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How to Quickly Mask Windows and Skies in Photoshop

Published: 13/04/2011

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Doing quick Photoshop masks for sky replacement or window replacement on interior shots is a frequent need that real estate photographers have. I created this video a number of years ago but have had several situations recently that people wanted to mask interior windows.

The crux of creating such masks is that the mask edges are never clean and simple. Like the image in my demonstration video, the mask between the sky and the foreground can be complicated with lacy trees and branches. Same for interiors with plants and other complicated objects in front of the window. How do you create masks like this without spending hours in Photoshop?

As everything in Photoshop, here are many ways to do this but here I show you my favorite one since it is so fast and easy. It may look daunting at first but if you look carefully you'll see there are just three simple steps. The lacy trees along the skyline make this image harder than most. With this approach on many images that have mostly hard edges along the skyline you can just increase the contrast of the mask and quickly get a perfect mask. With this example you can't do that because of the delicateness of the trees along the skyline.

This technique is from Katrin Eismann's book, Photoshop Masking & Compositing, pages 225-227.

I'm still working on improving the quality of these screen capture videos. Phil Meadows and I are thinking about doing a whole series of post-processing videos. What subjects would you like to see in this area?

Larry Lohrman

6 comments on “How to Quickly Mask Windows and Skies in Photoshop”

  1. After you add the layer mask to the top layer, why don't you then immediately add a levels adjustment (image, adjustment, levels) and move the white (right-most triangle slider) to the left slightly, and then the black ( left-most triangle slider) to the right a little more. This will make the whites brighter and the blacks darker.

    If you need to fine tune it more then go and choose the brush tool and make sure that you have a hard edged brush and change the mode to (overlay) at 100% opacity. If you paint with white it will only make what is above 50% grey more white...... and if you paint with black it will make what is below 50% grey blacker. This is great for fine details like the tree branches.

    Ps. you can play around with the grey (middle triangle slider) while in the levels adjustment to move what is grey in the darker or lighter direction.

  2. My biggest challenge with windows (using exp. blending) is getting a decent view exposure *and* a white (non-gray) window sill/trim. I've been transitioning into a multiple flash workflow like Scott outlines in his e-book, and having great success with it. Goodbye gray trim!

  3. @Michael- I don't believe it will work with PSE 9 because I don't think PSE 9 has channels.

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