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The elusive alpha channel remains one of the most misunderstood yet powerful tools in Photoshop. Alpha channels are collections of luminance data that control the transparency of an image, and they inform just about every aspect of Photoshop. As he builds transitional blended layers, fashions a depth map, makes edge adjustments, and takes on extreme channel mixing, Omni Award-winning expert Deke McClelland teaches Photoshop users that where there's a will, there's a way. Photoshop CS3 Channels and Masks: Advanced Techniques covers mapping texture on an image, turning flesh into stone, using vector masks, working with all different channels, creating a rustic edge effect, and much more. Exercise files accompany the tutorials.
Download Deke's customized keyboard layouts for Channels and Masks from the Exercise Files tab."
You may recognize this bird; it is a Military Macaw that was captured by photographer Chris Russel of iStockPhoto.com. We have made this kind of progress with this bird. This is the mask channel; right here this guy, that I have been working on. The top of the head is rendered just beautifully and the bill also rendered beautifully and the front feathers, quite the problem, actually not so beautiful. In fact, something of a disaster in this region right here.
That's why in this exercise we are going to fix said disaster using yet another application of an arbitrary map, this time applied to a piece of image that will bring over from a different channel. So I am working in an image called All but the front.tif, because obviously we have managed to select all but the front of the bird. It's found inside the 16_tough_stuff folder. You may feel like if you have been working along with me, Deke you are moving so quickly through this, you are impossible to keep up with. In which case, I will take that criticism in hand. But I would advise you obviously to pause the video and sort of work through it and then play the video again.
But this is more designed for you just to get a sense of how you might go at this, because this really could become a three-hour exercise in selecting your bird, because it does get a little difficult. You also have to bear in mind that if I were really working through this bird, I would have it selected in about ten minutes, if I were just sitting here doing it. The fact that I am narrating it is slowing me down a little bit and the reason I am saying that to you is because I want you to know that something that would take me and you've probably already gotten a sense of this from working through other things in this series, something that would take me like two minutes to select, takes me like 20 minutes to explain because of all the things that are going on and I really want you to understand the logic.
This time I am starting to work through it more at a real pace and so it's becoming pretty fast stuff. But that's just because otherwise we are going to be at this forever, you understand. All right, I didn't have to explain that to you, you knew that, here is the deal. Let's check out a channel where things are handled better. First of all, let's go over to the actual bird, Ctrl+~ or Command+~ on the Mac. Let's select the area that's probably a problem area. In other words, I want to select this region right here and I am doing that by dragging with the Rectangular Marquee tool and I have been Shift+Dragging with the Rectangular Marquee tool around this region.
The reason I am thinking that is going to be better handled in a different channel is because looking at the RGB image we have got green and it's pretty obvious green stuff going on here, against sort of this brownish background, this sort of reddish, almost purplish-brown background here. Then once we start getting into this region, that's totally a different color scheme that's going on. So now if I press Ctr+5 to go back to my mask channel, Command+5 on the Mac, sure enough, it pretty much encircles the problem area of the bird maybe a little bit too much, but that's okay.
This area down here is not selected. This is actually a fairly decent shape. So it's this area that is a problem and I might even extend outward since we have some guck over here that needs to be resolved as well. Where is it handled better? Well I bet, given that it's so green that it is handled better in the Green channel. So let's press Ctrl+2 or Command+2 on Mac, and sure enough, we have a high degree of brightness going on inside the feathers and a middling amount of darkness going on in the background here. So let's go ahead and grab it, Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac in order to copy that to the clipboard. Then let's press Ctrl+5 or Command+5 on a Mac to move to the mask channel, Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac in order to paste this information into place.
Now, here is something that you might want to know. This is a good precaution by the way, I am going to Shift+Tab my palettes back up and I am going to open up the History palette, which is just full of a million meaningless history states at this point. But know that right before I pasted was actually a step that I liked. I mean, the bird was in good shape by this point. It was just this area that was in bad shape and I am not sure how this is going to work out, right. So I make kind of crossroads, I am feeling a little bit timid about moving forward because I don't have a layer to protect me here when I am working in an Alpha channel, but I do have History to protect me. So I am going to go back to this Rectangular Marquee state here and I am going to click in the little Camera icon in order to create a snapshot and I will go ahead and call this something like safety net or anything, you could call it something a little more meaningful than that if you wanted to.
