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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hey gang! This is Deke McClelland. Welcome to Deke's Techniques! Now, I know this is a terribly busy time of year--all the holiday shopping, you've got tons of errands to run. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time masking this hummingbird. You don't want to have to figure out which of the ten thousand different masking techniques is going to work; you just want to muscle your way through it and get the job done so that you can create this impeccable composition here. Now I know it looks like it has a little bit of edge fringing going on. That's some sharpening, some auto- sharpening that the printer added.
It actually looks totally great. Here, let me show you exactly how it works. All right, let me show you the blunt approach to masking. We want to take this hummingbird in flight and we want to mask it against this completely different background. We've got an altogether different color scheme. We want to maintain the softness in the tail feathers, as well as the tips of the wing, and we managed to do so, by the way, entirely using masking. There's no special compositing going on. It's just a layer mask--that's it.
Now when I see an image like this, especially one where things are pretty clean--in another words, we have what appears to be a fairly homogeneously colored background--I might go up to the Select menu and choose the Color Range command. And if you know a thing or two about this command, it's essentially a better version of the magic wands. So you click and Shift+Click and so forth to define key colors in the selection. Everything that's turning white inside the dialog box preview will be selected when we click okay. Problem is, once I start Shift+ Clicking and dragging--by the way, you can Shift+Drag over a range of colors using this command--once I start doing that, I'm selecting colors inside the bird as well, because Color Range is set up to select adjacent and non-adjacent colors alike.
Also what you might do is reduce the Fuzziness value, but then you're going to bring back colors in the background, and you're going have to Shift+Click some more. And all the while notice that I'm still selecting a lot of stuff inside the bird, so this approach is just not going to work. What I need is a more blunt instrument, frankly, and the blunt instruments that I'm going to use to solve this problem are the Quick Selection tool and the Magic Wand tools. Believe it or not--and I say believe it or not because neither these tools is much of a performer; they both give you some pretty rotten edges, as we're about to see--we will start with the Quick Selection tool.
Go ahead and turn on auto-enhance up here in the options bar, and then I'm in going to drag over the wing. Things seem to be working pretty well so far; in fact, I'll go ahead and drag over this portion of the wing as well. As soon as I start coming down on the other side of the wing though, you can see that I end up selecting that entire wing, and that is the Quick Selection tool for you. It's a pretty amazing tool in that it just goes in and reads edges inside of an image automatically; unfortunately, there are no mitigating options up here in the options bar, so you just have to sort of accept what you get.
Anyway, I'm going to press Ctrl+Z, Command+Z on the Mac, to undo that change. I'm going to see if I can click right about there to select just a little more. Also notice if I start trying around the head into the beak, I select into the head--that's no good--and if I go around on the other side of the beak, well, then I lose the beak. All right, so I'm going to press Ctrl+ Alt+Z, Command+Option+Z a couple of times in order to get back to this selection right there. And what we're going to do is build the selection bit by bit as a layer mask. So with this hummingbird layer selected, I'll drop down to the add layer mask icon down here at the bottom of Layers panel and I'll Alt+Click or Option+Click on it.
And that goes ahead and masks away that selected region. All right, let's see what we can do with the Magic Wand tool now. I'm going to start things off with the default settings, which are a Tolerance value of 32. Anti-alias for purposes actually doesn't at all matter. We definitely want contiguous turned on and you want Sample All Layers turned off; otherwise the tool is going to see into the clouds in the background. And then I'm going to click above the bird's head like so, and we end up selecting this huge range of pixels. This is great. And I have not selected into the wing.
That's the main thing I want to avoid at this point. There's this kind of ratty area over here. I might Shift+Click inside of it to see if I can select it as well, and I did, so that's great. I'll try Shift+Clicking down here in the lower-left corner, and that worked out beautifully. We're still not selecting into the wings, so that's good. All right, with the layer mask selected, let's go ahead and fill the selected region with black. Black is my background color, as I can see here at the bottom of the toolbox, so I'll press Control+Backspace, or Command+Delete on the Mac, in order to mask away that region.
All right, now I'm going to press Ctrl+D, or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the image. And the advantage of working this way is I can now experiment with clicking in this dangerous wing area without the Magic Wand tool having any other portion of the image selected. In other words, we're not worried about those other colors that were selected and having Photoshop factor them into the adjacent colors that get selected with this next click. All right, so I'll try clicking here and obviously, total disaster. So I'll press Ctrl+D, Command+D on a Mac, to deselect the image.
Then I'm going to change that Tolerance value to 10, let's say, and I'll try again. Click, Shift+Click around here, see what I end up getting, and that actually worked out pretty nicely, with the exception of this area right here, which I'm not sure I dare select. Let me try Shift+Clicking in it. Actually that worked, so beautiful. This is awesome. I'll go ahead and mask away that region by pressing Ctrl+Backspace, or Command+Delete on the Mac. I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D the Mac to deselect the image. Let's check out how the mask is faring. I'll Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask thumbnail in order to view the mask by itself, and we have some obvious problems right there.
