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The Magic of Masking in Photoshop

Just as the coronavirus shutdown began, I was asked to capture exteriors at a location in Lincoln Park, a northern neighborhood of Chicago.  Ive worked with this client for over seven years and have become familiar with their needs of my photographs.  As usual, I would try my best to make the area around the location appear as busy as possible.  Normally, I would visit the location at the busiest time of the week and day. 

This time was different.  Although the location sat adjacent to DePaul University in a busy section of Lincoln Park, my concerns over the recent shutdowns of schools, and businesses would be realized. 

Upon my arrival, there were no students, a few scattered pedestrians, no patrons visiting the (now closed) surrounding restaurants, and just an occasional vehicle appearing on the streets that cross at that location.  I could have wished and waited for a later time, hoping for more traffic and pedestrians but I knew the shutdown of businesses and public gatherings was already diminishing any hope of larger crowds.

I decided the only way I could achieve my goal of showing activity around the clients location was to assemble a collection of photos over time, each with a few cars and people into a composite image incorporating the people and cars captured through those individual photos.  The first eight images are a sampling of the individual photo taken over a period of one hour.  The last is the composite photo after blending the other eight images.

Composite of above images
Combining images through Masking in Photoshop

Composite of above images.


Masking is a great tool that I usually employ to blend the correct exposures of lights and darks with interior and sometimes exterior photography.  Several exposures of a view are captured, usually in one stop increments over and under the correct exposure, always ensuring I have captured an exposure that will render lights and shadowed areas data.  In other words, capturing data that will not be blown-out without data or no data due to blacks in the shadowed area of the room.  After selecting a middle exposure for my master image, I will add both over and under exposures of the same view as layers to my master image.  With the master image on top in the layers pallet, I will create a mask on that layer.  With mask selected on the master layer, I can use the brush tool to paint black onto areas of the master image.  The black brush removes the top layer to allow the next lower layers data to appear.  In effect, Ive created a stencil of the master layer and allowed the proper exposures for lights, etc, or data within the darker areas to be seen through the top layer.  

The three images shown below represent three exposures made in pursuit of a correctly exposed final image.  The first image shows the correct exposure for the lights and the outside of window but there is not enough detail in a darker areas.  The second image served as the master image because the overall exposure is closest to the overall exposure desired.  Creating a mask on the master layer allowed me to use the black color to paint a hole in the master layer and allow the underlying exposure of the lights to show.  The layers were later flattened into one layer which became the composited image.

Masking in Photoshop
Composited image after masking in correct exposures