Quick Mask Oddity

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Today’s Question: I made a selection in Photoshop CC and then added an adjustment layer. Everything looks fine, and the layer mask shows what I expected. I made a selection again and then used Quick Mask mode to modify the selection. When I added an adjustment layer, this time there is no layer mask. What am I doing wrong?

Tim’s Quick Answer: This is a matter of selections being treated differently in Photoshop depending on whether you are in Quick Mask mode or the “normal” selection mode. After using Quick mask mode to refine your selection, you can switch back to “normal” selection mode before adding the adjustment layer and the layer mask will reflect your selection.

More Detail: A common approach to applying a targeted adjustment to a photo in Photoshop is to first create a selection of the area you want to adjust, and then add an adjustment layer. The layer mask associated with the new adjustment layer will automatically reflect the selection that was active, so that the adjustment only affects the area that had been selected.

When you are in Quick Mask mode making changes to a selection, however, this behavior changes. If you add an adjustment layer while in Quick Mask mode, the layer mask associated with the new adjustment layer will not reflect the active selection. Instead, there will be a “blank” (all white) layer mask, meaning the adjustment layer will affect the entire image.

The workaround is to make sure you are in the “normal” selection mode before adding an adjustment layer (or otherwise adding a layer mask). You can still use Quick Mask mode to modify your selection, of course. But then when you’re finished you can exit Quick Mask mode (by pressing “Q” on the keyboard) to ensure you’re in the normal selection mode before adding an adjustment layer or otherwise adding a layer mask to an image.