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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 I'll show you four different ways to load an Alpha Channel as a selection. I'm working inside that file we saved in the previous exercise; it's called Masked man.tif found inside the 02_masks folder. The first method is to go up to the Select menu and choose the Load Selection command and then inside the Load Selection dialog box you can choose from any open document that measures the exact same pixel dimensions that is the same number of pixels wide and the same number of pixels tall. In my case I only have one image open, so that's all I see.
Then in your Channels pop up menu you'll see the names of every single alpha channel that's available to you. You won't see the names of your color bearing channels even though there are ways to load those up as selections as we'll see in future chapters. But let's say I want to load the selection that's called Front. I'll go ahead and click on it to select it. You can reverse the selection if you want by clicking on the Invert check box. However, in our case that's not what we're looking for. So I'll leave that check box off and click OK and Photoshop goes ahead and loads that selection outline.
Now I want you to note something about this experience. When you save a selection to an Alpha Channel and then load it from an Alpha Channel back to a selection outline it does not change one wit. That is an absolutely lossless conversion, because Photoshop sees the selection as an Alpha Channel at all points in time. It's actually a pixel-based grayscale image in Photoshop's mind every time you create a selection. So that's the labor-intensive method, because you have to actually choose a command and go through a dialog box and all that stuff.
The easier option is to switch to the Channels panel and then scroll down your list to the Alpha Channel that you want to load. For example, let's say I want to load the rear channel, go ahead and click on it to make it active and then drop down to this icon, the one that says Load channel as selection and click on it. That goes ahead and restores that selection outline. Now that might seem like the easiest technique, but it's actually not, because it requires you to switch to the Alpha Channel you want to load and then click an icon.
There's a better way to work. I'll go ahead and switch back to my RGB image, which as your recall you can get to by pressing Ctrl+2 or Command+2 on the Mac, and then let's say I want to load the eyes channel. All I need to do is press the Ctrl key or the Command key on the Mac. Notice that my cursor changes from a pointing finger to a pointing finger with an inset marquee. Go ahead and Ctrl+Click or Command+ Click and you load that Alpha Channel as a selection without having to actually switch to the Alpha Channel.
So that is probably my favorite technique, the one I just showed you. That's the one I use most often, but there is yet another technique that doesn't involve any clicking whatsoever. You can if you like load the Alpha Channel from the keyboard. Now I'm going to backup a little bit as you may recall from the previous chapter, you can switch channels from the keyboard by pressing Ctrl along with the number. So Ctrl+3 switches to the Red channel, Ctrl+4 switches to the Green channel, and Ctrl+5 switches to the Blue channel. You can also switch to your Alpha Channels and you can see those shortcuts listed right there in the Channels panel.
So Ctrl+6 or Command+6 switches to the eyes channel, Ctrl+7 or Command+7 for front, and Ctrl+8 or Command+8 for rear. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+2 or Command+2 to switch back to the RGB image. If you add the Alt key or the Option key on a Mac then you'll load the channel as a selection. So I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac just so that we don't have anything selected onscreen. Then I'll press Ctrl+Alt+6 or Command+Option+6 on the Mac. That loads that eyes channels as a selection, Ctrl+Alt+7 or Command+Option+7 on the Mac loads front, and Ctrl+Alt+8 or Command+Option+8 on a Mac loads rear.
So there you have it, four different ways to load Alpha Channels as selections inside Photoshop. You can pick or choose any method you like. In the next exercise we'll load up the eyes channel and we'll use it to create some glowing faces for the goggles.
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