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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."
All right, so here we are looking at the lightning in front of the clouds and I am working inside of an image, in case you're just joining us, I am working inside of an image called Electric storm.psd that's found inside the 10_Advanced_Blend folder. As I said the lightning is brilliantly masked even though there is no mask involved whatsoever. It's brilliantly masked against this cloudy background. But I want more interaction, I want the tendrils of lightning to look like they're coming out of the cloud as if the clouds are emitting these zaps of electricity.
How do we achieve that? Well, we're going to take advantage of that other luminance blending function inside of the Layer Style dialog box which is the underlying layer slider bar. So let's go ahead and bring back the Layers palette here. You can see I've got my Lightning layer and the Background layer, the clouds in back of it. I'm going to go ahead and double-click on the Lightning layer in order to bring up the Layer Style dialog box and you can see that everything is parametric. I could change the Blend mode, at this point if I wanted to, I can change the This Layer settings if I want to so I could just restore this layer back to 100% Opacity and I could change the Blend mode back to Normal as well and as just have the lightning, the original version of the lightning, which is still 100% intact.
So everything that we're doing is parametric, it's all based on these parameters that are available to us inside of this dialog box. I want to restore these settings we had just a moment ago though. So I'm going to press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and click on what is now the Reset button. So if you Alt+Click or Option+Click on what was formerly the Cancel button, you will reset your settings to those that appeared when you first open the dialog box, as we're seeing right there. So in addition to the This Layer slider bar, I know I sound like an absolute goof when I say that, but that's what it is.
In addition to the This Layer slider we have the Underlying Layer slider which allows you to force through luminance levels from the composite layers in the background from the layers in back of the active layer. So it really should be called underlying layers, plural. So notice if I drag this black slider triangle over to the right, I'm telling Photoshop that anything that has a brightness value of 126 or darker in the layers below the active layer, force those colors through. So force the display of the darkest colors inside of the background layers and eliminate the lightning in those regions. So we're forcing through the display of the sky since it's very dark inside of the image and the lightning is limited just to the cloud region like so. So we have this cloud that looks like it's a brain at this point, because it has all these weired little lines running through it.
That's an interesting effect, but not the effect that I'm looking for so I'm going to go ahead and drag the black triangle back over to the left hand side. What I want is to reveal the lightest colors in the cloud. So I'm going to force them through by dragging this white triangle over to left like so. Notice that now we're seeing the lightning recede into the clouds, which is exactly the effect I'm looking for. Naturally, I want a softer effect, I want a smoother transition between the portions of the lightning that are visible and invisible. So once I've dragged the white slider to 160, as you see right there, I'm going to Alt+Drag or Option+Drag the right half of the while slider over to 185. So again you can break up these triangles by pressing the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac.
And we end up with this effect right here, which is absolute perfection. This is exactly what I want. So now I'm going to go ahead and click on the OK button in order to accept that modification. I am so impressed with this image, I'm going to tab away my palettes, fill the screen with the image and zoom in and there is the final version of the composition with a lightning emitting from the clouds are completely parametric, nondestructive modification, thanks to luminance blending inside Photoshop.
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