One of the most important Photoshop skills to learn and master is masking. In this article, you ll learn how to use Adobe Camera Raw and layer blend modes to create composites that maintain the finest details, while saving you a lot of time and frustration.


Photographing on green or blue screen isn't very complicated and can speed up masking and background replacement a great deal. Complete backdrop and lighting kits are available from Westcott for as low as $270 (, or you can build a green-screen studio with bright green seamless paper and Rosco #389 colored gels over the background lights. Use the following tips when shooting on green screen for the best results. Professional custom writing can be ordered at

•The background should be evenly illuminated to create an even surface from which to "pull the key," the digital video artist term for making the mask.

•The lights that illuminate the background should be behind the subject.

•Keep the subject as reasonably far away from the backdrop as possible to reduce unwanted color spill.

•Light your subject with a dedicated set of lights. You can light the subject as you normally would for any photo shoot.


To pull the mask, you can use dedicated third-party plug-ins such as Primatte Chromakeyer ( or Nova Design Cinematte (, or try the following technique in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) that pulls all the color out of the green quickly and easily.

step One: Open the file in ACR and process the image as you normally would —adjusting exposure, contrast, sharpening, lens correction, etc.

step TWO: Before exiting ACR, click on the HSL/Grayscale panel and select the Saturation tab. Using the Target Adjustment tool (T), click on a green area and drag to the left to thoroughly desaturate the green background, which changes the green into a neutral gray background.

Photographing on the green backdrop has the added advantage over shooting on a gray backdrop in that it s very simple to adjust the luminosity of the green to lighten or darken the background to match the composite.


Once the green backdrop is gray, use the Overlay blend mode technique as explained here to replace the drab gray with a new background from your image library.

step One: In Photoshop, drag the desired backdrop onto the prepared green-screen image.

step Two: On the new backdrop layer, change the layer blend mode to Overlay or for a more dramatic effect use Hard Light.

step Three: Drop down to the subject layer (in this example, the young woman behind the curtain) and use the Quick Selection tool (W) to select her. Don't worry about the hair or fine details; the layer blend mode is doing the heavy lifting for us.

step Four: Activate the new background image layer (in this example, the frozen lake) and click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, which will hide the new background image around the selected subject.

step Five: To fine-tune the transition from young woman to new backdrop, use the Brush tool (B) set to white and 50% Hardness on the layer mask to reveal more background or a black brush to reveal the young woman and to refine the transitions.

As you can see here, all of the fine detail in the lace curtain has been maintained, and in all honesty, it probably took you longer to read to this point than it would to create a great composite when starting with a green-screen photograph.

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