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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."
All right, at this point our composition is looking pretty darn great, we just have two issues one of which is really subtle and that's there is kind of dark edge that's tracing around the right side of her head, her left side, of course, but for us it's the right. And you can see how we go from this platinum blonde hair to a slightly dark edge to light sky. And it just wouldn't work itself out that way in real life. We shouldn't have an arbitrarily dark edge right there. And then on the left side of the image we have this flame, this is a much bigger problem, the flame just looks wrong.
So we are going to solve this first issue, this subtle issue in this subtle exercise and then we will solve the bigger issue in the next exercises. Now this next is sequence of steps and I am about to share with you, is very easy to pull-off, it's not hard to pull-off at all. But the reasoning is a little twisted and just it happens to work, is what I am going to tell you. Remember that I was telling you how -- when you are working with dark hair you can go ahead and multiply it into a background because that dark hair is something of a darkening agent for everything in back of it. When you are working with light hair you can't just screen it into the background because light hair isn't some kind of magical lightning agent, it just happens to be light, it doesn't lighten things behind it.
So to demonstrate what I am talking about, make sure that whether your selection tools are active, and by the way I am working inside of a document called WWF, Woman With Flame, on VOF, on Valley Of Fire .psd that's found inside the 16 Tough Stuff folder. And I am going to go ahead and press Shift+Alt+S or Shift+Option+S on the Mac in order to apply the Screen mode to this layer. And sure enough it doesn't look right at all. This hair is lightening the background, so don't even worry about the interior of the layer which looks wrong, of course, the hair doesn't look right. It looks like a traditional double exposure shot which is not what we want in this case, and yet here's what I am going to tell you. We are going to work with this effect, so leave it in place for now. Let's go ahead and zoom out here so we can take in more of the image.
The next thing that I want you to do with this layer active, I want you to press Ctrl+Alt+J or Command+Option+J on the Mac to jump the layer and of course name it, and we will go ahead and call this one Normal, and let's say, use previous layer to create clipping mask and set the blend mode to Normal as well. And then I want you to go ahead and click OK. Now here's the weird thing. It doesn't do a darn thing to the appearance of the image. It makes the file size bigger, as we can see down here in the lower left corner of the screen, but it does nothing to the appearance of the image. This is before we added the layer, this is after.
So what gives, how come we add a normal layer and it still looks the same? Well, the reason is that the blend mode that's been applied to this clip layer is subordinate to the blend mode that's been applied to the base layer for the clipping mask. We need to turn that function off. So what you do is you go down to the WWF layer, select it to make it active. It's very important that you select the base layer for this next effect. Double-click on its thumbnail to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and turn off this check box.
By default Photoshop goes ahead and calculates all of the layers merged together and then applies the blend mode from the base layer in order to project the effect on screen here. What we want to do is calculate each one of the blend modes independently, and you do that by turning off the check box, and now we get the effect we are looking for. Now I will go ahead and click Okay, and we can see if I go ahead and zoom in here on this image that we do have a lighter effect going on the edge, it's not much different. This is a very subtle modification but it is a little bit different, and to give you a sense I am going to be Alt+Clicking on this horizontal line between the two layers that would be an Option+Click on the Mac.
I want you to keep an eye on the hair and see how it changes; this is if we worth clipping the layer and this is how the effect looks before and this is clipping the layer inside of a screened background, so it does make a subtle difference. I am going to make one more subtle modification. I am going to click the layer mask for this top inset layer, then I am going to go up to the Filter menu, I am going to choose Blur and I am going to choose Gaussian Blur. In the case of this image, I am going to apply a Radius of 3 pixels as I have done here and I am going to click OK.
And to give you a sense of what just happened there, this is before and this is after. So see how we brighten the edges just a little bit, we just brought out some of those hairs ever so slightly; this is before down toward the bottom and this is after. So a little bit of brightening. It also brightens the shoulder but in a good way. This is before and this is after. So it looks pretty darn good to me, I like it and it kind of does an overall brightening across the entire image. Now let's go ahead and Shift+Tab away the palettes. I just want you to see what kind of a difference this entire exercise is made. So I am going to press the F12 key, so we can see what the image look like before we began this particular exercise, see those dark edges, just slightly dark edges along the right- hand side of her hair, and there are some dark edges over on the left as well and inside the flame, and this is after we made our modification.
So just a hint, a little tiny bit of screening that's not even showing up as a traditional screen mode effect because we've got Normal clipped inside it with just a little bit of blur. I didn't even move the edge in, I just blurred it a little bit and we ended up getting this effect, looks very nice. In the next exercise, we are going to take care of the flame, notice that the flame is kind of darkening its background, that just doesn't work, that's just not right. Just as a shadow never lightens anything, a light source can never darken anything. So we need to resolve the flame and we will begin to resolve that flame in the next exercise.
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