I'm going to get rid of those using the standard lasso tool. So I'll just go ahead and drag around this region like so, press Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on the Mac to fill with it black. And now let's go ahead and zoom in on some of these gnarly details here. Let's paint some of that mess away using the brush tool. So I'll go ahead and grab the brush tool, and I'll press X key in order to make my foreground color black. I'll reduce the size of the cursor a little bit by pressing the left bracket key a few times, right-click inside the image window, and let's crank the Hardness value up to 100%, so we don't introduce any aberrant blurs in the mask.
All right, now I'll press the Enter key, or the Return key in a Mac, in order to hide that panel, and I'm just going to click around these areas in order to tidy them up a little bit. So notice I'm not using any sophisticated techniques here; I'm just clicking around with the brush tool. And the whole idea here is I'm just trying to make sure that my edges are essentially in place, not that they're good edges, because if you look around here, you'll see all kinds of badness. Notice this horribleness at the top of the beak. That's okay because working to solve those problems using Refine Edge, which his been made so much better inside of Photoshop CS5.
It really does a great job of cleaning up this kind of stuff, but the edges have to be in place in the first place for that command to work. All right, everything looks good, so I'm going to zoom out. And then I'm going to Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask thumbnail again to return to the color composite image. You can see that we don't have the blur we are looking for in this tail feather. We also have some pretty ratty edges on the wings, and then we've got some jagged edges around the head and so forth. All right, let's see if we can solve those problems. Make sure that layer mask thumbnail selected and then go up to the Select menu and choose the Refine Mask command.
And we're going to be better off, I think, if we view this bird against the black background. And I'm going to take the Radius value up to 10 pixels, and that tells the command to look 10 pixels around my current edges and reevaluate that area and essentially smarten up those edges and fix them. Now our problem is, if we go with a blunt 10-pixel radius all the way around-- and I'll go ahead and turn on Show Radius, so you can see what that means--we're creeping into that beak, as you can see right there, and that's a real problem.
So if you turn on Smart Radius, then the Refine Mask command goes ahead and reevaluates that area and says all right, I don't need to creep into the beak; I'll leave that highlight alone. And it ends up doing a pretty terrific job. I'm going to go ahead and scroll up here inside the image, and I'll turn off the Show Radius checkbox so we can get a sense of what's going on. Things look pretty darn good. I might want to brush in some additional radius on this tail feather right there so that we get a little more blur action going. And it might help to brush up on this side and down here in these feathers as well, just a little bit.
You don't want to brush inside of his head--notice that--because that ends creating all kinds of holes in his head. And what I'm doing, by the way, as I brush, is I'm brushing in some manual radius and giving Photoshop some other areas that I want it to look at. All right, I'll press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac. You have one undo when you're working inside Refine Mask. I might try painting up here, but I don't think it's going to solve my problems very well. You can see that I ended up painting in a bunch of translucency into that wing, and I definitely don't want to do that, so I'll press Ctrl+Z, or Command+Z on the Mac. And you know what? I feel like I'm going to accept what I see here.
We do have a little bit of color fringing, but that fringing is likely to go away as soon as I click OK and we resolve the image into this natural landscape background. Okay, just a couple more fixes. As you can see, the tail feather, this area in particular, is looking really good. I'll go ahead and show you a before-and-after by the way. This is what that tail feather in particular looked like before we applied Refine Edge, and this is what it looks like now. So things are turning out pretty nicely. Now we have a little bit too much translucency down in these feathers, and you can fix that by switching to the brush tool once again, right-clicking inside the image.
Let's crank the Hardness value down to 0% this time, increase the size of the cursor a little bit by pressing the right bracket key a few times. Make sure your foreground color is white, so I just had to press the X key to make it so, and then we're going to change the mode from Normal to Overlay. Make sure that layer mask is still selected and then brush in opacity into those feathers. All right, that looks good. The last thing we need to do is take care of these torn sort of shredded-looking wings. We need a little bit of that shredding because after all, that is imparting that motion blur that's associated with these fast-moving wings on the hummingbird, but we don't want the wings to look sort of moth-shredded, if you know what I mean, like they have tears in them.
So I'm going to take care of that problem using the Smudge tool, which you can get from this flyout menu. And notice I have a pretty big cursor going. I'm just going to move these edges back and forth, reduce the size of my cursor just a little bit, move these edges back and forth as well, and we end up getting a very nice effect. So now we have what appear to be soft wings, as opposed to shredded wings, which of course is very important to the credibility of this image. All right, that takes care of it. Go ahead and press Ctrl+O or Command+O on the Mac to zoom out and that, folks, is how you take the blunt-but-obvious approach to masking, here inside Photoshop.
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