Photoshop Q&A

by | 2 years ago

Q: I applied a Gaussian blur to a layer mask to give it a soft edge, but now I can’t edit it further. Can I make it a Smart Filter to be able to keep editing it?

A: Unfortunately you cannot convert a layer mask into a smart object to be able to use Smart Filters. (I so wish we could!). In order to be able to come back and change the softness of the mask at any time, instead of using a filter such as Gaussian Blur, apply the Feather setting in the Properties panel (Window>Properties).

With the layer mask active, go to the Properties panel and drag the Feather slider to get the desired result. You’ll notice that there’s no OK button, so in effect, the Feather amount stays in constant preview. This means that you can return at any time and change the Feather setting.

Q: When I try to use the Magnetic Lasso tool, it often “jumps” and selects areas that I don’t want. Is there a way to control how it operates?

A: The settings in the Options Bar have an influence on how the tool operates, so let’s look at those first. Set the Width and the Magnetic Lasso tool will detect edges only within the specified distance from the pointer. Set the Contrast between 1–100%: a higher value detects only edges that contrast sharply with their surroundings; a lower value detects lower-contrast edges. Frequency determines the rate at which the fastening points are added: a higher value anchors the selection border in place more quickly.

In addition to these settings, if the Lasso starts selecting areas that you don’t want, press the Delete key to remove the unwanted points (in effect, backtracking to where you were) and then start dragging again. If the border doesn’t snap to the desired edge, you can click once to force a fastening point.

Q: What’s the simplest way to copy a layer mask from one layer to another in the same document?

A: Hold down the Option (PC: Alt) key and drag the existing layer mask to another layer. If that layer already has a mask, you’ll see a dialog asking: “Replace Layer Mask?”

Q: I recorded an action that contains a filter. Now I want to run the action on some other images, but need to change the filter’s settings. How do I do that?

A: You have two options. You could turn on the “toggle dialog” option for the filter step in the action. In the Actions panel, click to the left of the filter step, and now every time you run the action it will pause at that step, allowing you to enter new settings.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work very well if you’re trying to run a batch action on a number of images, so the second option is to change the recorded settings of the filter. To do this, just double-click on the filter step and it will open the filter so you can enter new settings. Two important things to note: (1) when you record new filter settings, it will run the actual filter, so you may have to undo the filter after you’ve recorded the new settings, and (2) these new settings override the previous ones and become the new default settings from then on. If you need to keep a version of the action with the original settings, you should duplicate the action first before recording new settings.

Q: I’ve created a layer with a lens flare type of overlay. What’s the best way to save this so I can use it on other photos?

A: There are several ways from which you can determine the one you like the best. You can drag the layer into a Library, and then drag it from the Library into other documents. I think this is the simplest and quickest method.

Or, you can duplicate the layer, drag it into a new document, and save the file. Then, open that file and drag the layer into a different document, or use File>Place Linked. This option requires a good file-management system to keep track of where you saved it.

You could also record an action that recreates the steps involved with making the overlay layer. This is a good option but, depending on the complexity of the steps in the action, it could take a while to complete.

Q: In the Layers panel, the first lock checkbox is called Lock Transparent Pixels. How do I know when to turn that on or leave it off?

A: The purpose of this lock is to make the transparent areas of a layer unavailable, so you’d only use it when there were already pixels on the layer. (If the layer is blank and Lock Transparent Pixels is on, you’d be unable to add anything to that layer.) Assuming you have pixels on the layer, deciding when to turn this lock on or off depends on what you do next. If you want to change the color of every pixel on the layer, turn on the lock, and when you use the Fill command, only the solid pixels will change color.

If you want to run the Motion Blur filter on that layer, the Lock Transparent Pixels function would interfere with the filter operation, since the filter needs to be able to push pixels into the transparent areas.

So, the bottom line is to think about whether or not you need to “protect” the transparent areas, and that will tell you whether to lock them or not.