Advanced Hair Masking Technique in Photoshop

I thought I’d get the year started with a brand new Photoshop technique—another preview of my online course called The Fundamentals of Photo-Illustration in Photoshop—this technique works wonders with very wispy hair and preserves ALL of the hair detail. While it doesn’t work well with all subjects, it is spectacular with dark or light (or both at the same time) hair. This tutorial is only part of a longer and more detailed tutorial contained in the course, but the basic technique is well outlined here:

As usual, I don’t stop with the masking technique, but show how to finish the composite by color correcting the subject to fit with the background image. A very critical step that is often ignored… This is a new technique I have been working on for a while, It came to me after some inspiring reads on – comments are welcome!

Enroll in the course at a 50% discount here:

 The Fundamentals of Photo-Illustration in Photoshop


12 thoughts on “Advanced Hair Masking Technique in Photoshop

  1. Lee

    Lee, that was AMAZING!!! I have your last Creative Live series, but haven’t had a chance to go through as much as I would like. This is exactly the kind of technique I love to learn! Now I need a masking technique for an original that doesn’t have an easy gray background like this. ; ) Thank you so much for sharing this!!

  2. Emad

    But something I don’t get is, why do we need to take care of the ‘masked layer’ layer mask? or even why do we need its layer mask at the first place, coz we’re gonna mask off the hair in that layer!
    What am I missing?

    1. LeeVaris Post author

      The “masked layer” is for the non-hair parts of the image—the Hard Light layer underneath is really only for the hair, everything else has too much transparency to be useful…

      1. Emad

        Then what’s the point of selecting (using magic wand) and making a layer mask for it? I mean if you’re gonna use it for non-hair parts why don’t you just put the original pic and mask off the hair parts?

        1. LeeVaris Post author

          Well… your selection works for the face and shoulders and the interior of the hair – that has to be masked separately from the hair wisps. All of this would become obvious if you try the technique yourself. The wisp layer is being applied in Hard Light mode without a mask, so the medium toned areas like the face and shoulders will be transparent in that layer – it won’t work by itself because you would see right through the face and shoulders to the background – you need the masked layer on top AND you need it to be masked!

  3. michael

    Well done Lee. I’m a fan. I’ve seen and tried other techniques but I think yours delivers better results.


    I’m going to share this.


  4. Dick Latshaw

    Nicely done, Lee. You do an exceptional job of clearly explaining this (and other) techniques. Your Hue/Saturation Layer technique for removing red skin blotches has made my life a lot simpler.

    Thank you for taking the time to present these lessons. I look forward to the next one.

  5. Matt

    Very nice tutorial, and an excellent incentive for your upcoming series. I’m curious, though, how you would deal with similar hair against a white-ish background (taken on white seamless), if you couldn’t reshoot against a grey background? I’m planning on getting some grey seamless based on this and other tutorials (usually shooting in small spaces, so hard to bring white to grey), but I have several on white seamless I’d like to knock out.

    1. LeeVaris Post author

      I would simply use a Curves adjustment on the “hair wisp” layer to take the white point down to 128 and “Hard Light” that against the underlying layers with the regularly masked layer on top. That would work as long as the hair was dark. You could try doing something funky like running a wide radius High Pass on the hair layer that would also turn the “white” background into 128 gray automatically but that might be a little trickier with halos, etc…

      1. Matt

        I’ll try this on my next one, momentarily. I just got done using Perfect Mask. Took me about 4 hours, I guess, but part of that was reading the manual. I’m not sure it was worth it. Skin edges were all feathered way too much, so I had to go back over the generated mask carefully with the brush again. It’d have been quicker drawing a path with the Pen. Perfect Mask did OK on the hair, I think, on a light-colored background, but on a dark background there’s too much left-over grey in the hair. Given it’s a paid-for plugin, and it took me so long to get the hair acceptably masked out for a light-colored background, I think Photoshop techniques would be just as good and cheaper, or better.

        I hadn’t *planned* and cutting these images out, but you know, plans change.

      2. Matt

        OK, tried the 128 thing. I assume that’s moving the top point on the curve over to 128? That yields good results if the subject is being placed on a white background. Can’t place it on a dark background, though. Have you done the same trick except moving the black point instead of the white point?


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