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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."
Now you ask me, I think it's just amazing that we can pull off an effect that's this visceral with so little effort. Sure, we spent a little energy rotating the image and stretching it, and all that jazz, but the core components of the Motion Blur effect which were the Motion Blur filter and the layer mask, took next to no effort whatsoever. And really there is no other way to pull off a uni-directional motion blur inside of Photoshop, not this elegantly. Now I am viewing the results, the culmination of the last couple of exercises inside of this image called On the fly.psd which is found inside of the 11_Layer_Mask folder. And in this exercise we are going to be talking about some tips and tricks, basically some keyboard tricks that you can take advantage of when you are layer-masking.
Now I don't expect you to memorize every single one of them, because there are a lot of them, and I am going to be throwing them at you pretty quickly here. We will revisit the most important ones over and over again in future chapters. I just want to make you aware of their existence. So here's how it works. Notice that we have a heavy outline around the active element of the layer. So I am working on the blur layer. Right now the pixels inside of the layer, the layer itself is active, but the layer mask could just as easily be active, and you just click on one thumbnail or the other in order to switch who is active, and who isn't, because only one of these items a can be active a time.
You need to really pay attention to who is active of course, because let's say you grabbed your Brush tool, you make sure your foreground color is Black and you are thinking I am going to erase my layer now, make the brush a little bigger and you start painting, and you notice, oh, my gosh! I just painted inside of my image, because it's the image that's active. So I will go ahead and undo that modification. You would then click on the layer mask to make it active, and then paint in order to erase. So I am going to undo that modification, because I have no desire to erase anything here. So you can switch activity, you can switch whether the layer or the mask is active from the keyboard, and you can see those keyboard shortcuts listed inside the Channels palette. If I go over to the Channels palette, you will notice that the layer mask is listed as a temporary alpha channel, and it has a keyboard shortcut, Ctrl+\ or Command+\ on the Mac, and the Backslash key is a key directly under the Backspace key on the PC, or the Delete key on the Mac.
And of course you can switch back to the RGB image. We know this from previous chapters, by pressing Ctrl+~, or Command+ ~. So check this out. If I press Ctrl+~, I will switch to the RGB image, if I press Ctrl+\, I will switch to the layer mask, and that would Command+~, or Command+\ on the Mac. If I switch over to the Layers palette, I can see it happen up here as well. Here is Ctrl+~, and here is Ctrl+\, that's once again Command+~, or Command+\ on the Mac. You can remember these keys if you are so inclined, because they are on totally opposite ends of the keyboard. You've got one in the top left corner of the keyboard, and the other in the top right corner of the keyboard. Something else you can do, you can do view the mask by itself by Alt+Clicking or Option+Clicking on its thumbnail, in which case you will see how beautiful your mask is. This is thus the ugliest most atrocious mask on Earth, but who cares.
Because it did its job, as long as it works, we don't care whether the mask looks good or not. So then go ahead and Alt+Click or Option +Click on that thumbnail again to view the image, to turn the mask off. So you deactivate the mask by Shift+Clicking on it, and notice that it gets a big X through it. To turn it back on, you Shift+Click again. To load the mask as a selection outline, you Ctrl+Click on it, and if you've got selection outline active already, I will go ahead and deselect this image, and draw a rectangular selection using the Rectangular Marquee tool here.
If you already have the selection active, you can add to it by Ctrl+Shift+Clicking on the layer mask, so it would be Command+Shift+Clicking on the layer mask on a Mac. I will go ahead and undo that. If you want to subtract, you would Ctrl+Alt+Click, or Command+Option+Click. And then if you wanted to find the intersection, you would Ctrl+Shift+Alt+Click, or Command+Shift+Option+Click on the Mac. As I say, the important keyboard shortcuts we'll come back to. All right, let's go ahead and deselect the image at this point. Now what if you want to view the image and the mask at the same time? If the image is visible, you just have to press the Backslash key in order to view the mask at the same time as a ruby lith overlay, so as if we were working inside the Quick Mask mode. Then if you want to turn the image off, you would press the Tilde key. If you want to turn the image back on, press the Tilde key again, and now if you want to turn the mask off, you would press the Backslash key.
You've got Backslash, and Tilde on their own to control the visibility of the image in the mask. You've got Ctrl or Command along with Tilde or Backslash in order to control who is active. That's it folks. I know that's a lot of stuff, but those are keyboard tricks that are available to you when you are layer masking inside Photoshop as I say, the important ones, we will visit time and time again throughout this series.
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