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In this movie, I'll introduce you to Photoshop's best automated method for selecting images: the Color Range command. Now, because the command is a little tricky to understand at first, I'll explain it in the context of the tool it was intended to replace, which is the Magic Wand. I'll start by going to the Image menu, and choosing the Duplicate command, and I going to call this duplicate image Magic Wand, and then press the Enter key, or the Return key on the Mac, and zoom in as well. This is a pretty straightforward photograph. It features these light billowy clouds set against a fairly homogeneous blue background.
It does start a little dark on the top, and end a little light, but it's obvious where the clouds begin and end. So you might figure that the Magic Wand is perfectly suited to select these clouds. So I'll go ahead and click and hold on the Quick Selection tool, and then select the Magic Wand tool from the flyout menu. Notice all of my default settings are in place. You may recall that Tolerance is measured in Luminance levels, so by default, Photoshop is going to select 32 Luminance levels lighter, and 32 Luminance levels darker than the Luminance of the click point on a channel by channel basis.
Anti-alias is turned on, so we'll get those smoothed off edges. Contiguous is also turned on, so the tool will select only adjacent pixels, meaning that it's not going to jump the selection from one cloud to the other. I'll go ahead and click inside the clouds to select them, and that selects about half the cloud. Now, naturally, I could Shift+Click in order to add to the selection, but for purposes of demonstration here, so we are comparing apples to apples, I am going to create a single click selection, which means I need to increase my Tolerance value.
So I'll press the Enter key, or the Return key on the Mac, in order to highlight that value, and I'll raise it all the way to 160. Now, that doesn't have any effect on the existing selection, because Tolerance is a static setting that affects the next selection outline I create. All right. So I'll press Control+D, or Command+D on the Mac, to start over, and then I'll click right there on the cloud, and that selects the whole thing, as you can see. Then I'll Shift+Click on the smaller cloud to select it as well. Now I'll jump the clouds to a new layer by pressing Control+Alt+J, or Command+Option+J on the Mac.
I'll name the layer clouds, and then I'll drag it to the top of the stack. Notice that I have this gradient called red sky. Its purpose is to help us gauge the quality of the selection. So I'll go ahead and turn it on, and you can see that we have got a pretty rough selection indeed here. Now, we can get rid of those blue edges by going up to the blend mode pop-up menu, and switching it from Normal to Luminosity, and we end up with this result here. However, while it was an easy selection to create, I hazard to say, it's not the kind of thing I think any of us would have been proud to have made.
But it's not your fault. The problem is you just happen to be using the wrong tool. So I'll switch over to the original image, press the M key to go back to the Rectangular Marquee tool, and now I'll go up to the Select menu, and choose the Color Range command. If you loaded DekeKeys, you have got a keyboard shortcut of Control+Shift+Alt+G, or Command+Shift+Option+G on a Mac; G being, of course, the second to last letter in the word range. All right. So that brings up this dialog box, which is where a lot of folks get confused, because this doesn't even look like a selection function. But in fact, it works a lot like the Magic Wand tool.
If you move your cursor out into the image window, it turns into an eyedropper, and it functions just like the Wand. In other words, you click to set a key color, and then you can see the selection starting to emerge here inside the dialog box. So what we are seeing in this little preview here is a masked version of the selection. Wherever the preview appears white, that region will be selected; wherever it appears black, that area will not be selected. And in fact, if I click OK at this point right now, I will generate a selection outline, as you can see.
All right. I'll press Control+D, or Command+D on a Mac, to deselect the image. And then I'll go back up to the Select menu, and choose Color Range once again. Now, notice that Photoshop is smart enough in order to load that key color, and that's because I actually changed my foreground color when I clicked inside the cloud, and so Color Range is always basing its initial selection on the foreground color. Now, if you want to expand the selection, you can Shift+Click inside the image window, just as you can with the Magic Wand tool. Also, get this -- I'll go ahead and click at the top of the cloud to reset the selection -- you can also Shift+Drag across the image, and notice, as you do, that your selection will grow on the fly. All right, but I'm looking for a single-click selection, so I'll just click near the top of the cloud once again.
Notice this Fuzziness value; like Tolerance, it's measured in Luminance levels, and by default, it's set to 40. So Photoshop is going to select 40 Luminance levels brighter, and 40 Luminance levels darker than the click point on a channel by channel basis. The reason this option is called Fuzziness, and not Tolerance is because the selection drops off over that luminance range. So in other words, any Luminance levels that are very close to the Luminance of the click point will be selected, and those that are farther away will drop off in terms of the selection.
So in other words, you get a gradual selection that represents the image organically. Now let's say I want to select more of the image. I would go ahead and increase that Fuzziness value, and you can see the clouds inside the mask preview grow on the fly, and that's because Fuzziness, in addition to being better than Tolerance in the first place, is also a dynamic control, so you can see what value is going to work best for you, as opposed to just making stabs in the dark. In my case, I came up with a value of 160; that same value I applied to the Magic Wand.
Now, another thing to notice is that the Color Range command automatically jumps the gaps. In other words, it's always designed to select nonadjacent pixels. Now, that's not always necessarily a good thing, which is why we have this Localized Color Clusters checkbox. I'll go ahead and turn it on, and what it does is it limits the selection to a physical area around your click point. So notice, if I decrease the Range value, we are creating a kind of radial gradient inside the cloud. Now, it's possible that I can find a Range value that will mostly select the first cloud, and mostly not select the second cloud, but I have to say, this is a pretty flawed control.
I haven't found it to be very useful. So what I typically do is just leave Localized Color Clusters turned off. All right; now that we have generated a one click selection that looks awfully good here inside the dialog box -- and by the way, you can switch to the image if you want to see the image instead, and you can switch the Selection Preview to Grayscale, which will show you the mask preview outside in the larger image window. You can continue to Shift+Click in it. You can also click or Shift+Click directly inside the dialog box. Anyway, I am going to restore these items to their defaults, and click OK in order to generate the selection outline. And now let's test its quality by pressing Control+Alt+J, or Command+Option+J on Mac.
I'll name the layer clouds, click OK, drag it to the top of the stack, turn on the red sky layer, and then change the blend mode for the clouds layer from Normal to Luminosity, and we end up with this effect here. So just for the sake of comparison, here is what we got with the Magic Wand tool, which everybody considers to be a really easy tool to use, and here's the results we got, with no more work, using the Color Range command. And that, folks, is how you use Color Range to generate credible, organic selections here inside Photoshop.
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