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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 temper the effect and better integrate it with the scene using a combination of masking and compositing. Now the first thing about God lighting; if you've ever seen images of this sort of thing where the light is coming out of the cloud in these rays. It appears in the sky. So it's very much like a rainbow in that regard. So we need to mask away the ground in the background. We are going to do that by Alt+Clicking or Option+Clicking on the eye in front of the background layer, so we can see the background by itself, then switch over to the Channels panel, check out the Channels once again.
In the Red channel we have a fairly darkish sky and we've got all sorts of middling shades going on inside the ground. In the Green channel, we've got a lot of detail. The ground is darker this time; the sky is lighter, but still not to the degree of contrast we are looking for. In the Blue channel the ground is very dark and the sky is very bright. Once again, this is very typical of the blue channel. The earth tends to be red and orange, as well as green, where foliage is concerned, but of course, the sky has lots of blue.
So let's go ahead and grab that Blue channel, make a copy of it by dragging it down and dropping it onto the little page icon at the bottom of the Channels panel. Then we will increase the contrast by pressing Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac and I'm going to take that black point value up to 240. Again, these are not magical values for any sky image. They just happen to work well for this one. And I'll take the white point value down to 200, and then I'll click OK. You can see that we've made the ground almost entirely black, while the sky is quite light by comparison.
Now I am going to go ahead and change the name of this channel to B, because I didn't invert it this time, and then 140/1/200. If you like you can go ahead and make a copy of the channel at this point by dragging it down and dropping it onto the page icon once again; and I'll call this one sky mask, because we are going to do a little bit of hand painting. I will zoom out so that we can take in more of the image at a time, switch over to the Brush tool, which you can get by pressing the B key, make sure that your foreground color is white as it is in my case, right-click inside the image window, and I am going to crank that Size value up once again to 1000 pixels, the Hardness should definitely be 0%.
Next, change the mode up here in the Options bar to Overlay, which you can do by pressing Shift+Alt+O or Shift+Option+O on the Mac, and then I want you to go ahead and paint over the sky and clouds, like so. Now notice that; that leaves some regions of the clouds dark and that's a good thing. We actually want that effect. So don't paint over those lower clouds the second time, one time is enough, but then you want to scribble over the top portion of the sky as many times as it takes in order to get that top area completely white.
If necessary, you can always press Shift+Alt+N or Shift+Option+N on a Mac to switch the Blend mode back to Normal and just go ahead and paint along the top of the sky, like so. So this is a pretty quick and dirty mask as you can see. I am going to press the M key to switch back to the Rectangle Marquee tool; I'll Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on that sky mask channel to convert it to a selection outline. Then I'll scroll up to the RGB image at the top of the Channels panel, switch back to the Layers panel, Alt+Click or Option+Click on the eye in front of the background layer in order to bring back all the other layers.
Make sure the rays' layer is active, as it is in my case, and then drop down to the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel and click on it, in order to produce this effect here. Now the effect is mitigated, but I would argue it's still fairly over the top. We need to drop out a few of the darkest colors in this layer using some advanced blending options. To get to them, go ahead and double- click in an empty portion of this layer below, for example, the word rays should do the trick, and that'll bring up the layer Style dialog box.
I want you to adjust the This layer slider. So we are going to grab the black slider triangle and crank it all the way up to 200, and that's going to make most of those rays completely disappear, and I am trying to get that value exactly to 200, just so that you and I are achieving more or less the same results. And your results will vary, by the way,. The reason your results are going to end up looking different than mine, is because the Clouds filter produces random effects every single time. Now I'll press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and drag the left half of this black slider triangle all the way down to let's say about 125, and then click OK in order to accept that effect.
Now we are getting this pretty interesting effect I think. It's not all together naturalistic by any stretch of the imagination. We need to do a little more work on the layer mask. So click on the layer mask thumbnail to make it active, and then I want you to switch once again to the Brush tool, because we are just going to apply some hand brushing effects and reduce the size of the cursor until it's about yay big. I did that by pressing the left bracket key, by the way, several times in a row. Then press the X key in order to switch your foreground color to black and I want you to paint roughly over this cloud, because this thing about these sort of lighting effects, they typically emerge from in back of a cloud and then there is typically a little bit of dark edge surrounding the cloud as well.
I am going to paint over the top portion of this lower cloud, so it looks like the rays of light are coming out from the cloud down here as well. Then you might want to apply some other modifications. I am going to zoom out a click, increase the size my cursor quite a bit, and press the 3 key in order to reduce the Opacity to 30%, paint over this left region of this image like so, and then I'll press the 5 key to increase the Opacity of my brush to 50%, and I'll paint around here just a little bit here and there in order to clam down those rays directly around that little cloud, and zoom back in.
Now here's an interesting trick to keep in mind. I'm going to press M key to switch back to the Rectangle Marquee tool. Let's say you're not really that happy with your rays of light. They're not going out at the right angle or what have you. Why then, you can get an entirely different effect by double-clicking on the Clouds filter. So just go ahead and double-click on clouds here inside the Layers panel. Photoshop may give you an error message that you will only see the results of the Clouds filter and nothing more. But it doesn't matter. Just go ahead and click OK.
Then you're going to have to wait for a moment. This is a very computationally intensive process, because Photoshop has to recompute all eight of the Smart Filters, but you will end up achieving an entirely different effect. If you don't like it, then you can press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on a Mac to undo and then just go ahead and double- click clouds and press the Enter key and Return key on the Mac again to make that alert message disappear and Photoshop will regenerate the effect once again. So I might give it a couple of double-clicks. I am going to try to get an effect that looks a little better here.
What I'm looking for is a more lights coming out in this area, right here around the bird. And that ends up looking pretty darn good, but obviously, you just want to sit there and play with it until you get an effect you like. That's still not exactly the effect I'm looking for. I want this bright burst of sunlight right here underneath the cloud, and we will achieve that effect and finish off the entire composition in the next and final exercise.
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