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Now if you are typical Photoshop user, you are probably absolutely terrified of the Channels panel. You are good enough here with the Layers panel to get around, you know you can create layers and move around and do a transparency and whatnot. But you go to the Channels panel and you will click over there and it's just like a whole other world. Like what are these things? And when you create a new channel, it's called Alpha 1 and what the heck does that mean? Well, channels in terms of an RGB image are just gray scale images. All right, there is a red channel, there is a green channel, there is a blue channel. Each of these gray scale channels just represents a color of light.
Now, when you look at the particular channels, the brighter the tone, the brighter the pixels. So in the red channel where there is a lot of red, that's going to be represented as a bright pixel or a white in this case. So if you take a look at this image, the parrot's got a very red head. So as you would expect when you go to the red channel, there is not a lot of dark pixels there. It's all blown out and white. Conversely, when you go to the blue channel, since there is not a lot of blue in the head, you get a little dark pixels there showing up in that channel.
Anyway, this isn't meant to be a whole crash course for channels. Assuming that you have kind of gotten somewhat comfortable with the concept of the channel, you may want to do something called the Channel Walk from the comfort of your Layers panel. Why would you do the Channel Walk? Well, you may look at this particular image and "go there is not a lot of detail in that head. I may not want to use this image." So one use of the Channel Walk is just to confirm whether or not there actually is detail in an image because if there is detail in one channel, you may be able to borrow that detail form that channel and push it into the other channels.
So, yes, you can do the Channel Walk by going to the Channels panel and clicking on the name of each individual channel and evaluating each channel, by that way or I'm going to go back to the composite channel, I can do this from the Layers panel. I never actually have to go to the Channels panel to do it. And the keyboard shortcuts are Command or Ctrl in Windows and then 2, 3, 4, and 5. So Command+3, Ctrl+3 shows you the red channel. Command+4 shows you the green channel. Command+5, Ctrl+5 shows you the blue channel. And then to get back to the composite RGB channel, it's Command or Ctrl+2.
So I don't know if you are paying attention but if you take a look at the green channel again, so 3 is red, 4 is green. Take a look. What do you see in that head in the green channel? You see lots of detail. So let's say that you are going to be creating a gray scale conversion or black and white conversion. What you have just learned is that there actually is detail to borrow from and if you weight the black and white conversion using information from the green channel as supposed to the red channel, you are going to get a much better looking gray scale image. And in fact if you just convert it from the red channel, Command+3, Ctrl+3 you get a much different looking image, right.
So the Channel Walk is a very useful skill. When you have got problem images, it's always a good idea to go look at the individual channels and see where their problems are. Whether it's detail in one channel, whether it's novice in another channel and it just helps you kind of dissect what the image is made up of. To get back to the composite again, it's Command+2. Just as a reminder, you know when you are in the Layers panel, it's the Command key or the Ctrl key and these numbers. If you are in a dialog like the Levels dialog or the Curves dialog or if you are using the new Adjustments panel inside Photoshop CS4, then navigating the channels that way requires the Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on Windows mainly because you are just in a different context. So from the Layers, it's Command or Ctrl and then 2, 3, 4 and 5. In a dialog or in the Adjustments panel, it's the Option or Alt key and then 2, 3, 4 and 5.
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