4 Awesome Ways to Use Masking in Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro February 9, 2019 4 min read

If you’ve been using Adobe Premiere Pro CC for a while, chances are you’ve probably had to use the masking tool before. It’s pretty awesome, but you may not be aware of just how powerful it can be. Today, we’re going to look at four ways to use Premiere Pro masking that you might not have considered. Let’s dive in!

Creative Ways to Use Masking in Premiere Pro

1. Make Objects Disappear

If you’re working with existing footage and you don’t have the opportunity to go back and re-shoot, you want to make sure you can get the most out of what you’ve got.

Let’s say you have a great shot of a beach, but what if there was a change of plans and instead of someone walking through the frame, you actually wanted it to be just the ocean? Well, you can make this person disappear thanks to the masking tool:

  1. Select the footage to which you want to apply the mask. 
  2. Under Opacity in the Effects Controls panel, click on the oval to create an Ellipse Mask
  3. Draw the mask around the subject you want to mask out.
  4. Click on the keyframe next to Mask Path
  5. Set the keyframes at the beginning and the end of the shot to make the mask follow your subject.

You should now see the oval mask tracking the subject across the frame against a black background. But how do we combine the mask and the background shot?

  1. Feather the mask by sliding Mask Feather underneath the Mask controls. You’ll want to do this a lot to effectively blend it with the background.
  2. If the feathering starts to cut into the subject, expand the mask using Mask Expansion.
  3. Invert the mask. This should appear as a black oval moving against the background.
  4. Duplicate the footage and place one clip above the other.
  5. Select the bottom clip and delete the mask.

You should be left with the original scene, looking like you didn’t do anything to it. Now you need to move the bottom clip to a different time, so it doesn’t show the subject within the mask.

  1. Select the Slip tool (Y)
  2. Then move the bottom clip forward or backward in time. Note: You may need to cut some of either end of the clip to make this work, but this should remove the character from the scene.

Bear in mind this may not work for every scene—it works best with tripod shots against a fairly simple background—but play around with it, and you’ll quickly see how useful the mask tool can be in this situation.

2. Make Isolated Lighting and Color Changes

If you’ve got a small part of your scene that feels a little overexposed, underexposed, or you just want to manipulate some colors, you can actually create your own makeshift power windows to tame certain areas.

  1. Right-click in the Project Manager and create a new Adjustment Layer.
  2. Drag the adjustment layer over your clip.
  3. Highlight the adjustment layer.
  4. Under Opacity in the Effect Controls panel, select the Pen tool.
  5. Draw around the area you want to control.
  6. Feather the mask to blend the edges into the rest of the frame.

Finally, apply your chosen lighting controls to the adjustment layer—change the brightness, contrast, color—whatever you want to alter. This should now just affect the area you have selected with the pen tool.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to use adjustment layers, you can actually mask directly from the Lumetri Color effect in your Effect Controls panel.  

3. Masking Your Text to Make it 3D

By masking your text, you can quickly give depth to your titles and create the impression that your text is within the world of your footage. Imagine somebody walking past a title, wiping the text as they go. This kind of immersion is easily created with Premiere Pro masking. To do this:

  1. Create a Mask around the title you want to appear 3D.
  2. Keyframe the Mask Path in the mask controls.
  3. Move the clip forward frame by frame. As the object crosses the text, simply readjust the edges of the mask to align with the edge of the subject. Do this until the text is completely covered up.
  4. Reduce any harsh edges by Feathering the mask.

Spend as long as you like making the edges of the mask and the object line up perfectly. The more time you take, the more precise you can line up the edges and the more effective the end result will be.

4. Track a Subject’s Face To Give it More Life

As well as isolating stationary objects to amend lighting, you can also apply this to moving objects such as people’s faces. This lets us brighten up a face to give it more life and make a portrait really stand out.

  1. Create an Oval Mask and position it over the subject’s face.
  2. Within Mask Path, click the Play button to track the selected mask forward. Let Premiere Pro analyze the footage. Note: The longer the footage, the longer this will take. This will result in an isolated face tracked against a black background.
  3. Duplicate the layer and place it on top of the first layer.
  4. Delete the mask from the bottom layer.
  5. Feather the mask in the top layer to blend it into the rest of the footage.
  6. Apply your chosen color effect to the top layer to create the desired result, whether that is brightening the image or changing the color completely.

Once you’ve mastered that, go one step further by applying the same effect to specific parts of the face such as the eyes. You may not notice the difference at first but toggle the effect on and off to see how the image comes to life.

So, if you haven’t tried these four Premiere Pro masking tricks before, give them a shot. Spending a bit of extra time on your projects like this will definitely elevate the value of your productions!