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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 these first few exercises, I am going to introduce you to the Refine Edge command, which alternately goes by the name Refine Mask, and then after that we will use the command to create a real-world project. I am starting off inside this file called Rough skyshark.psd found inside the 07_refine folder. It's a version of that composition from the previous chapter. We've got the Background, we have the rainbow, we have the shadow underneath the shark and we also have the alternate coloring scheme. However, we also have the rough edges. So I am going to go ahead and press Ctrl +1 or Command+1 on the Mac to zoom in, zoom in a little farther as well, so you can see that we have those original rough edges that were created by the Color Range command.
Now you may recall on the previous chapter, we address these rough edges using a combination of Gaussian Blur and the Levels command, and I was telling you that's an old-school approach. What we are going to see in this exercise is the new school approach, we can get very similar results using Refine Edge and preview those results as we apply them. If you are working along with me, the first thing I need you to do is click on the layer Mask thumbnail for the shark layer here inside the Layers panel. Then go up to the Select menu and choose Refine mask.
Now if were working with the selection outline, this command would appear as Refine Edge, either way it has a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+Alt+R or Command+Option+R on the Mac. Choose the Command to bring up the Refine Mask dialog box. Now by default you should see the mask shark against a white background. However, you can change that preview by clicking on the View option right there and here's what we have to work with. You can select Marching Ants, I am not sure that's going to do you much good, but it's available. If you choose Overlay, you'll see the Rubylith overlay of the mask, if you choose On Black, you'll see the masked image against the black background, On White shows the masked image against a white background as by default.
If you choose Black & White, you are going to see the layer mask by itself. Choose the On layers command in order to see the entire composition and then finally if you choose Reveal layer, you'll see just the layer that you're working on without the mask applied. However, you'll also see all clipped layers. So that's why we are seeing that fantastic coloring right there. Notice that we have this Gradient layer and this truncated highlights layers, both of which are clipped inside the shark layer. Notice also if you click on this down pointing arrow head, in addition to these various keyboard shortcuts that you can vail yourself of, you can press F to cycle through the views, and then you can press the X key to temporarily disable all views.
So in other words, if I'm working in the On White view, and I will go ahead and press the X key, then I will turn off that view and I will see all layers. If I press the X key again, then I will go ahead and see the masked image against a white background. Now the simplest of the Refinement options are these guys right here inside the Adjust Edge box, we have got Smooth, which smoothes out the edges, Feather goes ahead and softens the edges, and these are analogous to the Smooth and Feather commands that are available to you inside of the Select menu.
We also have Contrast, which will go ahead and sharpen up the edges, I will show you what these look like in just a moment, and finally, Shift Edge allows you to either choke or expand the mask. Now the great thing about all these options is that you can preview them as you apply them, so you may recall, I was kibitzing about the fact that you can't preview the results of Smooth or Feather inside of their respective dialog boxes, but you can when you're working with Refine Edge. So notice if I go ahead and crank up the smooth value, let's say I take it as high as 50, I will go ahead and smooth out those edges considerably and you can see the before version, by the way, by turning on the Show Original check box or pressing the P key.
So in other words, Show Original is the opposite of a Preview check box. When it's turned off, you are previewing, when you turn it on, the Preview turns off. So if I press the P key, these are my original jagged edges. If I press P again, these are my smooth edges. Notice I also go ahead and round out the corners, so I won't have to fix that problem later. I am going to take the Smooth value down to let's say 25, that ends up giving me some pretty soft edges, that's the reason this Contrast option exists.
It allows you to sharpen those edges up. So if I take this value up to 50%, for example, I end up getting sharper edges. But in my case what I'm really looking for is to nudge the edges inward and so I am going to reduce that Contrast value to 0% and I am going to take the Shift Edge value, you can either increase the value in order to expand those edges or decrease the value in order to choke the edges. In my case I take the value down to about -50% and notice that not only chokes the edges, but it sharpens them a bit as well.
So that's one way to work where the shark is concerned. I am going to go ahead and zero out the values by pressing the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, and notice that changes the Cancel button to Reset, then go ahead and click on it and that will zero out all the values, so you are starting from scratch. This time what I am going to do is I am going to take an approach that's analogous to that combination of Gaussian Blur in the Levels command. Gaussian Blur, blurs the mask, which is the same thing as feathering the mask here inside the Refine Mass dialog box. So I am going to take this value up to 4 pixels let's say, which is the same value I applied inside the Gaussian blur dialog box, you may recall.
In order to offset the blur, I'll take the Contrast value up to 50% and that goes ahead and sharpens those edges without making them jagged. Finally, I am going to take the Shift Edge value, let's say down to -10% and we end up getting this result, which is very nearly the same result as we got when we combined Gaussian Blur with the Levels command. So an alternate way to work, one that provides you the live Preview and you can go and refine your settings if you find that they're not exactly what you want.
For example, I am looking at these rounded corners here and thinking, maybe we can do better than that, if I reduce the Feather value. So I will take the Feather value down to 2 pixels let's say, I will leave the Contrast up to 50%, and then I will take the Shift Edge value down to -20% by pressing Shift+Downarrow and I achieve this effect here. Now I will go ahead and click the OK button in order to apply my changes and what Photoshop does is it goes ahead and modifies the layer mask. So that is a destructive modification to the layer mask, in other words, you have modified the pixels inside the mask.
It's a non-destructive modification where the composition is concerned of course, because we haven't changed any of the pixels inside the shark, or its background. Now after this point, we would go ahead and fix those corners using a combination of the magnetic Lasso tool and the Smudge tool, just as we did in the previous chapter. In the next exercise, I will show you how to work with a more powerful Radius option.
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