Using Layer Masks and Shadowed Frames

June 21, 2021

Digital scrapbook designers offer all sorts of frames you can use to show off your photos.  Many times those frames lie completely flat on the page so that you can apply your own shadows. Those frames are easy to use because you can simply resize your photo to fit the frame, place it beneath the frame, add your drop shadow and you’re done. 

Shadowed Digital Photo Frames by Vicki Robinson Designs

But what do you do when the frame has “custom” shadows like these? Rather than the default shadows that are built into Photoshop/Elements, these shadows often have lifted corners that give the illusion that the photo is popping off the page. The look is impressive — but how do you add your photo making sure it fits the frame properly but does not obscure those cool shadows?

The answer is to attach a “layer mask” to your photo layer in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. A layer masks allows you to selectively show, hide, or partially show portions of your image. Because layer masks are “non-destructive” — meaning you are only hiding the extra areas of your photos, not erasing them — if you later change you mind about how much of the photo you wanted to reveal, you can always remove the layer mask and start over.

Note: In addition to “layer masks,” Photoshop and Photoshop Elements also permit the use of “clipping masks“. It’s easy to confuse the two terms but, although they are some what similar in the sense they both affect how much of a photo is visible, they are different animals.

Video Tutorial: Using Pre-shadowed Digital Photo Frames

My short video will show you how to place your photo and the frame on your page and then how to select and “mask” away the parts of the photo you want to hide — and be sure to check out my tips and resources below!

Layer Mask Tips

Layer masks may sound intimidating, but if you keep in mind these simple tips, you’ll master them in no time!

  • Be sure the Layer Mask is selected (active) before painting on your photo.
  • You can tell your Layer Mask is active by the border around it in the Layers Panel.
  • When you first add a Layer Mask it is white by default so it reveals (shows) everything on that Layer and you won’t see a change to your photo.
  • Remember, white reveals, black conceals:
    • You can conceal (or hide, or mask) any areas of your layer by painting over them with black.
    • Bring back a part of the layer you didn’t mean to mask by painting with white.
  • The Foreground Color chip determines what color your Brush will paint with.
  • You can switch your Foreground Color between black and white by pressing “x” on your keyboard.


  • If you love using frames on your layouts as much as much as I do, check out all of the digital scrapbooking photo frames I have waiting for you in my shop!
  • You may also like my tutorial on Using Layered Postage Stamp Frames.
  • Use Coupon Code: VRD-FRAMES-TWO to take $2.00 off any of my frame sets!
  • Leave a comment below if you have any questions about this tutorial— or just to let me know you found it helpful!

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