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Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Fundamentals is the introductory installment of Deke McClelland's four-part series on making photorealistic compositions in Photoshop. The course shows how to make selections, refine the selections with masks, and then combine them in new ways, using layer effects, blend modes, and other techniques to create a single seamless piece of artwork. Deke introduces the Channels panel and the alpha channel, the key to masking and transparency in Photoshop; reviews the selection tools, including the Color Range tool , Quick Mask mode, and the Refine Edge command; and shows how to blend masked images so they interact naturally.
In this exercise, I'm going to introduce you to the automated edge detection features inside the Refine Mask dialog box. And you'll see how they allow you to take a very rough selection outline and make it infinitely better. I'm working inside a file called Sunny and sky.psd found inside the 07_refine folder. Now if you've worked through one of my previous Photoshop courses, you may recognize this file. Be aware however that we'll be employing this file in a very different way. Now the Refine Edge command works with a selection created using any of the selection tools, so the Marquees, the Lasso tools, the automated tools, such as Quick Selection and Magic Wand, as well as the Color Range command.
However, it was originally designed with the Quick Selection tool in mind, so that's the tool we'll start with. Go ahead and select that tool or press the W key. Also, make sure that the Auto-Enhance check box is turned on inside the Options bar. Now I'm going to increase the size of my cursor by pressing the right bracket key a few times. And then I'll paint inside the sky, because after all, it's a heck of a lot easier to select that plain background than the multicolored foreground. However, the Quick Selection tool immediately misbehaves, by selecting the white portion at the top of the sweater, go ahead and press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and scrub over that area.
You'll also have to paint along the edge between the hand and that white area of the sweater in order to altogether get rid of those extra selection edges. All right. Now I'm going to zoom in on this area inside of her fingers and I'm going to reduce the size of my cursor by pressing the left bracket key a few times, paint inside that area like so, and then paint inside this other area. You may just be able to get away with just clicking. I'm going to reduce the size of my cursor even farther and then click inside that area right there to make sure I snag it.
Now you don't need to try to paint inside the individual bits of hair. That'll never work with the Quick Selection tool, and that's the whole point of these edge detection functions. They'll automatically detect the hair, as you'll see in just a moment. All right. I'm going to go ahead and zoom out once again. And this time, I'll increase the size of my cursor and I'll paint inside of this area over here on the left- hand side of her neck. That's it! Now we're ready to employ the Refine Edge command. Now you can do so on a couple of different ways. You can go up to the Select menu and choose Refine Edge, or you can click on the Refine Edge button up here in the Options bar.
And it's always available in the Options bar when you're using any of the selection tools. Now what that'll do is it'll automatically return a layer mask for this layer. However, you'll also end up getting rid of the original selection. So what I suggest you do is create a layer mask in advance by dropping down to the Add layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and clicking on it. Now I've gone ahead and masked in the sky and masked away the model. That's exactly the opposite of what I wanted. So I'll go up to the Image menu, choose the Adjustments command, and choose Invert, or you can press Ctrl +I or Command+I on the Mac.
And that goes ahead and selects the portion of the image we want. It's not a good selection of course, because we have all this blue gunk inside of her hair. I'm going to take care of that using Refine Mask. So with the layer mask selected, notice, if you go up to the Options bar, Refine Edge is now dimmed because we don't have a selection outline. So what you want to do is go to the Select menu and choose Refine Mask, or once again you can press that keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+Alt+R or Command+Option+R on the Mac. Now there's no sense in applying any of these adjust edge functions. You can fool around with them and if you want, you can increase the Feather value, for example, to blur those edges, but that's not going to get you a credible mask.
Let's go ahead and reduce that setting to 0. Instead what you want to do is play around with these edge detection functions, starting with the Radius value. Now you may recall that when you're applying Gaussian blur, for example, or the Feather command, you have a Radius value and that blurs the selection. That is not what it does here. If you crank the selection value up and I'm going to take it up to 70, what you're doing instead is you're telling the Refine Mask command that it has 70 pixels to work with around the original selected edge.
And that's the area in which it can redefine the selection. To get a sense of what I'm talking about, go ahead and turn on the Show Radius check box up here at the top of the dialog box and you'll notice that you see the radius against the white background. Everything that's not white is the area that's inside of your edge detection radius. And that's the portion of the mask that the Refine Mask command will re-evaluate. Now a 70-pixel radius is great for encompassing most of the hair. However, it's too much radius for the sharp transitions, which include the edges around the fingers and the sweater and so forth.
So if you want Photoshop to automatically analyze that radius and make adjustments, then you turn on the Smart Radius check box. And notice that redraws the radius like so, and we get a big area of radius around the hair and a tight area of radius around the knuckles, and the sweater, and so on. I'm going to turn off the Show Radius check box so that we can see the original image once again. And I just want you to see how much of a difference this command has made so far. If I turn on Show Original, that's the original quick selection mask.
Obviously, it looks like trash. By comparison to what we've done now with just a few clicks, I'll turn Show Original off and we end up getting this accurate hair selection. Now, it incorporates too much of the blue, so we'll need to change that and we can do so using this Refine Radius tool, which is selected by default. And notice if you move your cursor out into the image window, you have a brush cursor with an inset plus sign. And what that tells you is that brushing with this tool will add to the radius. I'm going to increase the size of this brush by pressing the right bracket key, so that same keyboard trick works.
And incidentally if it's not working for you on the PC, it's because one of the values is active. Notice if I click inside the Radius value and try to press the right bracket key, nothing happens. What you need to do is turn on and off one of the check boxes. So I'll just go ahead and turn Show Original on, then turn it back off. And now I can use those bracket keys to once again change the size of my cursor. All right. I'm going to increase the size and just brush over some of this hair and then release and the Refine Mask command goes ahead and re-evaluates that area further.
Now I'll reduce the size of my cursor and paint over this region, further reevaluation. In this area right here, it's done a bad thing. Refine Mask has gone ahead and added back in some blue where previously we had white. So we need to unpaint some of that radius. And you can do that by pressing and holding the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and notice that gives you a little minus sign inside the brush cursor. Then go ahead and paint in that region and it will restore the original selection. This area however needs to be reevaluated, so I'll just go ahead and paint over it and release and we get rid of some more of the blue.
This area is no good so I need to press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and paint over it. We end up getting the white back, which is what we want because we want to mask it away. And then I'll reduce the size of my cursor and I'm going to go ahead and Alt+Drag or Option+Drag over that little bit of hair right there in order to more or less reinstate it. That ends putting some of the blue back into play, so I'll increase the size of my cursor, maybe just click right there in order to try to get rid of some of that blue. I believe actually I need to click inside of the blue itself in order to remove it.
Scroll over to the left a little bit, increase the size of my cursor once again, drag over that bit of hair right there, Photoshop goes ahead and re-evaluates the mask, does a terrific job as well. Notice that we have some white sort of bleeding into the neck right there. That's translucency. I'm not sure that's necessarily such a bad thing, but you can get rid of that, you can reestablish the Opacity of the neck by Alt+Dragging or Option+Dragging over this region, like so. And that looks pretty darn good to me.
I'm going to go ahead and click OK, in order to apply the command and notice what a difference it makes. If I press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac, this is the original Quick Selection Mask, just looks awful. And then if I press Ctrl+Z or Command +Z again, that is the automatically modified version of the mask. Thanks to the edge detection functions inside the Refine Mask dialog box.
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