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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.
All right, so I went ahead and made a few additional modifications to that layer Mask using a Smudge tool, and then I went ahead and saved my progress as Frog with one red foot.psd. And I forgot to mention up here at the top of the Layers panel you'll find a group called Quick Select. If you turn it on, you'll see all of those tricks that work along with the Quick Selection tool. You can make the brush larger by pressing ], you can make it smaller by pressing [ key, and you can delete from a selection by pressing the Alt or Option key. In this exercise we're going to transition to the Magic Wand.
Now, the Wand gets a fair amount of abuse heaped at it by a lot of Photoshop users, and not without reason, it can disappoint. But it has got some great underlying technology and it's important to understand that technology to really come to terms with masking inside Photoshop. Also, it's an extremely predictable tool, much more predictable on this behavior than the Quick Selection tool. And what that means is that you can achieve good results using the Magic Wand if you understand how it works and you understand its limitations. For example, let me give you a sense of where we're going with this project.
I've got this file called The frog wizard.psd, and it includes some layer Comps, and you can see those comps by going to the Window menu and choosing the layer Comps command. And you can switch from one comp to another just by clicking in front of its name. For example, if I click in front of Gold skin, I can see this gold skin coating that we'll be creating, once again, using the Magic Wand. And then we'll select that black background using the Magic Wand and we'll fill it with a kind of blue sky effect. After that, we'll add a few compositing effects. And then finally, we're going to add some type as you see right there.
And I'll go ahead and Zoom out a little bit so that you can see things better. So obviously the Magic Wand tool can be made to work. You can get things done with it, if you only know how. So let's take a look at how the tool is put together. I'm going to switch to this image. It's called Gradient demo.psd. And if you open the file, you should see a vertical guideline right down at the center. If not, then go up to the View menu, Choose> Show and make sure that Guides is turned on. And so obviously what we have going here is a dark to bright gradient that trends through orange in the center, just so that we have an easily identifiable color.
And then we've got this strip of blue right through the center of things, and these are all part of the background layer incidentally. I'm going to go ahead and select the Magic Wand tool from Quick Selection tool flyout menu, and you can also get to the tool by pressing the W key. And we're going to start things off by discussing the Tolerance value up here in the options bar, and then we'll take a look at Anti-alias, Contiguous, and Sample All layers in the next exercise. Now, the idea behind the Magic Wand is you just go ahead and click inside of a region of color that you want to select and then Photoshop goes ahead and selects by default the adjacent colors that are similar to the one that you clicked on, and by similar I mean the ones that fall inside of the Tolerance range.
Tolerance is measured in luminance levels. So bear in mind that a luminance level of 0 is black and a luminous level of 255 is white. So in this case, Photoshop has selected 32 luminance levels darker and 32 luminance levels brighter than my click point, and it is done so on a channel by channel basis, and I'll explain what's going on there in just a moment. But what this means is that you can select a larger region of the image by increasing that Tolerance value. Now, the easiest way to select the Tolerance value is to just press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac, and then let's dial in a different value, such as twice 32, which would be 64, and I'll go ahead and click in order to deselect the image, and then I'll click again in order to select a larger area.
So we're selecting 64 luminance levels darker and 64 luminance levels lighter than that click point. Now, it's pretty difficult to compare each one of these settings, because after all, this is a static modification. For example, if I dial in a new Tolerance value, so I went ahead and pressed the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac to select Tolerance, I'll dial in twice 64, which is 128. You're not actually changing the existing selection outline, what you're doing is setting the Tolerance for the next selection. So this time I'll click underneath the bar, and notice I now select 128 luminous levels darker and 128 luminance levels lighter.
But as I say, it's hard to really get a sense of what's going on just by clicking repeatedly inside this image. So I've gone ahead and created this group of Tolerance settings. I'll go ahead and turn it on, and you can see the various ranges of selected pixels that are associated with each one of these Tolerance settings. So I started at 8, then 32 is your default, 64 goes all the way around, notice this, the line is purple all the way around, 96 goes both directions as well, 128, all the way up to 224. I'm just working in increments of 32.
And then finally, if you set the Tolerance value to its maximum, which is 255, then you end up selecting the entire gradient without selecting that blue strip in the middle or the gradient on the other side. Now, there's been some dispute in the community over the years as to whether the Magic Wand tool selects 32 luminance levels by default, for example, in each direction, or a total of 32 luminance levels. If you have any interest in that kind of minutia, let me explain what's really going on. The truth is it's selecting 32 in each direction, and it works, as I was saying, on a channel by channel basis.
So I'll go ahead and switch to the Channels panel, and I'll click on the Red Channel for a moment. The easiest range to see in each one of the channels is 64 right there. So I'll go ahead and press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac, dial in the Tolerance value of 64, and then press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac. And now I'll go ahead and click on the guideline down here in the bottom gradient. And notice here in the Red Channel the Wand tool goes ahead and selects 64 luminance levels to the left, and also to the right, which goes ahead and eats up the entire gradient over here on the right-hand side.
But this edge right there is exactly even with that edge associated with the full color composite 64. If I switch to Green, and then I click in this area, then I'll select as much larger range as you can see. For one thing, I select right through that blue bar, and for another, notice that the edges of my selection go out beyond the composite range described by a Tolerance setting of 96. And then finally, when I go down here to the Blue Channel and then click along that same line, I go ahead and select to the far left of the image, and then I select 64 luminance levels to the right, which exactly aligns with the full color composite 64.
So this is all a long-winded way of saying. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl+D or Commnad+D on the Mac, as well as switch back to the RGB View. What we're seeing in each one of these cases is an average of what the selections would be on a channel by channel basis, and that's what's going on with the Tolerance setting. In the next exercise, I'll explain the other options, and then we'll set to work actually using the tool.
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