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Putting Things Behind Glass with Photoshop Elements


In photomontage work there’s sometimes a need to have people or objects behind glass, or other transparent surfaces. This might be someone outside a window or, as we’ll be demonstrating in this tutorial, putting something in a jar; an unlucky businessman in this instance – if this seems a little cruel, you can always imagine he’s one of the greedy fat cats who had it away with your hard-earned savings for his bonus in the big crash!

The bulk of this technique relies on layer masks, which, as we know, are not directly available to us in Elements. We can work around this, however, by using clipping masks. These work by only showing the areas of the layer that correspond to the visible pixels of the layer it’s clipped to; this includes semi-transparent areas as well, which we’ll use to great effect.


1. Our starting image comprises three layers: the white background layer, the jar and the man we’re going to place into the jar. The first thing to do is duplicate the jar layer. Click the Jar layer in the layers panel to make it the active layer. From the Layer menu go to New > Layer via copy, or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd+J on Mac, or Ctrl+J on PC.

2. We need to place the copy of the jar above the man to sandwich him inside. Click and drag its layer to the top of the layer stack. You can also use the shortcut Cmd+] on Mac, or Ctrl+] on PC. The copy is now covering the man but we have an obvious problem: because the pixels of the jar are still completely opaque, we can no longer see him.

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3. We could try lowering the opacity of the jar layer (the left hand image), which gives us too much of a uniform effect and is not very realistic. We can also use a Blend Mode, such as Hard Light (the right hand image). This is better but has made the jar too bright. We also have little control over either effect, so we’ll approach this problem from a different angle.

4. Click the man’s layer in the layers panel. Now go to the layers menu and select New Adjustment Layer > Brightness/Contrast and accept the defaults in the dialog, or click the New Adjustment Layer icon at in the Layers panel and select it from the menu. Click the Jar Copy layer to make it active, now select Layer > Create Clipping Mask, or press Cmd+G on Mac or Ctrl+G on PC.

5. This has no immediate effect as we have only created the basis for a clipping mask. Click the Jar’s layer to make it active and load its transparency selection by holding Cmd for the Mac, or Ctrl for the PC and clicking the Jar layer’s thumbnail. Now we’ll store a copy of the selection contents to the clipboard by selecting Edit > Copy, or using Cmd+C on Mac, or Ctrl+C on PC.

6. Hold the Opt key on Mac, or the Alt key on PC. Now click the adjustment layer’s mask thumbnail (the white rectangle); this places the mask in edit mode. We’ll paste the copy of the jar into the mask from the clipboard by selecting Edit > Paste or by pressing Cmd+V on Mac, or Ctrl+V on PC. The copy is greyscale because masks are Alpha Channels and do not contain any colour information.

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7. We don’t see any difference until we exit mask edit mode by clicking on another layer. As soon as we do, the man becomes visible within the jar. This is because the tones of the jar are being mapped to the mask; the darker the tones, the more translucent the mask becomes in those areas. This affects the layer above because we have it clipped and so it takes the properties of the masked areas.

8. Click the mask thumbnail again. Now select Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels. Now we can alter the shadows, midtones and highlights of the mask to change how the transparent areas affect the image. Shadows gradually make it more transparent, starting with the darker areas. Highlights do the opposite, and midtones affect the rest. This gives us a great way to fine-tune the without altering the overall tone of the image.

About David Asch (32 Articles)
David Asch is an accomplished author, artist and designer based in Brighton, UK. To date he has written two books on Adobe Photoshop Elements for Focal Press: Focus on Photoshop Elements and How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements, now in its 7th edition. He also co-wrote Digital Photo Doctor for Ilex Press and have had work featured in many UK magazines. As well as books on digital imaging, he is also the author of Creative Web Design with Adobe Muse, again for Focal Press. David also designs websites and the occasional logo. When he's not doing this, he likes to roam with a camera, capturing the sights. Some of these are posted to his photography gallery, others may make a guest appearance in his photomontage gallery.

2 Comments on Putting Things Behind Glass with Photoshop Elements

  1. This is really cool!

  2. This is really cool!

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