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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."
By now, you should be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. That's because in just two exercises, we are going to be done with this project. I am working inside of the most recent version of the composition which is called Swirling Background.psd found inside the 10_Advanced blend folder. The next thing that we need to do in this exercise, we need to assign some shading to this image. If you zoom in to the image, you will see that we have this little strange highlight over here next to her mouth on the right side of her face; her left side, of course. This little convex area, it might be her jaw. Then I chose for a static reasons to go ahead and cut it out of my layer mask. So I tucked the layer mask further in on her face here and as a result, the swirling background is interacting with this little bit of face here to create this radical highlight. We need to get rid of it, we need to paint it away using a little bit of shading. That will also help to distinguish the foreground image, her, the model with the goggles and all that stuff, from the background, from all these background elements that we have going here.
Also if you scroll down to the bottom, you will see some strange highlights that work underneath her jawline and those look like little whiskers here, and over here on the left side of the neck, and the right side of the neck, and so on. We need to mask those areas away too, the parts of the mountains, the mountains that sits on the multiply layer. So anyway, we are going to be doing all this shading, and masking, and general clean up work inside of this exercise. So here is what I want you to do. Bring up the Layers palette and I want you to load the layer mask that's assigned to the tiles layer, I want you to load it as the selection outline by Ctrl+Clicking or Command+Clicking on that layer mask thumbnail; so that's step number one. Now let's create a new layer by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+Shift+N on the Mac, and I am going to name this layer shading, and I am going to click OK. This will be a hand shading layer, we are actually going to be painting in the selection outline.
Now you might say, I will go ahead and Shift+Tab away the palette there. You might say, "Well, why don't we go ahead and create a drop shadow or take advantage of some automated layer affect?" The reason is because the drop shadow will trace along the top of the image, we would actually see a shadow coming down from the top of the image, and it would go into these beads over here, and it would basically be uniform across the entire image; and we don't want that. We want to be able to control exactly where the shading is occurring, so we are going to brush it in but because we are working inside of the selection outline, Photoshop is going to be automatically masking our brush strokes. So it's going to be pretty easy to do.
Press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac in order to hide the selection outline, so you can better what you are doing. Grab the Brush tool right here, which you can get by pressing the B key, if you are so inclined. I am going to press the Right Bracket key in order to increase the size of my brush and I am going for about a 150 pixel brush at this point. You can, of course, work with any size brush you like. Make sure, however, that it's soft, so the Hardness value should be set to 0% there. The blend Mode is set to Normal, Opacity is set to 100%, so is Flow, the air brush is turned off; my foreground color is set to black. If yours isn't, go ahead and press the D key for the default colors. Then I am going to paint along the left hand edge of the neck there and I am going to paint on the right as well. Don't worry, if your shadows are just too black. If they look like they are too black and too garish, we are going to soften them up in just a moment using the Eraser tool. I will paint along this shoulder here, this raised shoulder that's propping up her elbow, and I am going to go ahead and paint at the top as well, above the goggles, and that's it. That's the shading that I want to apply.
Now I want you to reduce the shading, just a little, because it is way, way too much. I mean, obviously, now we have well distinguished the foreground image from the background but I don't think the user needs that much shading. Let's try to be a little more subtle here. So I am going to go grab the Eraser tool and that is to say the standard Eraser tool; not the Background or the Magic guy, the standard Eraser tool. Notice that by default, the eraser has a hard edge associated with it. Let's go ahead, after increasing the size of the brush by pressing the Right Bracket key a few times, I am going to press Shift+Left Bracket four times in a row in order to reduce the hardness to 0%, so we have a nice soft brush. I also want to reduce the opacity value, so I am going to press the 3 key to reduce the Opacity value to 30%.
Now I am going to paint over my brush strokes and I may end up painting multiple times in order to reduce them to more of a normal levels, so that they are there but they are not quite so obvious. I don't want them to be just screaming at the user, "Hey! Look what we did; we just got them painting all over the place here." I want them to look more or less natural, like naturally occurring shadows, if such a thing is possible. Now I think I went ahead and raised too much of the shadow down here underneath her jaw. So I am going to undo that most recent erasing, and I am going to press the 1 key to reduce the Opacity to 10%, and I am going to try it again. I will go ahead and paint in there and I might paint twice. All right, that looks pretty good to me.
Now then, let's take care of the problem with the mountains and crouching on her neck line here and her shoulder, actually. These are a few areas, so you can see some highlights along the left edge of her jaw as well. We are going to take care of that by bringing back up the Layers palette, clicking on the multiply layer in order to select it, and then I want you to add a layer mask to the multiply layer. So go ahead and click on that layer mask icon, and Oops! Oh! Notice what I did. I just went ahead and converted the selection to a layer mask. So I now have that same layer mask that's assigned to tiles, it's now assigned to multiply as well. That's way too much because notice, it got rid of the clouds inside of her goggles. So this is before I made the layer mask and this is after.
I could de-select the image and then make the layer mask. So I can undo the creation layer mask, de-select the image by pressing Ctrl or Command+D, and then generate a new layer mask, and it would be empty; or as long as I have already got a layer mask sitting here, I will just go ahead and press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac to de-select the image. Then I will press Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on the Mac to fill that layer mask with white. All right, so now let's go back to the Brush tool. I will go ahead and click on the Brush tool icon here inside the toolbox. We should be working with the Normal mode, a 100% Opacity, a Flow of a 100% as well, the foreground color is set to black in my case; just make sure it is. If it isn't, press D and X. D for default colors and X to switch them. The size of my brush is just fine here, the 150 pixels, I think that will work out well.
Now I am going to paint along the neckline and the bottom of the jaw. Notice that to get rid of those aberrant, weired, little highlights. Then I am going to paint along the left side of the neck, her right side; as if that matters. I am going to go ahead and paint up the shoulder because we had a lot weired edges going on in that shoulder, that made the shoulder look less smooth than, I think, it are to. I am going to paint along the side of her face as well. Very important to paint over her lips, even though the clouds aren't super visible on her lips, they are there and I would like to get rid of them. I am going to paint up the side of her goggles a little bit to get rid some of the weired reflections that we are seeing there.
Then finally if you want to, this totally up to you, you can paint away the highlights up here at the top of the hair. I happen to like those highlights, so I am not going to paint them away. I am going to leave them intact but whatever you decide to do, it should look something like this final version of the image right here. When I say final, I mean there is one more thing to do. It's almost done; we just need to add the capillaries to the flesh. Doesn't that sound like a great thing to do? That is what we are going to do in the next exercise.
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