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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 we're going to actually put the Magic Wand tool to work. And notice that I have the Magic Wand selected here inside the toolbox. We're going to use the tool to select the frog's green skin, and then we're going to turn that skin gold. And what I've done is I've stepped ahead one layer comp inside the file called The frog wizard.psd. But we're going to start things off inside this file, which is called Frog with one red foot.psd. Notice that I've gone ahead and reinstated the default settings for the Wand. So the Tolerance is 32, Anti-alias and Contiguous are both turned on, Sample All layers is turned off.
If you're working along with me, go ahead and click on the bottom layer in the Layers panel, which is called original frog, so we don't have to worry about selecting through other layers. And then go ahead and click with the tool inside the frog and that will establish a base selection. Now, the way most folks work with the Magic Wand tool and the reason it becomes so incredibly infuriating is they go ahead and press the Shift key and then click in order to select more of the frog in this case and then Shift+Click again in order to select another region; that time I barely got anything. Shift+Click some more, Shift+Click some more, and so on and so on, and at this rate it's going to take us several minutes, if not an entire day, to select this frog's skin.
So that obviously is not the right approach. Here is a better way to work. I am going to press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the frog. Then I'll press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac to select the Tolerance value up there in the options bar, and I'll change it to 80. And then I'll press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac. Now, at this point you might say, well, how do you know to do that? How do you know to crank that value up to 80? And I'm just sizing up the image. This is just the kind of thing you learn with experience, but I'm looking at this frog, this range of greens has to be averaged across the various channels.
If I press Ctrl+3 or Command+3 on the Mac, I can see that we've got some medium grays in the Red Channel. If I press Ctrl+4 or Command+4, I can see that I've got some bright colors in the Green Channel. And then if I press Ctrl+5 or Command +5, I can see that I have utter and complete darkness here inside the Blue Channel, which means I'm really relying on the Red and Green Channels to get this work done. Anyway, I'm going to press Ctrl+2 or Command+2 to return to the RGB composite, and then I'll click there in that frog shoulder in order to select a pretty good range of greens without extending too far down into the mouth.
Now I'm going to reduce the Tolerance value by pressing the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac, and I'll change that value to 40. And then I'll go up to the Select menu and choose the Similar command. Now, the reason I went ahead and reduced that value in advance of choosing Similar is that Similar jumps the gaps, and that means it's going to select a lot more greens throughout the image. And if I don't crank down that Tolerance value in advance, then I'll end up selecting way too many colors. Now I'll go ahead and choose Similar, and notice that we've selected a wide range of greens.
I've got a few selection flickers down here in the ground level as well. Ultimately, I don't want to select the ground, but we'll end up resolving that away using this awesome option that's available to us in the Masks panel. And you'll see how that works shortly. All right. From here on out we're going to Shift+Click a few times. So we can go ahead and take that Tolerance value back up. So I'm going to press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac, change the Tolerance value to 80 once again, press Enter or Return in order to accept that value. Then I'll Shift+Click in the animal's nose, right about there, that bright green portion of the nose.
And then I'll drop down into kind of this bright area of mussle right there, and I'll Shift+Click right about there as well. And that pretty much takes care of the animal's face. The only thing left is to get a little bit more of this elbow over here, and I'm going to Shift+Click in this bright region of elbow, like so, in order to extend the selection, and that establishes my base selection. Now, it's not really anything to write home about. If you want to see what the selection looks like and evaluate its edges, then go ahead and switch over to the Channels panel and Alt+Click or Option+Click on that Save selection icon down there at the bottom of the panel, and let's go ahead and call this new Alpha Channel wand work and click OK.
And now I'll click on that wand work channel so we can see what it looks like, and I'll press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac just to hide my selection for a moment. And now let's go ahead and Zoom on in and you can see that we have some pretty rough transitions inside this selection. So while we do have a few little gray pixels around the edges here and there, which are the signs of our Anti- aliasing, it's not as clean as a kind of Anti-aliasing we would get with the Elliptical Marquee tool or the Lasso tools. Anyway, that's the way it is. Let's go ahead and switch back to RGB.
I am going to press Ctrl+0 or Command+ 0 on the Mac in order to Zoom back out. And I'll switch over to the Layers panel. I still have my selection outline intact, I'll press Ctrl+H or Command+ H on the Mac to bring it back. So that means it will automatically be converted into a layer Mask when I add an adjustment layer. So now I'll press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and click that black line icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Then I'll choose the Hue/Saturation command, and I'll go ahead and call this new layer gold skin, and then I'll click OK. And notice that Photoshop has gone ahead and automatically converted the selection outline to a layer Mask.
Now let's go ahead and dial in some values here. I'm going to change the Hue to -30, and then I'm going to take the Saturation value up to 50, and I am going to leave the Lightness value set to 0. Now, this looks pretty awful, and that's by virtue of the fact that we have some very rough edges and our selection is extending into some non-green areas, and as a result some of these regions are turning red. But we're going to resolve that by switching to the Masks panel. So go up to the Window menu and choose the Masks command, and that will go ahead and bring the panel up on screen.
Your layer Mask thumbnail should be selected in the Layers panel. If so, the various options inside the Masks panel will be available to you, and I want you to go ahead and crank up the Feather value. What this allows us to do is soften the selection on the fly. So this is what's known as a parametric modification. What that means is we're changing a parameter, hence parametric, and we can always come back and change this parameter again anytime we like. So it's an entirely nondestructive modification to this mask.
I'm going to go ahead and take that value down to 20 pixels is what I'm looking for, in order to create the effect that you see here. And now we're ending up with some nice smooth, even soft transitions that give us a naturalistic effect. And that my friends is how you make good use of the Magic Wand tool here inside Photoshop.
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