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Photoshop Top 40
Illustration by John Hersey

35. Refine Edge


From:

Photoshop Top 40

with Deke McClelland

Video: 35. Refine Edge

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! Photoshop has made many attempts at automating the process of selecting complex, continuous tone images, all with varying degrees of success. But of the bunch, only two make our Top 40 list and feature #35, the Refine Edge command, is one of them. This superbly implemented feature lets you perfect a selection according to five different criteria, and preview the results in five different ways. Heck, you can make stuff you select with a Magic Wand look good, and it can make you look good in the process. Check it out.

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Photoshop Top 40
7h 13m Intermediate Dec 21, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

There's nothing people love more than lists, and Photoshop Top 40 offers a great one, highlighting the best features in Photoshop. Deke McClelland counts down to #1 with a new video each week, detailing one great feature after another in this popular digital imaging application. The videos cover tools, commands, and concepts, emphasizing what's really important in Photoshop.

This is an ongoing course that will be updated monthly.

For the newest updates please go to our blog entry for Deke's Photoshop Top 40.

Topics include:
  • Assembling multiple pieces of artwork with layer comps
  • Creating a black-and-white image from a color photograph
  • Merging multiple channels to create an alpha channel with calculations
  • Selecting images with the Pen tool
  • Masking images using the Brush tool
Subjects:
Design Photography
Software:
Photoshop
Author:
Deke McClelland

35. Refine Edge

(Music playing) Deke's Photoshop? Deke's Photoshop? Top 40! Photoshop has made many attempts at automating the process of selecting complex, continuous tone images, all with varying degrees of success. But of the bunch, only two make our Top 40 list and feature #35, the Refine Edge command, is one of them. This superbly implemented feature lets you perfect a selection according to five different criteria, and preview the results in five different ways. Heck, you can make stuff you select with a Magic Wand look good, and it can make you look good in the process. Check it out.

Feature #35 is the Refine Edge command and this is an awesome feature inside of Photoshop. You can either take a selection outline and refine it on a fly so that you can smooth it, you can feather it and so on, and we'll be seeing how that works, or you can apply those same functions to a layer mask. And I've gone ahead and set things up using a layer mask inside of this composition. So let me introduce you to the layers first. We've got this sky image right here from Sergey Tokarev, and then in front of it we have this fireworks pattern, and this comes to us from Gina Santa Maria.

Now notice that I do have a layer mask that's currently turned off. I'm going to go ahead and Alt+Click, or on the Mac Option+Click, on that layer mask icon to switch over to the layer mask here inside the Image window. Anywhere where we're seeing white, the fireworks will be opaque and anywhere where we see black, the fireworks will be transparent. So we're going to drop out all these dark regions of the sky essentially. And I created this layer mask using the Magic Wand tool, which is not one of my Top 40 features inside of Photoshop, but is useful sometimes, for creating quick and dirty selection outlines.

And in this case what I did was I painstakingly selected all the highlights inside of the fireworks and did not select any of the dark sky. But what you end up with when you select with a Magic Wand, you end up with very brittle, very sharp jagged edges, and let me show you how that translates to our composition. I'll go ahead and Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask again and here's what it looks like when we go ahead and composite those Magic Wand selected fireworks against the sky. This is a patently absurd composition at this point, because we have these completely opaque flower-like firework patterns, set against the bright daylight sky.

So what I'd like to do is create a more organic transition between the fireworks and the sky, and we are going to do that using Refine Edge. So you either need to have a selection outline going or you need to be working on a layer mask. And my layer mask is indeed selected here. Then you go onto the Select menu and you choose the Refine Edge command or you can press Ctrl+Alt+R here on the PC or Command+Option+R on the Mac, to bring up this dialog box here. And notice that you have a total of five numerical options that you can work with, as well as different previewing options that are available to you.

So you can go ahead and preview your selected fireworks, your modified fireworks at this point, because we are already applying a few modifications against a white background, as I am right now, or you can switch to one of these other moebius tube options here. For example, I could click on black to see the fireworks gain some black background. If you want to switch between these modes from the keyboard you can. Notice you've got a keyboard shortcut. It's telling you about that down there in the Description area. So you press the F key to go ahead and move forward through these options. There is your Mask by the way. Now we are seeing the layer mask at this point.

