The look of this image was made possible by masking. Rebecca Cornwell, @repinsk on Instagram, shows you how.

Masking is not impossible -- it just takes time and patience, says mobile photographer and We Are Juxt member Rebecca Cornwell.

"As a self-taught photo editor, I try to find the easiest, most intuitive ways to accomplish the effects I am trying to achieve," Cornwell says. "I know many accomplished photo editors who find masking, defined as protecting a selected area from change, a mystery. I’ve tried masking in a number of apps, but for straight, basic masking I find Superimpose is the simplest."

In this tutorial, Cornwell offers the basics of creating a mask, which you can then use to create a multi-layered image effect, which she demonstrates in another tutorial, Out of the Frame. Cornwell also offers a more intimate look into her imagery on the We Are Juxt site: Not That Kind of Fairy Tale.

Device used:

iPhone 4S

Apps used: 

Superimpose by Pankaj Goswami for $0.99

Estimated total time:

This process will take from minutes to hours, depending on the complexity of the image to be masked.

Step 1

Open Superimpose and you will see the home screen. Let's first examine what the buttons represent. 

At the top you will see seven tool buttons:

  • Library: aAllows you to import your foreground and background layers.
  • Clipboard
  • Export: Use to save your final images.
  • Load Mask: Allows you to load an already masked image that you have saved to your mask library.
  • Save Mask: Select this to add masked images to your mask library.
  • Delete
  • Info

There are four tabs at the bottom: Home, Transform, Masks and Filters. 

Step 2

Import a background by selecting the top left Library button, which directs you to your photo library. An image with a white background will ease in the masking process. You can change the background once you have completed the mask. 

Step 3

Select the Library tab again and choose the Foreground selection. This will take you to your photo library again where you will choose the photo with the image you want to mask.
Now select the Transform tab at the bottom of the screen. In this tab, you can move and enlarge or shrink your photo by using your fingers or with the tabs at the top of the screen. We will go back to this screen in a later step.

Step 4 

Select the Masks tab at the bottom of your screen. You will now see a set of new tool buttons at the top of the screen.
The button at the far right is the Settings tool.  When you select this button, you will see all of the masking tools available to you. 

Masking tools, from left to right:

  • Eraser: Add back areas that you have removed and would like to put back. You may vary the size of the eraser as well as the smoothness of the eraser’s edge.
  • Magic Wand: Remove large areas of color at a time from a general area.
  • Color Range: Remove everything from the image that is the same color that you select.
  • Brush; This tool allows you to remove everything that you touch (you may  vary the size of the brush as well as the smoothness of the brush’s edge).
  • Lasso: Allows you to make a loop and mask inside of the loop.

Slide this row of tools to the left to see see additional masking tools, including rectangle, ellipse and gradient masks.

Step 5 

Depending on the image to be masked, its usually best to start clearing the unwanted parts of the image with either the Magic Wand or the Color Range tool.

Select either the Magic Wand or the Color Range tool and touch the area of the image would like to remove. 

Step 6

Once you have cleared as much of the large areas as possible with the Magic wand and the Color Range tools, switch to the Brush tool to clear out smaller areas. Select the brush size and smoothness.  Use a smaller bursh size to clear in smaller areas, and more or less faded for precise or less precise removal or the color.
The pink dot will show you the area that is being cleared with your brush. You can use your fingers to zoom into clear areas more closely and precisely. This is very helpful in clearing small and detailed areas as well as getting as close to the masked image as possible. 

Keep in mind that if you clear areas by mistake, you can either add them back by undoing your previous clear with the Undo button (the far left option at the top in the Masks tab) or you can add areas back with the Eraser tool by selecting the eraser tool, adjusting the size and touching the area to be added back.

Step 7

Once you have masked the image to your satisfaction, you are ready to save it in your library. Touch the Home tab at the bottom of the screen and then the Save Mask (this is the mask with the up arrow under it) button at the top of the screen. Choose Save when the Save Mask box appears. 

The newly masked image will now appear in your Mask Library. You can select this masked image any time until you remove it from the library.

Masking can be a painstaking process, but it yields amazing results if you are patient. 


Rebecca Cornwell is a Houston, Texas photographer and Juxter. You can follow her on Instagram at @repinsk and @sundaybluesedit.