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One of the most difficult selections to make is a selection around a soft fine edge like a model's hair, or animal fur, or some fine leaves on a tree. None of the selection tools that we've seen so far will do a very good job of making that kind of selection; but there is one feature, Refine Edge, which can help you to make just this kind of selection. Let me show you how it's done. I'll start by making an initial selection using a couple of the selection tools that we've already seen. I'll get the Quick Selection Brush tool, I'll come into the image, and I'm going to click and drag over the harder-edged parts of this photo--the model's jacket and the model's hand.
Then I'm going to switch to a tool over which I have more control, the Lasso tool. I'll click on the Lasso tool here in the toolbar, and then in its Options bar I'll click the Add icon to add to this initial selection. Then I'm going to come into the image and with this tool, I'm going to click and drag close to the edge of the model's hair, but I'm not going to include in this selection those wispy hairs at the very edge of her head. I'll go all the way around her head like this. When I get back to the beginning of this selection, I'll release my mouse to close the selection border.
So there's an initial selection. Now what I want to do is try to bring in these edges of her hair, and to do that I'm going to open the selection into the Refine Edge dialog box. You can open Refine Edge from the Refine Edge button that you'll find in the options bar for any of the selection tools. I'll click Refine Edge, and here in the Refine Edge dialog box, I'll start with the View menu, selecting the background against which I want to see my selection as I work on it here. I'm going to leave this set to On Black in this case, but there's no one answer for all images.
You just have to try out these various views and find the one that's most useful. I'll click outside this menu to close it. Now when I'm trying to make a soft- edged selection like this, the Radius slider is the feature that I reach for. Watch what happens as I drag the Radius slider over to the right. The edges of her hair are coming back into view, meaning that they're being included in the selection. If I'm not getting the result I want, I'll sometimes try checking Smart Radius, but I think this is doing a pretty good job even without Smart Radius checked. Now if I want to bring in even more detail, I'll use this brush--the Edge Detection brush.
This brush is actually adding to the radius, so if I come into this area and I click and drag, you start to see that there is some hair out here and that more of it is being included in this selection as I drag over this area with the Edge Detection brush. Now I am not painting in a selection here. What I'm doing is defining an area inside of which I'm telling Elements to make the decision about what should be selected and what shouldn't. We can see that radius, that border, by coming up to the Show Radius checkbox here and putting a checkmark in that box.
So this border is the area in which I'm letting Elements make the selection decision for me, including this area that I painted in over here with the Edge Detection brush. I'll uncheck Show Radius to go back to the regular view and continue to work around the edges of the image with the Edge Detection brush. So now I've been all the way around the model's head using the Edge Detection brush. Notice that up here the black background is starting to show through her hair, so what I want to do here is to tell Elements not to include this area in the radius, in the part of the image where it's making the selection decisions.
To do that, I'll get the Edge Detection Eraser tool here, and I'll click and drag over her hair. I went a little bit too far there, so I'll go back and get the Edge Detection brush again and click and drag to include that little bit in the radius. Now notice that the edges of her hair look a little bit gray. That's because those edges are being contaminated by some of the light surrounding color in the original photo. To try to reduce that light color, I'll go to the Output section of this dialog box and check Decontaminate Colors, and then I'll drag the Amount slider over to the right.
Keep your eye on the image as I do that, and you can see some of that light color disappearing. Now it's not perfect, but I think that selection is looking a lot better than the one that we started with. So I'm ready to output the selection. I'll do that by making a choice from the Output menu here. Because I used the Decontaminate Colors feature, I don't have the option to output as a straight selection or as a layer mask, but I can choose to output a brand-new layer or any of the other options that you see here. I'm going to go with new layer and then I'll click OK to close the Refine Edge dialog box and go back out to the Document window.
So here's the result. Now in the Layers panel, I have the three layers; the original photo of the model is on this middle layer. I'll show you that to remind where we started by holding the Alt key--that's the Option key on the Mac--and clicking on the eye icon for that model layer. I'll make that layer invisible again by Alt or Option+clicking on its eye icon. The top layer, the model copy layer, is the one that the Refine Edge dialog box created for me. I'll Alt+click or Option+click on its eye icon so you can see what this layer contains. Elements selected the model's head, including some of the wispy hair around the edge of her head, and then it inverted the selection and deleted the surrounding pixels, leaving us with transparency on this layer.
Because these parts of this layer are transparent, when I turn on the extra background layer that I made--this gradient layer, by clicking its eye icon-- we can see down through the transparent parts of the model copy layer to the gradient below. I really don't need the original model layer anymore, so I'll select it and I'll drag it up to the layer trash at the top of the Layers panel. I think you can see how powerful the Refine Edge dialog box is when it comes to selecting soft edges, like hair, or animal fur, or perhaps the edges of a leafy tree.
So give it a try on your own photos.
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