How To Combine Two Layer Masks in Photoshop

Sometimes we’re faced with making a selection in our images that can’t be made accurately. In this tutorial I demonstrate how to combine two layer masks to in Photoshop, create complex selections and perfect masks.

This tutorial uses a previous version of our luminosity panel, the techniques are still relevant with our current panel.

In this tutorial I tackle a problem I encountered while trying to make a selection of the mountain. I wanted to create contrast in the rock on the mountain without affecting any other part of the image. Luminosity masks do a great job of selecting the rock, but the selections bleeds into its surrounds to much. Using the Color Range tool I can also make a great selection of the mountain. The problem with this selection its hard edges look terrible in the snow. So, both tools offer some value, but neither is sufficient for making clean adjustments. Therefore, to make the best selection possible, I need combine two layer masks in photoshop. See the details below about how the selections are made and combining them to create complex selections.

Luminosity Mask to Create Complex Selections

Creating Selections

Restricted 3 Luminosity Selection: The range of tones in the mountain rock is narrow, so I chose a restricted luminosity mask for my selection. This gave me the best starting point for selecting the rocks. It also selected a lot of other areas in the image, and they couldn’t easily be restricted. This meant that this selection on its own was not going to allow me to adjust the rock in isolation.

Color Range Selection: Using the color range selection tool, I was able to make a strong solid selection of the rock. It did select other areas of the image, but nothing that would cause issues. I would simply paint out these areas later. Although the Color Range selection was very accurate, its edges were hard, and bled into the snow. When I tried to add contrast, the effect in the snow was terrible, and washed out contrast.

Combine Layer Masks to Better Selections

Combine Two Layer Masks in Photoshop to Create Complex Selections

What I required was a combination of the two masks. This would give me the best of both selections and a perfect mask for my contrast adjustment. Built into the layers in Photoshop is the ability to combine masks. You can add two masks, subtract one from another, or intersect two masks. In this case we want to intersect the two masks. By combining these two masks I end up with the best of both worlds. I have a mask with a strong isolated selection from the Color Range tool. And, I have a smooth feathered mask from the restricted luminosity masks selection.

The process of combining the masks is very straight forward. Load up either one of the masks as a selection, by holding CMD (CTRL) and left clicking on the mask. With the loaded selection, right click on the second mask, and the menu shown in the image appears. Chose the option to Intersect Mask With Selection to combine the two masks into one. With your combined selection, create an adjustment layer with your perfect mask.