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The elusive alpha channel remains one of the most misunderstood yet powerful tools in Photoshop. Alpha channels are collections of luminance data that control the transparency of an image, and they inform just about every aspect of Photoshop. As he builds transitional blended layers, fashions a depth map, makes edge adjustments, and takes on extreme channel mixing, Omni Award-winning expert Deke McClelland teaches Photoshop users that where there's a will, there's a way. Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks: Advanced Techniques covers mapping texture on an image, turning flesh into stone, using vector masks, working with all different channels, creating a rustic edge effect, and much more. Exercise files accompany the tutorials.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts for Channels and Masks from the Exercise Files tab."
In this exercise, we are going to add a series of embossed URLs to this image in order to copy protect the image, in order to watermark it. And we are going to get this effect right here, so that's what we are going for and by the way I am working on image called Woman in blue.psd. It's found inside the 18 Displace maps folder. I made some modifications to it in the previous exercise, but whether you followed that exercise or not you have everything you need inside of this file. So I want you to go ahead and click on the Background layer to make it active and then go ahead and turn off the lighting effect and stronger layers and actually I am just going to go ahead and grab these three layers here and throw them in the trash by Alt+clicking on the Trash can icon or Option+clicking on the Trash icon on the Mac.
Now I want to add an independent layer of URLs, I don't want to affect the layer directly; I don't want to harm the layer of course. It might be tempting if you are very familiar with Photoshop CS3 to try to apply lighting effects as a smart filter so to convert the image to a smart object and then apply lighting effects. But I am going to need to strengthen the result of the lighting effects filter after we get done applying it. And we are only able to do that if we work with the static pixel based layer. So here is what I am going to have you do, I want you to press Ctrl+Alt+N or Command+Option+N on the Mac in order to bring up the New Layer dialog box. And let's just go ahead and call this layer solid gray and I am going to change the mode to Overlay and the reason is if I change the mode to Overlay then I get this checkbox right here that says Fill with Overlay neutral color (50% gray).
I am going to turn that checkbox on and I will create a layer that's filled with 50% gray which makes it a great base layer for the lighting effects filter because that way then you can apply lighter colors as highlights and darker colors as shadows. So go ahead and click OK to accept that new layer. Now it won't make any difference to the image because you just apply the Overlay blend mode and you filled it with an overlay neutral color so you can see right through the grays. Now I am going to press Shift+Alt+N or Shift+Option+N on the Mac to switch the blend mode back to normal. So we now have a layer of gray set to the normal blend mode. Now I want you to go up to the Filter menu and I want you to choose Render and then choose Lighting Effects. And that brings up what is ultimately a very dinky dialog box given how much they have tried to pack into it.
Now this is an older filter, it was introduced with Photoshop 5. If it was the one of the new or modern filters it would probably take up the entire screen because there is all kinds of stuff going on here, instead we have to work in this very, very small environment which is my biggest frustration with lighting effects. And then my second biggest frustration is we can't change the values numerically. So those are the big problems with this dialog box. But the results it produces are amazing, well worth the effort and frustration frankly. All right, so the first thing you do is change the Texture Channel because the Lighting Effects filter is all about lighting a Texture Channel so that we are creating a bump map effectively and the Texture Channel comes from an Alpha Channel inside the image. So we are going to switch from None to either URLs or new URLs. If you followed the previous exercise, you might have an Alpha Channel called new URLs, if you didn't perform that exercise then you just have the URLs channel and that's it. Well, I am going to go with new URLs because that's what I created in the previous exercise, but you will still get the same result if you are working with URLs. All right, I think I made that point.
Now we want to enhance the size of the light, this is a spotlight which is exactly what we want; there are other kinds of lights that you can create with this filter. But we want a spotlight. Basically, what's happening here is that this point right there is kind of the light source essentially and then this is the hot spot for the light, this is the point at which the light is hitting the page effectively. All right, so I want to make this ellipse as big as I can by dragging the side handles out as far as I can, but you can't really go that far, you can only go to the edge of this canvas, this arbitrarily sized canvas thing here and if you want to make it even bigger then you have to move the ellipse around, the ellipse that represents the spotlight and you could only move it by dragging this center point right there. That's the only way you move the light.
And then we will go ahead and expand the lights some more if we can. I am going to go ahead like move it down here and expand it some more or like so, I really want it to be gargantuan so that it pretty evenly affects the contents of the page. And notice the angle of my light is about somewhere in the range of 5 o'clock to 5:30 right here and that's basically what I want. It's pretty much the angle that we had when we entered the dialog box in the first place and then I want you to move this center point to the bottom right area of the page like so. So that we are having as even of light as we can have at this point.
