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Learn how to use selections and layer masks in Photoshop to create composite images and apply targeted adjustments. After covering the key concepts behind selections and exploring Photoshop's selection tools, Tim Grey delves into a variety of advanced techniques that will help you make accurate selections, create seamless composite images, and apply adjustments that do exactly what you want them to do.
In many ways I think of the quick selection tool in Photoshop as being sort of the new version of the magic wand tool. As a result I would tend to use the quick selection tool most of the time or at least use the quick selection tool more often than not for my initial selection. But there are still situations where the magic wand tool is simply a better choice than the quick selection tool. And that has to do with creating selections that consist of a variety of noncontiguous areas. Let's take a look at how we can use the magic wand tool to create a noncontiguous selection and in general, to get a better sense of how to utilize the magic wand tool.
I'll start by choosing the magic wand tool, it's found under the quick selection tool. And so I'll click and hold my mouse on the button for the quick selection tool on the toolbox and then from the file menu that appears I'll choose the magic wand tool. The Magic Wand tool is a sampling tool meaning I can sample a pixel in the image and Photoshop will evaluate the image and determine which pixels should be included in the selection. So for example if I click on the sky I'll get a selection of a portion of the sky and the settings I use for the Magic Wand tool will determine which specific pixels Actually get selected.
Let's take a look at the various options that are available for the Magic Wand tool. As with most of the other selection tools, I have the option to create a new selection, to add to an existing selection, to subtract from an existing selection, or to intersect with an existing selection. I can also adjust the sample side So, once again, the Magic Wand tool is sampling a pixel from within the image and then determining which pixels should be included in the selection. And the same size determines how exactly the pixel you click on is being sampled. I'll illustrate exactly what I mean here.
I'll set the Tolerance to a moderately low setting. We'll talk more about tolerance in just a moment. And then I'm going to identify an exact pixel that I'm going to click on with different sample settings. So we can see the difference very clearly. I'll press Ctrl + D on Windows or Cmd + D on Macintosh, to deselect my selection. And then from the View Menu I'll choose Rulers to enable the display of the rulers for the image. And then I'll click on the Vertical ruler over on the left side and drag inward, and I'm going to place a guide right there.
And then I'll click on the horizontal ruler up at the top, and drag downward. And I will place my other guide right there. These guides are not necessary for using the magic wand tool. I just want to illustrate the use of the sample size option with some precision. I want to click on the exact same spot with different sample size settings, so that you get a better sense of how it effects the selection that you're creating. I'll go ahead and press Ctrl + R on Windows or Cmd + R on Macintosh to hide the rulers. And now with the sample size set to point sample, I'll go ahead and click Right on that spot.
So I'll align my cross hair with the guides that I've added. I will click, and you'll see that I get a selection that is, essentially I guess you might say, an elliptical shape just in front of the horse. I'll then go ahead and change the sample size. You can see that in addition to point sample, we have a 3 by 3 average. A 5 by 5 average, an 11 by 11 average. 31 by 31, 51 by 51 and 101 by 101. And what these numbers mean is the number of pixel or the size of the grid of pixels that are being evaluated. Lets take a look at the 101 and 101 option.
That means that I am sampling a grid of 101 pixels across by 101 pixels down. I'll go ahead and de-select my selection, and then I'm going to click on the exact same spot, and we'll see how that selection differs. So I'll press Ctrl + D on Windows or Cmd + D on Macintosh. And then I will align my cross hair with those guides that I added, and when I click, I get a very different selection. And the reason for that is my sample. Because I sampled the exact same pixel each time, the results were very different.
And that's because initially I created a selection where I only sampling a single pixel. But then I increased that sample size, so now I'm evaluating a series of pixels in this area. In averaging them all together and that means that the pixel I clicked on doesn't actually become the color that is used to evaluate the rest of the image instead the average of all these colors including those very dark pixels representing the horse are taken together in average so would end up with a very very different result.
And you can see that is reflected in the selection that I get. Instead of a small section infront of the horse, I'm getting almost the entire horse, perhaps even all of it, plus a much larger section of the sky and the water in the background. So a very, very different result. So, then the question is, why would you want to use a different sample size? And the answer is Texture. If there's lots of texture you may need to increase that sample size to ensure that you get the selection you're looking for so that the variations in that texture are all being averaged together.
