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How to combine pictures in Photoshop with Layer Masks

How to combine images in Photoshop with Layer Masks, blend modes and brushes.

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Combining photos in Photoshop with Layer Masks

I’m going to show you how to combine different photos to make a creative piece of digital art in Photoshop. The piece we will create here is very simple for the sake of learning. All the principles you will learn, will transfer to almost all images.

This Tutorial is in Photoshop 2021, but this will work the same for all versions of Photoshop as these fundamental tools have been around for years.

You will learn how to:

  • Open images into Photoshop
  • Combine images in Photoshop
  • Use layer Layer Masks
  • Layer Blending Modes
  • Use masks for selections
  • Use a Brush on a layer mask
  • control opacity and pen pressure and more

Make sure you watch the short video above for extra tips and also to see how it all comes together.

Open images into Photoshop

To open images into photoshop, choose File open and select the images to open. You can select multiple images at once.

Click ok and the images will open into different tabs in Photoshop.

The butterfly is part of the free collection from Adobe Stock here. You can easily find a face there too.

how to open a photo in photoshop

Combining 2 different images in Photoshop into a single document

Combining images is actually easy, once you know how.

Choose the move tool (V key).

1. Put your cursor in the middle of the image and drag to the the tab of the image you want to copy it into. (Don’t let go of the mouse yet).

2. The tab will active the second image. Drag your cursor into the middle of the image.

Release and the images are now combined into a layered document. Tip: Hold the Shift key as you release, to put the new image in the center.

how to combine images in photoshop photoshopCAFE tutorial

Blending layers together in photoshop

Lets seamlessness blending the layers together.

Most people lower the opacity of the top layer to see whats happening underneath. Let me show you a much better way.

Chose the top layer

Click where it says normal in the Layers Panel.

change layer blending mode

Change the mode to Difference, by choosing it from the menu

stack layers in photoshop

Now in difference blending mode you can easily see the 2 layers positions relative to each other. Didn’t I tell you this was better than changing opacity?

difference blending mode

Press Cmd/Ctrl+T for free transform

Position the top layer and change its size by dragging on the corner handle of the transform box.

align layers

Change back to normal blending mode in the layers panel.

Let’s hide the top layer with a layer mask, so we can paint in just the areas we want to show.

Hold down Alt/Option and click on the layer mask.

layers in photoshop

This creates a black mask (inverted) and hides the contents of the layer.

iuse a layer mask

Painting on a layer mask

Choose the brush tool (B key).

Press the D key to set the foreground color to white. (White hides the mask and reveals the layer where we paint).

Make sure you use a soft round brush. Set the opacity and Flow to 100% and blend mode to normal (these are the defaults)

photoshop combining photos

Make sure the Layer mask is selected.

Paint on the image and you will see the mask will show the areas that you paint.

use layer mask to hide a layer

Continue painting to mix the the 2 layers together.

If you want to paint the face away and use the edge of the wings, we can make selections to make it easier.


painting a layer mask in photoshop

Blending the layers together smoothly

Right now, we have a pretty harsh transition between the woman’s face and the butterfly.

The key to a smooth blend is to use a low opacity and slowly build up the transitions.

With the Brush selected (B) lower the opacity to a lower amount. (When you are more experienced, try using flow, I have a tutorial here on Brush Flow vs Opacity in Photoshop.)

change brush opacity

If you are using a pressure sensitive tablet such as a Wacom or Microsoft surface, change pen pressure for opacity.

Click the brush options icon

brush options

Under Transfer>Opacity>Control choose Pen Pressure.

set pen pressure for opacity

When you press lighter, you will get less strength on the mask, like shading with a pencil.

If you are using a mouse or trackpad, just use a low opacity and build up the paint.

Notice we can now paint over the cheeks and start to see a nice mix between the layers.

painting on a mask

Make selections from layer Masks

Let’s make some selections to use as a guide.

Choose the butterfly layer and Press Ctrl/Cmd+J to duplicate the layer.

copy layer in photoshop

Click on the butterfly layer to make it active,

Click the eye to the left of the other 2 layers to hide them for now.

duplicate layer

Lets cut out the butterfly

Choose the Magic wand tool

Click on the white to select the background

drag to tab

You could press delete to delete the white area, but layer masks are better because they are non destructive, meaning you can change them at any time.

Hold Down the Alt / Option key and click on the Layer mask. (A layer mask normally hides the unselected areas of a selection. Because we selected the background, rather than the butterfly, the alt/option will hide the selected area instead and keep the unselected area).

hide layers

You should see the background is transparent.

combinging images in photoshop

Turn on all the layers by clicking the eye icons.

We want to load the selection of the butterfly, but paint on the top layer.

Ctrl/Cmd+Click on the layer mask to activate the marching ants selection

lead selection in photoshop

Click on the top layer mask to make it the layer we will paint on.

choose a layer mask

This selection makes it easy to paint away the face on the edge of the wings, because we can’t paint outside the selection.

Change the foreground color to black to hide the layer we are painting on.

White will show the layer.

Tip: The X key will toggle the foreground and background colors. (Show and hide)

compositing in photoshop

Keep experimenting with the steps above and you will come up with different results.

This is my final result, using these exact steps. I made jewelry from the butterfly’s body, using masks.


collaging in photoshop

I hope this has helped you pick up a couple of new tips with layer masks inside a Photoshop.

If you did, let me know in the comments underneath.

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5 responses to “How to combine pictures in Photoshop with Layer Masks”

  1. These short takes are really helpful. (I suggested same a while back although I’m not claiming credit for them).
    Two comments. Immediate users like myself still have trouble just doing the basic things in PS (eg. whether and how to use Export/Export As, re-sizing for Instagram; organising the workspace; using selections and gradients within masks; which of the three gradients to use etc). Secondly, I’m sorry but the background music in your short takes reminds of the stuff they play at the start of funerals.
    All the best.

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