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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 we are going to come up with a better even more flexible approach, this time using a knockout layer. I've saved my progress as Tepid highlights.psd found inside that 09_layer_masks folder and the first thing I want you to do is Shift+Click on the mask that's associated with that group to turn it off. Then go ahead and click on the screen layer to make it active, because we're to make a new layer and we are going to do so by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N, Command+Shift+N on the Mac and I'll call this new layer knockout and click OK.
Notice because I had screen selected I automatically create this new layer inside of the group and that's very important. You generally need a group to successfully pull off a knockout inside Photoshop. Now we need the Gradient tool once again because we are going to draw a gradient. We are going to draw that same gradient we drew before. However, we are going to change the style slightly from foreground or background to instead we need foreground to transparent. So go ahead and select that second item and then press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac in order to accept that change.
This time we are going to drag down in the opposite direction we drew before. So drag even with the top bubbles in the left-hand glass downward while pressing the Shift key to the bottom of that third bubble along the left-hand side of the right-hand glass in order to create this gradient right there. So what we've got is a black to transparent gradient on an independent layer. It looks like it's messing everything up, but it's altogether separate from the rest of the composition. Here is how you create a knockout. Now this is really weird, I have to say.
If you've ever seen this one before it doesn't make a lot of sense, but it's a pretty quick approach. You just have to remember how it works. You start by double-clicking in an empty portion of that knockout layer in order to bring up the layer Style dialog box, and then you change the Knockout style from None to Shallow. Shallow will go ahead and bore to the bottom of the group. If you were to choose Deep you would go all the way down to the background layer, which in our case because we don't have a background, would burrow through to transparency.
So Deep is not what we want. I will go ahead and change it to Shallow once again. Now you may look at this and say, well, Deke obviously you're wrong, because nothing is happening whatsoever. No matter what you set that Knockout to we are not seeing anything knockout. And that's because you also have to turn around and adjust the Fill Opacity value. So I am going to take that Fill Opacity; not the Opacity value, because that will reduce the opacity of the entire layer, including this effect. You want to take Fill Opacity down to 0 % like so and now we have gone ahead and completed the knockout.
So it's a combination of having a group putting the knockout layer at the top of the group, setting the knockout option as shallow, and changing the Fill Opacity to 0%. Then what happens when you click OK is that any portion of the knockout layer that was formerly opaque cuts a hole in the layers below, any portion of that layer that's transparent does not cut a hole. So suddenly we are in this wacky world where opacity translates to transparency and transparency translates to opacity.
But that's the way it works with knockout layer. Now you might say, well, Deke, this is the exact same effect we had before. After all I could now Ctrl+Drag or Command+Drag this gradient up and down in order to achieve the same effect I was showing you in a previous exercise. Here's the difference. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on Mac to undo that modification. Now rather than let's say erasing into this layer to add transparency which would introduce those highlights that we achieved using those little white fingers inside of the group mask, this time we will create a layer mask for the knockout layer so that the knockout and its mask are independent from each other.
So I'm going to drop down to the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and click on it. Now I'll switch to my Brush tool and I want to paint with black because I want to paint transparency into this layer mask. So I will press the X key to make my foreground color black, and then I'll paint up like so in order to introduce the highlights. Now notice that my highlights and my knockout are independent of each other, so I haven't harmed anything. I could click the link icon between the layer mask and the layer itself and now Ctrl+Drag those highlights to a different location without affecting the gradient that is dropping out the gas inside of those glasses.
Here is the thing though, now I am looking at this thinking those highlights are way too thick. Alright, fine! Let's go ahead and restore the layer mask to white by pressing Ctrl+Backspace or Command+Delete on the Mac, because white is my background color. That went ahead filled the layer mask with white, got rid of my former highlights, and I am going to right- click inside the image window and take the size value down to 100 pixels let's say and press the Enter key a couple of times or the Return key couple times on the Mac in order to hide that panel and now I'll click right there, right at that location, and I will Shift+Click upward in order to brush in a straight line and now I'm in the click at this location down in the bubbles in left- hand glass and I will Shift+Click up and slightly to the right in order to create a straight line of highlight at this location.
So I have all the flexibility in the world. Now problem is even though these highlights look thinner they still don't look as good as the one inside the file called The perfect evening.psd, but the beautiful thing is I have almost everything I need to pull off this effect at this point, because I have such a fundamentally flexible composition to work with in the first place. So what we are going to do is take the mask associated with the knockout layer and we're going to convert it into a couple of brushstrokes that we will then clip inside of another layer and we will ultimately achieve the effect that you see before you in the very next exercise.
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