I'll go ahead and choose View and then Clear Guides in order to remove those guides that I had added. And then I'll deselect by pressing Ctrl + D on Windows or Cmd + D on Macintosh. And then we'll take a look at the tolerance setting. I'll start off by changing my sample size back to point sample, and then I'll change the tolerance down to it's minimum value of 0 and I'll just click in the sky and you can see I have a very small selection and that's because my tolerance is very low. Tolerance determines the degree to which pixels must match the pixelized sample in order to be included in the selection. So with a very low tolerance setting the pixels must be an almost identical match to the pixel that I click on.
In other words I'm not likely to have a very large selection. If I increase the value for tolerance. And then click in the sky again, you'll see that now the pixels do not need to match as closely and so I get a much bigger selection. And in fact if I take that tolerance up to its maximum value of 255 and then click once again in the sky. You'll see that I get the entire image selected. In other words I'm being so tolerant that no matter how much variation and pixel value there is, the pixels are still considered a close enough match to be included in that selection. Generally speaking I use a moderately low setting for tolerance. In fact in most cases I start off at around 16 for tolerance, but of course in some cases you might want to use a higher value.
I'll work with a value of 20 in this case, and you can see that if I click in the sky, I end up with a selection that does not include all of the sky. This might seem to you like a bad starting point for my selection. And yet, very often, I will use a relatively low setting for tolerance, even though it means I'm not going to create a selection in one click. And that's because, in my mind It's more important to make sure that I don't include pixels that I don't want in the selection than that I would be able to create a selection in one click. Remember, I can always add to the existing selection, so I typically use a relatively low setting for tolerance, and then I'll hold the Shift key and click in additional areas of the sky in order to sample additional portions of that sky, and increase the size of the selection.
That might mean that I need to Shift + Click multiple times in order to finalize the selection. But this tends to be a little bit safer approach. In this case, becasue there's so much variation in the sky, I could certainly use a higher value for tolerance. But the point is that I don't spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect value for tolerance. But rather use a moderately low setting And then simply add to my selection in order to create the final result. The next setting on the Options bar is the Anti-Alias check box, and I recommend always leaving that turned on so that the edge of the selection will be smoothed out just a little bit.
We also have a Contiguous option. And with this check box turned on, you'll see that I can only create a selection of contiguous areas. I'm going to increase my tolerance setting. Just to make it more obvious the result that we're getting here. And then I'll deselect and I'm going to click in the sky. And you'll see that we get a selection that covers most of the sky. But it doesn't touch disconfiguous areas. So for example where the reigns of the horse are blocking off a portion of the sky here. That area is not included in the selection.
If I turn off contiguous, and then click somewhere else in the sky, you'll notice that I get those areas that were discontiguous from the area that I clicked on included in the selection. And this is one of the fundamental reasons that you might use the magic wand tool in certain situations, rather than the quick selection tool. I'll deselect, and you can see that I have a variety of areas that are discontiguous. With the quick selection tool I could paint across the sky, but But then I would also need to paint in each individual discontiguous area in order to create that final selection.
With the magic wand tool, I can turn off the contiguous option, and then click in an area of the sky. And Shift + Click in additional areas of the sky in order to build up that selection. Finally, on the options bar we have the sample all layers checkbox and in most cases I will turn that checkbox on so that I don't need to worry about which particular layer is active on the layers panel. For example, if I had already added a couple of adjustment layers and I had one of those layers active I would need to switch to my background image layer if I did not have the sample all layers checkbox turned on.
So in most cases I leave this turned on, just bear in mind that if you're working with a composite image and you want to select specific pixels from a specific layer you will want to turn this option off. So once you understand the basic settings that are available for the magic wand tool, you'll be able to fine tune the behavior just a little bit so that you can very quickly create selections. You'll notice of course that I don't have a perfect selection in this case. In particular, that water line is creating a little bit of a challenge. But also keep in mind that I can use other selection tools. For example, I could use the Polygonal Lasso tool to subtract this area from the selection.
But, as you can see, I've gotten a very good initial selection, with very little effort, utilyzing the Magic Wand tool.
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