What I want to do is cycle over to this option here. I want to be able to see my fireworks against the sky, but we are also seeing all these selection outlines, so these marching ants are totally getting in our face at this point. What I want you to do is press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac, if you're going to be taking advantage of this view. And the reason is we want to hide those selection outlines. That's what Ctrl or Command+H does. So that we can keep an eye on what our fireworks are really looking like when composited against that sky. Now let me show you how these options work, and the best way to understand these options is crank everybody down to 0 for starters.

And then just edit one value at a time. So we are going to start with Feather. You want to start with either Feather or Radius, because both of those are your edge-blurring options. I'm going to go ahead and crank up Feather, and you'll see that it's just a straight edge blur. So we're just blurring the edges all around the fireworks evenly. So an even distribution of that blurring. It's just like the Feather command that's been around inside a Photoshop forever and ever. The difference is that you can preview it, which is something you can't do with a standard Feather option. But you also have this Radius value up here, and it blurs, but it actually blurs into highlighted shadow region.

So let me show you the difference. This is just a big fuzz, this Feather option here. Versus... I'll go ahead and crank this Radius option a pretty darn high, and notice that even when I have a Radius value of more than 50 pixels at this point, I don't have just this generalized blurring. What Photoshop is doing is it's reaching into the tendrils of the fireworks and it's gathering any additional highlight information that I might have missed with a Magic Wand tool. So it's softening those edges organically, which is a heck of a deal, this is a very, very useful function.

Where this image is concerned, I'm going to do something very unusual. I'm going to take this option all the way up to its maximum of 250 pixels. Now you're not going to be able to get away with that with a standard image, but because I have these firework highlights against a very dark jet-black background, I'm able to apply a very high Radius value. Now, if you don't want soft edges, if you want to sharpen up those edges after the fact, after applying either Radius or Feather for that matter, then you can increase the Contrast option here, and that will sharpen up those edges for you. Now in our case, that's not something we want to do, we want to stick with the soft edges.

So I'm going to crank that guy down to 0%. You also have the option of smoothing out any jagged transitions, using the Smooth value right here. Bear in mind though, you are also going to round off corners inside of your selection. So check it out. If I take this Smooth value up, I'm going to reach in there and bring out some of those black areas, because I'm rounding off each one of the corners, as if I've have a kind of rounded star pattern inside of some of these firework shapes there. Again not something I want for this image. So I'm going to take this value back down.

I do want some feathering though, so I'm going to take this value up to about 50 actually, I might as well just go ahead and enter that value numerically like so, and we'll be getting this effect which is helping. It's trying to look much better than it did before. Now what about Contract/Expand, if you want to expand the selection outward then you increase this Contract/Expand value to positive values, we're seeing here, or you can decrease the value in order to contract the selection like so. In our case, we want to leave that value set to 0. So these are the values I have.

I am just cranking that Radius value up to 250, setting the Feather value to quite a high value as well of 50 pixels, and leaving everybody else 0. Then you go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification. Now that will go ahead and edit that Mask. If I Alt+Click or Option+Click on the Mask, you can see that it is heavily modified at this point. All right! I'm going to Alt+Click or Option+Click on it again in order to reveal the fireworks, and now I'm going to change my blend mode from Normal to Overlay in order to finalize that effect.

And this is still a crazy, wacky composition. I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to express here inside of this image, but it is largely a function of feature #35 on the Top 40 list, Refine Edge here inside Photoshop.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Photoshop Top 40.


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Q: Is there a way to batch convert an entire folder of photos from the RBG color mode to the CMYK color mode without having to open and convert each individual image?
A: In the Actions panel in Photoshop, create an action that converts an image from RGB to CMYK. Then link to that action from File > Automate > Batch inside Photoshop.
Next, in the Bridge, select a folder of images. Choose Tools > Photoshop > Batch. Select the action inside the ensuing dialog box.
Or, in Photoshop, select File > Automate > Batch, and select the action and the folder inside the dialog box.
See also: Photoshop CS2 Actions & Automation, Chapter 2 “Action Essentials.”
 
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