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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."
If you were with me in the previous exercise, you may recall we went ahead and added an adjustment layer to this image from photograph Alex Nikada, and the idea behind this adjustment layer is that I wanted to make this Background a deeper, more intense blue, so that we have more contrast between the background, and the oranges of this model's skin, and hair, and so forth. We have managed to do that, although we have affected much of the interior of the model as well, and you can see right over here, what we have got is a Levels adjustment layer, that's modified by a layer mask that's been borrowed from the images own Blue Channel.
All right, so here I am working inside of an image called Partially masked.psd. You can go ahead and open it up as well, if you want to catch on up with me, it's found inside of the 11 layer masks folder. And I was to turn off the adjustment layer; you will see what the original image looks like. All right, I am going to turn the adjustment layer back on. Now if I would Alt+Click on the layer mask, or Option+Click on that layer mask on the Mac, I could view the layer mask independently. What we need to do, is we need to make the interior of the model where the layer mask is concerned entirely black, and we need to make the area behind the model entirely white. So we are going to have to apply a Levels adjustments in order to increase the contrast of this layer mask. So you can, yes, we are going to be using Levels inside of a Levels adjustment layer. Just happens to be the way things are. Now the big question though is, do I want to be looking at the layer mask as I am now, or do I want to be looking at the composite image as I modify the mask, and really honestly, I like to be looking at both, if I could, and I can.
Photoshop allows you to create multiple windows into a single image if you like, and this is one of those functions, it's been around inside Photoshop since day one. Not very many people know about it, but it's an extremely useful feature. So here is what we are going to do. With this image open, I want you to go up to the Window menu, choose Arrange, and choose this command right there, New Window for Partially masked .psd, and that will open a new window into the same image. Now I am going to press Shift+F to switch to the standard window mode, so that I can see multiple windows at a time, and the great thing about its function is that you can view the image at a different zoom ratio.
You can scroll to a different portion of the image. You can view a different channel, you can view a layer mask, you can view anything, really, differently, than the other image. So now I am going to go, so I can see both images at the same time, I am going to Shift+Tab away my palettes for a moment. Then I am going to go on to the Window menu, choose Arrange, and choose Tile Vertically, so that I can see these images side by side like so. Now I am going to switch to this window, and I am going to zoom in to the 100% view size, because I want to get a good look at the transitions inside of her hair. That's why I am the most concerned about where the composite image is concerned, and then where this image window is concerned, I am going to zoom into 50%, so I am going to take a wider view of this image, and going to Shift+Tab to view my palette. I am going to Alt or Option click on the layer mask thumbnail here, so that I can see the layer mask by itself.
Now I am going to Shift+Tab those palettes away. So you can see both images, it's telling as that we are working on the sky layer, and we are working inside of the layer mask, but in one case we are seeing the composite image, in the other case we are seeing the layer mask by itself, awesome! Now I want you to press Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac to bring up the Levels command. Notice that it's telling us that we are working in Channel sky Mask. That is the layer mask, with the layer called sky. Now notice if I were to apply radical adjustments, like I am going to increase my black point dramatically, and decrease my white point dramatically. So that I am increasing the heck out of the contrast in the image, and you'll just have to ignore the hideous appearance of those teeth over there right now.
You'll see, not only do the teeth look bad in the composite image as well, isn't that nice, but worse, because we can get rid of the problems on the interior of the mask very easily. More unfortunate is these harsh edges that are tracing around the hair details. You can see that we have alternately dark blue edges followed by light edges. These light highlighted edges as well. So things are basically a mess where the hair is concerned, and that's because we have gone overboard with our Level adjustments. So let's go ahead and back things off a little bit. I am going to take the black point back to 20, and you can see that pretty much takes care of the problem here. We do have some slight dark blue edges going on, but nothing that concerns me at this point, and then I am going to let off of the white point adjustment too. I am going to take that up to 160. So I am still being pretty aggressive where the white point is concerned, but not very aggressive at all, where the black point is concerned.
Now click OK. Now we still have a lot of work to do on the interior of the model, and we are going to do that, using the Brush tool, so go ahead and click on the Brush tool icon on the toolbox, or press the B key, press Shift+Alt+O to switch to the overlay mode, that's shift Option+O on the Mac. Go ahead and get yourself a large soft brush, and make sure that foreground color is black, which it isn't for me, so I am going to press the X key, and then start painting inside of the image. Now you can be pretty indiscriminate as you paint inside the image if you want to, in most areas accept around the hair over here. I am just motioning, I am not painting right now, I am just showing you.
You don't want to paint over this area. Because if you do paint over, notice what happens. Then you get those horrible edges around the hair, inside composite image again. So I recommend that you just avoid that area. Don't even paint over at it all. Just go ahead and paint over everything else, where the model is concerned. Now she is going to end up with those horrible brown teeth right there. As I say that goes to the old adage, don't show the model the mask, because this is the kind of horrible results, the horrible skeletal results that you get as you are painting inside of a mask. Let's get rid of that, right now actually, before we go any further, by pressing the L key for lasso tool, and just sort of circling a pretty big range of the image right here like so, and then I am going to fill it with black by pressing Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete. Ah! That looks much better. Both inside of the layer mask and the composite image, fortunately.
Now I am going to deselect the image, and switch back to the Brush tool, and I deselected the image of course by pressing Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac, and I will switch back to the Brush tool, paint, paint, paint inside of the shoulder region. Paint, paint, paint over in this shoulder region as well, and the white should be actually in pretty good shape. You shouldn't have to do really much of anything where the whites are concerned. If you think that there might be some action going on in the whites, go grab that magic wand tool once again, change the Tolerance value to 0, turn Anti-alias off, so that you are only selecting one color inside the image, and then click in the background, and you should see this. You should basically select the entire background, because we made the entire thing white from the Levels command.
So life is good, you can now close this window. That's your second window into the image. So when you close it, Photoshop is not going to ask you if you want to save anything, because you still have the image open. You just close the second window into it. Now I am going to Shift+Tab my palettes backup on screen, I am going to return to the maximize screen mode by pressing the F key, and I am going to press Ctrl+D or Command+D to deselect the image, and that is our image so far folks. This is without that adjustment layer, this is with the adjustment layer. You can see that the adjustment layers are now limited to the sky, and only the sky. She is totally protected, but we still need to work on those teeth. They could be whiter and the highlights could be whiter as well, and they will be whiter after the next exercise.
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