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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 am going to show you how to create what's known as God lighting, which is when you have these bright rays of light that are streaming through the clouds. And we are going to start things off by creating the core effect using a combination of eight different Smart Filters. And if you're working along with me, go ahead and click in the Background layer, down here at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then create a new layer by pressing Control+ Shift+N, or Command+Shift+N on a Mac, and let's go ahead and call this layer rays, and click OK. Next, I want you to fill this layer with black.
Black is my foreground color; I assume it's yours as well. So press Alt+Backspace, or Option+Delete on a Mac. Now, because we want to work with Smart Filters, we need to convert this layer to a smart object. So go to the Layers panel flyout menu, click on it, and then choose Convert to Smart Object. Or, once again, if you loaded Dekekeys, you can press Control+Comma, or Command+Comma on the Mac. Now I need more room. I need the layer to be much bigger than the composition itself. And we will achieve that effect by modifying the smart Object.
So go ahead and double-click on this black rays thumbnail in order to open the smart object. If you get the alert message telling you how smart objects work, go ahead and click OK. Then, inside this independent window, which will probably be called rays.psb, I want you to go up to the Image menu, choose the Image Size command, or press Control+Alt+I; Command+Option+I on the Mac. Make sure that Resample Image is turned on. Constrain Proportion should be turned on as well. Scale Styles doesn't matter in this case. Change the Width option from pixels to percent, and then dial in a value of 200, so we are expanding the size of the image by 200% horizontally, and 200% vertically, then click OK.
You'll end up with this whopping area with black. Now go ahead and close the image by clicking on the close box up in the title bar or the title tab. Click the Yes button on the PC, or the Save button on the Mac, to save your changes. It's not going to look any different onscreen; that's okay. Now, just so we can get a sense of what we're doing, I recommend you turn off the other layers by Alt+clicking, or Option+ clicking, on the eye in front of the rays layer, so we can examine it by itself. Go ahead and tap the D key in order to establish your default colors: black and white.
Then go up to the Filter menu, choose Render, and choose Clouds. The thing about the Clouds filter is it uses the foreground and background colors in order to colorize the effect. You will end up with some random fractal noise pattern onscreen. Any pattern is fine at this point. Now I want you to go to the Filter menu, choose Distort, and then choose Pinch. And the Pinch filter allows you to pinch the effect toward the center of the image.
So go ahead and crank the Amount value all the way up to 100%, which is the maximum, and click OK. And that pinches the effect just a little; not enough, as it turns out. Just to reduce clutter, once again I'm going to right-click on the Filter Mask thumbnail here inside the Layers panel. And I will choose Delete Filter Mask. And now, at this point, we need to replicate this Pinch filter five more times. so press Control+F, or Command+F on a Mac, to repeat the last filter. Because we're working on a smart object, we get the dialog box. Just go ahead and click OK, or press the Enter or Return key. Then press Control+F or Command+F again; press Enter or Return to apply the effect again. Press Control or Command+F for a third time; press the Enter key in order to accept the effect. Press Control or Command+F a fourth time, and then finally, press Control or Command+F a fifth time, and press Enter, or Return on a Mac.
And just to make sure you've gotten the effect we are looking for, go ahead and count the number of pinches in the list. There should be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in all. So what we've done is we've created this kind of streaming gradient. However, it's a lot easier to work this way. Even though Photoshop offers an angle gradient that allows you to achieve effects like this, it would mean adding a ton of color stops manually if you wanted to get anything that looked remotely like this. So this is a much easier way to work.
Next, I want you to go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur -- this is our final filter, by the way -- and then choose Radial Blur. And this will help us to blur these rays so that they look a little more naturalistic. Crank the Amount value up to 100, and set the Blur Method to Zoom. A Quality setting of Good is just fine. Make sure this center point is right there in the center of this Blur Center box, as it is by default, and then go ahead and click OK in order to finish off the effect. Now let's go ahead and bring back the other layers by Alt+clicking, or Option+clicking, on the eyeball in front of the rays layer once again.
The effect doesn't look good at all at this point, and that's because we need to blend it in with its background. And so go up to the upper left corner of the Layers panel, click on the word Normal, and switch to the brightest of the brightening modes, which is Linear Dodge (Add). And that's going to create this over the top, garish effect. If you are working on the PC, press the Escape key in order to deactivate the Blend mode option. And then I want you to press the Shift key, and tap the 6 key twice in a row. So Shift+6+6, right there in a row, and that will reduce the Fill Opacity value to 66%.
It's very important that you set Fill to 66%; not the standard Opacity value. Now press the Control key, or the Command key on a Mac, in order to temporarily access the Move tool, and I want you to drag the center of this effect until it's aligned to the center of that upper right cloud, like so. And that is the starting point. Believe it or not, even though it's so ridiculously over-the-top. That is the starting point for our synthetic rays of sunlight effect. In the next exercise, we will set to work masking the effect.
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