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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."
Okay, so here we are looking at this very, very bad section of hair, that's in the lower left corner, it's at this juncture. If I were to switch back to the RGB composite image, it's at this juncture between the knuckle, her knuckle for her right hand and the hair details that are set against this light portion of the background below the flame, and it's just a mess. Our mask is a mess, I have to say. At least my mask is a mess, maybe your mask looks great, I doubt it, because we really don't have any good info to work from here.
I am still working inside of that same Merged mask combo.tif file that I opened in the previous exercise. So I have made some changes to it using the Dodge and Burn tool, and we are working inside of this channel called iteration merge. You know what; I am going to rename it. I am going to go ahead and call it mask in prog or something like that to indicate that we are working on this channel here. I have worked over my original iteration merge channel. I could recreate it pretty easily though, because I have the pieces right there. So I am not too concerned about that, I am concerned about the state of this information, and as I was saying at the end of the previous exercise, we are going to fix this problem using the Pen tool, and now that we know how to use the Pen tool, thanks to the previous chapter.
Let's put our knowledge in play here. It's not only a useful tool for masking very, very defined edges; it's also pretty good for masking strange edges like this one where we have nothing else to do. We need a nice organic curve at this location. So the Pen tool is probably the best tool for that purpose. I am going to switch back to the RGB image. I am going to switch over to the Paths palette, and I am going to grab my Pen tool from the toolbox and I can get it by pressing the P key as well. Now let's go down to the bottom of the Paths palette here. Let's go ahead and move things up so that we can see this little icon. I am going to go ahead and click on it in order to create a new path and let's call this one, bad hair, or something along those lines, and it is now ready to accept whatever I draw with the Pen tool.
So this is what I am going to do. I am actually going to move the image down a little bit, and I am going to start here, sort of in the midst of the flame there, and I am going to drag in order to create a smooth point, and now I am going to drag here in order to create another smooth point like so, that sort of bows outward. And if I am feeling like that's not really giving me the kind of curvature I want, I can just click in the center. Notice, I've got my little Pen tool with a plus sign next to it. I will click right there in order to establish another point. Now I am pressing the Ctrl key as I drag these things around. Let's go ahead and zoom in so we can see our anchor points and our control handles a little more closely. And I am just going to move these control handles ever so slightly until I feel like I am getting a good curvature, not necessarily trying to trace the exact hair, that's hopeless. I am not going to be able to trace hairs using the Pen tool. I am just trying to make sure I am matching this curvature right here so that it looks natural and organic, and it looks like it's following the curvature that's established by the top of the hair. So our hair looks like it's linked down naturally, so it's curving naturally, and this looks pretty good to me.
Now I am going to Alt+Drag from this point, or Option+Drag from it in order to establish a cusp, and then I am going to Alt+Drag this away or Option+Drag in order to establish another cusp point, and so I have this kind of lozenge shape right here, that I think is going to work out very nicely for us. Having created this path outline, I will go ahead and switch back to my Marquee tool since it's the nice neutral tool. I will convert this path to a selection by Ctrl+Clicking on it or Command+Clicking on the Path Thumbnail here inside the Paths palette.
Let's go back to the Channels palette. Let's switch over to masking progress, and I might want to establish a little bit of feathering right here because it is kind of a soft transition. If we go back to the RGB image, you can see there is some softness going on here. This is another one of those images that I wonder when I look at it. It has somebody been here, somebody do something to this region of the image, in which case, we already have a little fakeness that we are trying to deal with, so we are trying to sort of split the difference between the reality of the original photograph and the fakeness of the modifications that were applied, because this flame has definitely been enhanced.
So it makes me think some of this area has as well. That's fine, that happens, and it's actually pretty good work, but we just need to work around it. And so I am going to go back to masking progress. Let's go ahead and feather this selection a little bit by going up to the Select menu, choosing Modify, choosing Feather. I am going to enter a Feather Radius value of 1.2 pixels that just fills right to me. I can't tell you why I am doing exactly 1.2, that seems like the amount of feathering we need here, and I will click OK. And now background color is white, once again I will press Backspace or Delete in order to fill this region with white. Then, I am going to go down here, I am going to press Ctrl+Shift+I or Command+Shift+I on the Mac in order to reverse the selection, and then I am going to go grab my Lasso tool. I am going to press the Shift and Alt keys or the Shift and Option keys on the Mac, and I am going to drag around this little area right here. Nice, just as that I selected.
Okay, I have a couple of options at this point. I could just fill it with black by pressing Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete, but if I do that, do you see how I am shoving that edge inward a little bit, so I really don't want to do that. Instead what I am going to do is, I am going to try to burn it away. I am going to grab that Burn tool right there and I am going to reduce the size of my cursor, and I am just going to try to burn these details if I can, like so. And it's not turning out too great. So let's go ahead and see if I might be able to just kind of Alt+Drag away some of this stuff up here. That might work better, that would be an Option+Drag by the way on the Mac, and then Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete in order to fill this area with black.
It's okay, not the greatest transition right there actually, this is like one of those things where you might have, if this bothers you, this little weird edge right there, you could grab the Clone Stamp tool, just go and grab that little guy, and Alt+Click at this location, or Option+Click up there, and then move your cursor down, reduce the size of the cursor a little bit, and click, and see how that sort of fix that problem a little bit. And you could do something similar right there if you want it to in order to fix the problem with the finger region, and that works out pretty nicely, except that now I have to come in with the Dodge tool. Once you start doing this kind of work you've got to go back and forth. I went ahead and press the O key a couple of times to switch over to Dodge tool, and I will go ahead and dodge that area away. That looks pretty good.
Now you might look at this and go, well, that's kind of unnaturally rounded at that location, all of a sudden the hair is nice and perfect. I don't think that's going to show up. When we create the final composition, I think this is going to look pretty nice because we do have a little of hair popping out here and there, and what's more important is that we are matching the contour. Notice that this edge loops around in an organic fashion, so this follows the way hair would actually lay. It's going in a fairly sort of, low slope at this location, and then all of a sudden it starts tucking around where it's actually falling against the shoulder. So this looks pretty darn good to me. I think it's going to work out nicely.
In the next exercise, we are going to take this mask, it's no longer masking progress, it is actually the final mask, let's go ahead and rename it. We are going to take this final mask, and we are going to put it in play, we are going to use it to composite this woman against a different background.
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