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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're going to integrate the bird into its new environment using a combination of Refine Edge, Gaussian blur, and an Inner Shadow effect. And I look at this bird, and even though its mask is in pretty darn good shape, it could be a little better. But I don't believe for a second that the bird actually belongs in this environment. Even though he started against the sky, and now he's still against the blue sky, there is just so much more contrast going on, and so many other elements to compete with, that some integration is in order.
So with the Kite layer selected down here near the bottom of Layers panel, go ahead and click on the layer mask thumbnail to make it active as well. Then go up to the Select menu, and choose the Refine Mask command, or press Control+Alt+R, Command+Option+R on the Mac. And I'm going to take the Radius value up to 20, and then press the Tab key. And so, among the other things, it goes ahead and tucks in that edge along the right side of the forward wing. And to get a better sense of what I'm talking about, change the View option to On layers, which you can also do by pressing the L key. And just so you can see the difference, I'll scoot the dialog box over a little bit. This is how the mask looked before we refined it, and this is what the mask looks like now.
So a pretty subtle difference, but a meaningful one as well. Now go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification. Now that did help certain parts of the mask, and it messed up other portions. To get a sense what I'm talking about, Alt+click, or Option+click, on the layer Mask thumbnail in order to view that layer mask independently of the rest of the image. And if I press Control+Z, or Command+ Z on the Mac, this is the original clean white version of the interior of that mask. Then I'll press Control+Z or Command+Z again, and we can see what the mask looks like after we get done refining it.
So we've got some gray values showing up along the top of the wings, up here in the forward feathers, and inside the head as well, and the best way to fix those edges is with the Brush tool. So go ahead and select the Brush tool here inside the toolbox. Make sure that your foreground color is white. You might want to right-click inside the image window and confirm that the Hardness value is cranked down to 0%, as it is for me. And then check that the mode is set to Overlay, and go ahead and paint over those top feathers, down along the front of the wings, into the bird's face, and down along the rear wing as well.
And then I'm going to click right there along the bottom right corner at the top of the tail in order to take some of the gray out of it, and that's it. All right, now Alt+click, or Option+ click, in the layer mask thumbnail again, so that we can see the full color composite image. I'm going to press the 'M' key to switch back to the Rectangular Marquee tool. All right; now if you ask me, the bird is too sharply focused; it should appear a little bit blurred, because it is pretty far in the background. And so I'm going to click on the Smart Object thumbnail, there inside the Layers panel, so we're working on the bird as opposed to the mask. Then go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur, and choose Gaussian Blur, which if you loaded DekeKeys, you'll see I gave a keyboard shortcut of Shift+F7.
Take the Radius value as low as 0.5. We just want a slight bit of softening, as we see here. Then click OK. That's still too much softening, in my opinion; we're now kind of ruining some of the details of his face. So go ahead and scroll down the Layers panel list again, right-click on that Filter mask, because we won't be using it, and choose Delete Filter Mask, just to eliminate some clutter. And then double- click on that tiny slider icon in order to bring up the Blending Options dialog box, and change the mode from Normal, to Lighten, and now we end up getting this soft, brightening effect.
The darker details, including some of the definition inside of the eye, ends up being restored. Click OK. Now I want to create the effect of some light blasting into the underside of the bird, and this will really fit the scene once we add those synthetic rays of sunlight. And we're going to achieve this effect using an Inner Shadow, because after all, we want to create a directional highlight. So go ahead and click on the fX icon, and choose Inner Shadow. Click on the color swatch, and let's change it from black to white, then click OK.
Change the mode from Multiply, to Normal, so that we end up creating some white highlights inside the image. The Angle should be 20 degrees, because that's essentially the angle that the light is coming from. Bear in mind that the light will be located up here in this upper right cloud. Now, that's going to change the global light source. That actually doesn't matter at all, because this is the only layer effect inside this image. Then crank up the Opacity value to 100%, take the Distance value up to 15 pixels, and then finally, because we have some very sharp transitions here, take that Size value up to 35 pixels, like so.
That looks pretty over the top when we we're zoomed this far into the bird, but it will look better in just a moment. I'll go ahead and click the OK button in order to accept my modifications. And then I'll press Control+0, or Command+0 on the Mac, in order to center my zoom. And this is our finished bird effect, believe it or not. It's a little over the top where the highlights are concerned, but it's going to look absolutely fantastic once we add those synthetic rays of sunlight, which we'll begin doing using entirely, by the way, a collection of Smart Filters, starting in the next exercise.
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