Learn how to make an image its own mask using Apply Image in Photoshop.
Here we use an image of a cast iron grill and apply it to itself to show another image through it.

Hello I’m Helen Bradley. Welcome to this video tutorial. In this tutorial we’re going to look at using an image as its own mask in Photoshop. And we’re going to do this using the Apply Image tool.

Before we get started with this tutorial let’s have a look and see what it is that we’re trying to achieve. I have an image here that’s just some oranges and then I have another image here of a grate. And what I want to do is to put the grate over the oranges just as I’ve done here. And I’ve actually got a drop shadow behind it to give it some dimension. And what we’re going to do in this tutorial is see how we can use an image and use itself as its own mask to mask that image and how we can also adjust the mask so that we get this effect that we’re looking for and adding a drop shadow to it. So if you’re ready let’s just get rid of the bits that we don’t want. I’ve now got my orange image and let’s get started.

The first thing I’m going to do is bring in my grill image. So I’ve got these images just floating loose because I find that the easiest way of doing it. And I’m just going to drag this image’s background layer away from it, hold the Shift key and just drop it over the top of this image. Now of course it hasn’t disappeared from its original image. I’ve just dragged a copy away. And I don’t need that any longer so I can just get rid of it. With this image it’s a little bit on the small side, so I’m going to press Ctrl T and Ctrl 0 (zero) to see my handles and to set transform on. I’m also going to enabled this lock so that the ratio between the height and width is fixed. This means that the image is not going to be skewed out of proportion. And now I’m just going to drag it into position and I can place it anywhere I want. So I think this is a pretty good arrangement so I’ll click the checkmark here.

Now right now we’re not seeing through this image because of course it brought its own background with it and it’s got a sort of dark background with some light aspects. We’re going to need to do some work to fix this image up. And in actual fact the work that we’re going to do is in masking so I’m just going to drag this up a little bit. What I want to do is I really want to turn this image into its own mask.

So once I’ve got it in position it’s fairly critical that I actually get it in the right position before I start because I want the mask and the layer to be in the same place. I’m going to add a layer mask to this layer by just clicking the Add Layer Mask icon. But what I want to do is put this image in this mask. And an easy way to do that is to click the mask itself and use Apply Image. It’s up here, Image, Apply Image. And what it lets us do is to apply an image as a mask. So for example layer zero is the oranges themselves so that in this case we would be applying the oranges as a mask. But we can also select layer 1 which is applying this particular grill as its own mask. Now it’s not looking good right now but it is certainly masking it. I could invert it if I wanted to but that’s only going to give me the orange images over the grill work not where I want it. I want it in the bits in between the grill work so I’m going to disabled invert because I don’t want it inverted. If I’ve got that right I’m just going to click Ok.

Now the problem with this mask is that this particular image is not black and white. It’s not. Let’s just turn everything off here. You can see that this is actually really quite gray. And for the mask to really be doing its work it needs to be almost black and white. So I need to boost the contrast up on the mask alone. So I’m going to click the mask to target it so any changes I’m making now are to that mask alone. And I’m going to choose Image Adjustments and Curves because curves will allow me to adjust the mask and have a look here on the mask itself as I work. What I’m doing here is I’m increasing the whiteness of the mask and then I’m increasing the black areas. The whiter and lightest areas are going to ensure that we can see the grill in these places. And the black the darker black areas are going to cope with the areas that we’re seeing through. So I need a fairly sharp change from black to white and I also need to make sure that my sharp change from black to white copes with the fact that there’s a sort of darker gray bar behind the image. And I want to make sure that that dark gray bar goes to the right color. It needs to go to black and not to white. And what I’m looking for here is to make sure that I can really see the image through this grill, and when I’ve got it I’ll click Ok.

Now if I wanted to I can lighten my grill. That’s fine. I need to make sure that my mask is black and white so that the image behind is being shown through and then if I want to change the actual grill itself well then I can add an image adjustment to that. But the two are very different adjustments. One is adjusting the grill color itself and the other is changing it as it appears as a mask over that original grill image. So if I want to make that a bit more light I can do so just to add that extra contrast. And now to add a drop shadow to push the orange image behind that grill I’m just going to click on the grill layer and choose Drop Shadow. And here’s the default drop shadow. Well that’s what you would see as a default drop shadow. And I can add as much or as little drop shadow as I want to push that behind and gave us the sense that there is a dimension or a distance between the grill and the actual orange image itself. And we can make that deeper or less deep as we want to and then click Ok.

So here we’ve used an original image of some oranges. We’ve added an image of a grill and we want to see through the holes in the grill to the image of the oranges behind. And we’ve done that using the image as its own mask so it’s showing us where we want to see through. We’ve added a lot of contrast to this so this mask is almost pure black and white. The image itself can be anything. We just gave it a little bit more of a pop by making it a little bit brighter but it could be anything. And we’ve finished with a drop shadow to add some dimension to the entire scene.

I’m Helen Bradley. Thank you for joining me for that this tutorial. Look out for more tutorials on projectwoman.com and on this YouTube channel. And please if you liked the video click to like it and consider subscribing to this YouTube channel.

Helen Bradley