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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 are going to take our most recent alpha channel, and we are going to use it to mask this model against a new background. I've saved my progress as Soft Light Mask.tiff, found inside the 08_everyday folder. If you're working along with me, you'll also need to open Background hills.psd. All right, I am going to switch back to the model. Notice I've gone ahead and clicked on the RGB Composite here at the top of the Channels panel, and now I am going to load the final alpha channel as a selection outline by Control+clicking, or Command+clicking, on this thumbnail.
All right, now let's go back to Layers panel and convert this background image into a layer by double-clicking on it, and I'm going to go ahead and call this layer base, and click OK, because after all, it's going to serve as our base layer. And next I'll drop down to the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the palette, and click on it. And that will go ahead and express that selection as a layer mask. All right, it looks pretty darn good. Let's see how it looks against the new background. I'll right-click inside the image window, and choose Duplicate Layer, and then go ahead and change the Document setting to Background hills.psd.
I am also going to go ahead and name this new layer M1, because it's going to be the first version of the model. I want to keep that layer name short as well, so that I can add to it, and I'll click OK. Next, I'll switch to the Background hills.psd image, and there she is, masked against the new background. Even though this is an extremely accurate mask, by the way, with all these fine hairs in place, we've got a problem. If I go ahead and zoom in here on these hairs on the right-hand side of the model, you can see that we've brought over a ton of color fringing.
So we have all these white highlights around every single strand of hair. It looks terrible, and it certainly looks unnatural. There's no way that the light would catch the hair like this. So, we've got a couple of different options available to us. One is to switch over to the layer mask by clicking on its thumbnail here inside the Layers panel. And then go up to the Select menu and choose Refine Mask. This command works just as well for handcrafted masks as it does for any other sort of layer mask. Go ahead and choose the command, or press Control+Alt+R, Command+Option+R on the Mac. Notice that by default I'm seeing the image composited against a white background. That doesn't do me any good, because she started against a white background.
I am going to switch, for now, to On Black instead, which is going to provide us with the most contrast. And then I'm going to take the Radius value up to 40 pixels, let's say, and press the Tab key, and notice how that goes ahead and subtles down that color fringing. It also recovers an awful lot of hairs, and restores some of the original organic transitions, while leaving the background absolutely jet black, which is very important. All right, so you can get a sense here, I am going to turn on the Show Original check box. So that's the before version of this mask, pretty chunky, and this is the after version of the mask, nice and soft.
All right, now I'll click OK in order to accept that modification. Problem is, we're still left with these pretty white highlights around some of the hairs. That's definitely not what I want. So what we are going to have to do is bring some of our compositing skills into play. Now recall that our model was set against a near white background; not entirely white, but pretty close. And as a result, she is bringing in some very bright color fringing. Meanwhile, she has dark hair, so what we want to do is retain the darkness of the hair, drop away the brightness of the color fringing, and we can do that by applying the foremost darkening Blend mode, and that Blend mode is Multiply.
So go to the top left corner of the Layers panel, click on Normal, and then switch to the Multiply mode. And notice what happens is all of that bright color fringing drops away, and the hairs begin to interact naturally with their new background. It comes at a price, I'm afraid. If I go ahead and center my zoom by pressing Control+0, or Command+0 on the Mac. Not only have we blended those individual hair follicles with the background, but we've also blended some pretty thick regions of hair, such as those on the top of her head, and we've blended the colors inside of her face, so that she becomes this kind of translucent overlay.
That is not what we're looking for, so somehow we have to split the difference here. We need those integrated fibers of hair mixing in with the background, but at the same time, we have to recover the interior of her head and face. That means we're going to need at least two differently masked versions of our model in order to pull off the final effect, and I'll show you how to create that alternate mask in the next exercise.
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