I use photoshop cs5 and I want to know how to do a mask layer (i think thats what i want)? i want to edit the foreground separate to the background and I can''t figure out the easiest way to separate the two any help? or point me to a good/easy tutorial?

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    Although it is closed, this is one of the most popular on the site in terms of views. We should delete it, migrate it, or improve it and reopen. I'm kind of leaning towards delete, because the actual question (separating the background from the foreground) isn't the same as "how do I use layer masks". – Please Read My Profile Sep 16 '11 at 12:22

I think what you're looking for is called "layer mask", which is basically a separately-editable layer, that sets transparency of layer it's connected to.

Googling the term found (a bit older) tutorial at http://photoshoptips.net/2006/07/25/layer-masks/ which seems to cover the thing you've wanted. In short, you:

  1. choose foreground layer
  2. add layer mask to it
  3. draw to the mask. the foreground will be visible in points where the mask is white, a invisible in points where the mask is black.
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If you have CS5, you have a lot of options. There are some pretty advanced new features with Photoshop CS5 and Extended, including Puppet Warp, edge refinement, etc.

If you need simple object isolation, you can use layer masking or the quick selection tool to create a mask that generally outlines your object. The Refine Edge tool, which has been around for a while, but got a big boost in CS5, can help you refine the boundary of your selection, making it more accurate and properly soft and feathered where appropriate. Once you have a general selection around your object, the refine edge tool basically lets you paint along the edge, and photoshop figures out how to separate your object from the background for you. Once you have refined any complex edges, choose OK and you have a nearly perfect soft selection for your object.

A tutorial on edge refinement can be found here:

If you need more than the ability to just isolate a single object in a photo, and actually need to move it around or change its shape, the new Puppet Warp tool is amazing. Using puppet warp, you can set control points on a selection, and move it or change its shape in a non-destructive way. Photoshop uses its new Content Aware fill feature to maintain any "cutout" areas "behind" the selection you are warping. A pretty intriguing tool, which probably has some endless uses. I can't say I've needed it myself yet in my work, however I have messed with it a bit. Its a pretty fun tool.

A turorial on puppet warp can be found here:

Finally, there is Content Aware Fill. This one is easy to use, and can be a life saver. If you need to isolate an object for the purpose of removing it from a photograph, the content aware fill makes that ridiculously easy. You don't need to be super precise, and actually some imprecision is useful here. Just make a rough selection around the object you wish to remove, hit delete, and select content-aware fill in the pop-up that appears. Photoshop will analyze your scene, and fill in the hole with generated content that nearly perfectly fits the scene around it. For small removals, or things with complex content, this works beautifully. For larger removals, or removals that have fairly obvious content around them, you may need to spend some additional time making the correct selections. Additionally, it is sometimes useful to remove an object in pieces to get Photoshop to generate the proper fill content. Content Aware Fill is probably my most used Photoshop feature now, as there is almost always something undesirable intruding into my photographs. (That may be something I should work on in-camera, but CAF is so simple and fast, its hard to try and avoid using it. ;))

Tutorial on Content Aware Fill:

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I have little experience with full fat Photoshop, but this video tutorial looks easy enough to follow.

Video tutorial

Hope this helps.

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    Hi John, and welcome. I hope you enjoy your time here. :) One of the goals with stackeexchange sits is to provide concrete information that is hosted here. While we don't have any problem linking other sites, we do ask that any key, relevant information be quoted here, in case the linked site goes offline or permanently disappears. In the case of a video, any key steps or words from the narrator should be quoted. Thanks! :) – jrista Oct 28 '10 at 22:22