Now we are going to have to change some settings around in order to make things more even still, I am going to reduce the Intensity. I am basically going to be reducing the Intensity of the light a lot here because currently we have big, thick, gooey letters which isn't going to be legible at all. We have relatively small letters that we are working with, so we want a relatively subtle effect. So reduce the Intensity value to 10 and you have to do it manually by dragging that darn thing around and increase the Focus value to a 100 and then I am going to take the Gloss value, I don't want any shiny letters here. So I want a matte finish for this effect.
You may find it difficult to actually drag this triangle; it's very easy to miss it. Drag that triangle all the way over to the left so that we have a Gloss effect. So far it's looking pretty bad. Don't worry it's going to look better in just a few minutes. We want neither metallic nor plastic as the Material; we just want neutral Material so let's go with 0. The Exposure should be 0, we don't want to overexpose or underexpose. However, I would like to add some ambient light to the picture here, so I will take the Ambient value up to 40 and the reason is because I ultimately want the background to remain as neutral a gray as humanly possible, as I can possible achieve here.
So it's okay if the lighting of the letters is a little subtle as long as that gray background stays gray. And you can see that we have already introduced some darkness to the top and some lightness to the bottom. What we want to do is as little damage to that background gray as we can because otherwise once we apply the Overlay blend mode then we are going to slightly lighten this area down here in the image and we are going to slightly darken this area up here. So again we just need to play it safe, as safe as possible. Finally, we want to take the Height value down, we want this effect to be relatively Flat, again because these letters are smallest letters if we go with a very Mountainous effect, we are going to get some very gooey, thick edges. We don't want gooey, thick edges that would harm the legibility so we are going to go with a very flat effect, it looks terrible. The value we want by the way is 10, it looks terrible here inside the preview but it's actually going to look quite nice. And we also want White to be high. In other words, the background is high and the letters are low is what that means.
It's saying White is high inside the Alpha Channel but because we are under lighting, that's fine. Normally, we would say if we were over lighting, if the lighting was coming in from the top then we would turn off White is high and we would have the letters be high and set the black letters be high. But we are under lighting so we want to invert this as well. All right, so in other words White is high should be on. These are the settings 10, 100, -100, 00, 40 and then 10 for the Height value. Let's go ahead and save this out, we don't want to have to do that work again, go ahead and click on the Save button. And we will go ahead and call this URL watermark or something along those lines.
So if you ever want to come back to it you can very easily here. Then click OK and now I'll click OK in order to apply these settings and check it out, now if we zoom in here that's the only thing that preview inside the Lighting Effects dialog box is just worthless. But once you actually see the effect out here in the larger image, it looks just spectacular. Now I would like to go ahead and enhance this effect, this is why I couldn't apply lighting effects as a smart filter because I now need to follow it up. I now need to increase the contrast of this effect and I am going to do that using a Levels adjustment layer. So I want you to Alt+click or Option+click on the black/white icon here and choose Levels. Let's just go ahead and call this layer, enhance letters and I will turn on Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask so we are just affecting this layer and nothing else.
Click OK and I am going to take the black point value up to 100 in order to darken that shadow information and I am going to take the white point value down to 155, so we are adding a 100 to the black point, we are subtracting a 100 from the white point, increasing the heck out of the contrast. And just to make sure that our background is more or less neutral gray let's raise the gamma value to about 1.2 and click OK to accept that modification. All right, now you can see that we have got a little bit of color banding going on inside of this gray area and if that bothers you, you can go back to solid gray, the solid gray layer. And you can press Ctrl+Shift+U or Command+Shift+U on the Mac to totally get rid of that color and we will have a little bit of gray banding left in its wake actually which might or might not be preferable.
I am going to make a guess that that's not actually what we want. So I am going to go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac in order to undo that modification because you can see this way we have less banding because we have a few more colors to work with. All right, now I am going to change the blend mode, right and we want to drop out the neutral grays, we want to keep the highlights and shadows. So of course the blend mode we want to work with is Overlay. So I will press Shift+Alt+O or Shift+Option+O on the Mac in order to apply that Overlay blend mode and we have this very lovely, very subtle watermarking pattern as a result.
And this is what the image looks like without that layer, this is what it looks like with this layer. We are neither darkening nor lightening the middle portion of the image at any rate. If I were to zoom out, you could just sort of keep an eye on other portions of the image. If I turned the layer off how's the top fairing, looks a little lighter with the layer off, a little darker with the layer on. But even so it's looking pretty nice; this is workable effect and certainly something that I will be proud to put out there, were I the photographer of this piece. All right, so there you go, in the next exercise we are going to try out something more complicated with lighting effects. We are going to create the classic credit card effect where an image actually bends over letters and so we are going to use a displacement map along with lighting effects to create a true 3D sculptural piece here in Photoshop.
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