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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 I want to give you a sense of just how flexible this composition that we've created is. So we are going to be basically modifying both the layer masks that's assigned to the smart filters and the adjustment layer that's assigned to the eyes here. I am working inside of an image called Bright eyes.psd that's found inside of the 12 Specialty folder, if you are just joining us. And let's start things off by switching over here to the layer mask, go ahead and click on it. Click on the layer mask thumbnail that's associated with the Smart Filters item here inside of the Layers palette. And then press Ctrl+L. Now you need to make sure that you are working on this Smart Filters mask. If you had clicked on the Smart Object and then press Ctrl+L, or Cmd+L on the Mac, nothing will have happened, because you can't apply a static Levels adjustment to a smart object, but you can apply a static adjustment to a Smart Filter Mask, which is what we are about to do here.
Now let's say that we want to reveal more of the original hair inside of this image. Well, we can do that by darkening up the mask in order to protect more of the hair, and that would mean dragging the white point over to the right, like so. So at this point you can see, especially if I go ahead and turn the Preview option off and on, this is the way it looked before I made this Levels adjustment, this is the way it looks now. So thanks to raising the heck out of that black point value. I am able to spare the hair from the Smart Filter adjustment. Now if I wanted to increase the effect of the Smart Filter adjustment in the flesh tones, in the light areas, then I would drag this white point marker over to the left.
In our case what I want to do is increase the effect of the Gaussian Blur Filter inside of the flesh tones just a little bit, so I'll take that white point value down to 225, and then I want to protect the hair to a slightly greater extent, so I'll take that black point value up to 60. And this is our change, and once you've applied these values right here, go ahead and click on the OK button in order to apply your modification. So this is before, and this is after. Little slight bump in the hair, inside of the image, so a little brighter, I think it looks nicer. You can continue to adjust that mask in anyway you see fit and it will influence the effect of the Gaussian Blur Filter.
Now let's say, since we made that modification, we need to adjust the eyes further. In that case we would just go ahead and double-click on the adjustment layer icon at the top of the Layers palette, in order to bring up the Levels adjustment that's assigned to the eyes, so this is a different Levels adjustment this time. This one is dynamic of course, so it's showing us the values that we last applied. You can see here in the RGB Composite view of the image, that we've raised the black point to 10, you may recall that. I am going to now take the black point up to 20, to further darken those pupils, then I am going to tab over to the Gamma value and I am going to press Shift+Up Arrow two times in a row to raise that Gamma value to 1.3, to further lighten the eyes, so we are brightening the mid tones inside the eyes. Then I am going to tab over to the white point value and take it down to 245 to increase the brightness of the highlights inside of the eyes.
Now let's say I decide that the eyes are a little bit too pink still, so I am going to switch over to the Red Channel and I can do that by pressing Ctrl+1 or Cmd+1 as well. I am going to click in the white point value and I am going to take it back up to 255. As we had set it down to 245 in the previous exercise. All right, so I think this looks pretty darn good. The only thing I don't like about it is the edges around her eyes are too harsh, so let's go ahead and click OK to accept that modification. Make sure that the layer mask is active by clicking on it. This would be the layer mask for the adjustment layer incidentally, and I will go ahead and make my Layers palette wider, so you can see that the name of the adjustment layer is eyes. We are going to soften those transitions by applying the Gaussian Blur Filter once again.
Now because Gaussian Blur was, presumably, if you have been working along with me, the last filter we applied, we can go ahead and press Ctrl+Alt+F, or Cmd+Option+F on the Mac in order to bring up that filter. Now for you it will probably be set to 20 pixels, a Radius value of 20 pixels, which is going to blur the heck out of the eyes. I want you to take that value down to 2 pixels, and then click OK. You can see that now the transitions around the eyes are a lot more naturalistic. If you wanted to further adjust them, you could grab the Brush tool for example, and I am going to go ahead and increase the size of the Brush tool, and I am going to paint inside this area, just a little bit.
Now that ended up producing a very negative effect, and the reason is, because I am painting with white. So I am painting in adjustment, I am painting in color adjustment around the eyes, and that's not something I want to do. I'll go ahead and undo that modification. I'll press the X key, so I am painting black. Notice my mode is set to Normal. Now I am going to go ahead and paint in the eyes like so. A couple of times maybe just to decrease the amount of contrast around that eye, and this is what the eyes look like without the color adjustment, this is what they look like with the color adjustment. So much better without adjustment I think.
So that's the end of our image, that's the end of this project. I am going to go ahead and tab away the palettes and press the F key a couple of times, and just to give you a sense of how far we have come over the course of the last three exercises, this is the original version of the image. And it looks just darn right muted at this point, and also actually the colors inside of the hair don't look particularly realistic, they look way too cool. And this is the image after our adjustments, much warmer, much more dynamic, much smoother as well, lot better contrast between the eyes, and the skin tones, looks just great.
Thanks to a combination of smart filtering and adjustment layers, and a simple luminance mask here inside Photoshop.
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