask (see figure 3). Then using a soft edge brush, paint onto the mask in white.

Blend Mode Masking - Masked Subject
Figure 3: Layer with masked subject

I tend to focus on the easy parts first and then zoom into the image for the edges around the subject. There’s no need though to go around the fine hairs, as it will create a halo effect and make it obvious to the viewer that they are looking at a composite image. In my example, the masked image now looks pretty good (figure 4). There are still a couple of things we need to take care of and will take our blend mode masking to the next level.

Masked Image
Figure 4: Masked Image.

Image Consolidation

I tend to then apply an effect to the whole image, as it tends to consolidate everything together in terms of any differences between your two images, e.g. lighting, colour balance. I also tend to do this through a plug-in like Luminar, Lightroom, Nik. But you can obviously use your own favourite plug-in software.

First I merge all the layers down into a single layer, by clicking “Layer” from the top menu, and then select “Merge Layers”. From here select “Filter” from the top menu, then click on your favourite plugin and apply an effect.

Blend Mode Masking - Final Image
Figure 5: Final image

I hope you found this article on blend mode masking useful.

If you don’t have a copy of Adobe Photoshop, you can get some great deals on Photoshop as well as the other Apps with Adobe Creative Cloud from our Affiliate Adobe.

Here are some articles which may interest you:

Learn Photography - Photoshop Masks
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Learn Photography - Eliminate Color Banding
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