But that way I am protected. Now look Paste is still sitting there ready for me to go back to it. I will go ahead and click on Paste and I am in good shape. Now I can come back to safety net. The only thing that's going to mess me up is if I crash. History states are not saved along with the image. So it's just saved in memory, so it's a temporary thing, but it's unlikely you are going to crash during this, hopefully, crash your fingers, but you should be okay. Now let's apply another Arbitrary Map since that's the name of the game here. Press Ctrl+M or Command+M for the Curves dialog box and this time around I think we are going to do this. I am being a little vague here because I am not sure if I inverted the image first, nope this is right.
So from a 100 input of a 100 right there, there it is, all the way over to the left I want to send to black. So I am going to drag along the bottom of the graph and then from a 101, let's go ahead and find that a 101 all the way over to the right we are going to send that to white. Then I am going to go ahead and click the Smooth button once, anyway, and you might click it twice. Let's go ahead and load the Preset and see what I did there. Choose the Load Preset command and once again, big old dialog box, thank you very much Windows, and let's switch files of type from Curves to Map Settings, another thing that can't be remembered for the life of this dialog box. I get so snotty about -- but I get tired of it, why? I have been in here now five times, and it can't remember this, I mean honestly. Let's go ahead and click on the Green addition.amp file and I will click Load in order to load that up and that is indeed the setting I just applied.
I only click the Smooth button once and just look at all these presets now that I have to work with, isn't that great? But anyway, click OK in order to apply that modification and its pretty good stuff. Now, I might say well gosh! Did I really want to go that far up there? Because now I am getting this sort of vague stuff going on in this region that might not work as well as what I had before. Well, you have that History state, right? So you can go back to safety net and say well, actually it was better before. So let's go ahead and click on Curves to keep it and move the source state from Military macaw there to safety net and then close that down and leave the selection intact. Go ahead and get your History Brush right there, and by the way, get the History Brush not the loopy Art History Brush tool, the Art History Brush tool is -- well, I don't want to say it's a lame tool, I am sure it has some sort of use inside the program. It's just that I haven't used it since it was introduced like 15 versions ago. This is the good tool.
So I just want to make sure that somebody went ahead and switched it to the Art History Brush for you. That's going to give you really wacky results; we want the History Brush tool. Then you want to be just painting in this area in order to paint back what we had before and so long as you have a soft brush you are going to get a soft transition and now things are looking pretty darn good. Now we would switch over to the Burn tool and make that Burn Brush bigger and go ahead and burn that stuff away like so and down here as well and down in this region as well, as well. I don't know what I had to say as well twice, but it was necessary.
Now I am going to press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect this region. Then I am going to Alt+Click around this region with the Lasso tool in order to select it. Option+Click on the Mac, of course, in order to select this stuff because I want to get rid of it all going up to here. Then I would press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete on the Mac in order to fill that area with white and let's see what's going on here. Let's take a look at the real parrot; actually it's a macaw sorry, my bad.
Let's go ahead and turn on the mask. It's like Australians and New Zealanders, they don't like to be confused with each other and neither do parrots and macaws. All right, so this looks like I could sort of drag out here and select it like so with the Lasso tool and oops! Let's not affect the bird, let's go back to the mask and press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete to fill that with white. Or of course, I could go over here to the Art History Brush, which you get by pressing the Y key incidentally and I could kind of do this number in order to merge the two into each other just to brush that in, because that edge looks actually pretty darn good to me.
And then I will turn off the bird so that I can focus on the mask. I would press the O key in order to get the Burn tool. Let's go ahead and just burn this region in and now it's not seeming quite so successful as I thought, so you know what, Ctrl+Alt+Z, Ctrl+Alt+Z, Ctrl+Alt+Z a couple of times because actually the Lasso tool trick was better. That would be Command+Option+Z, several times on the Mac. The Lasso trick looks like it's going to work better for me. I will go ahead and press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac in order to fill that area with black and this is still kind of a rough little area there. So you know what I am going to do? I am going to resort to actual painting. I am going to right-click on this down pointing arrowhead and choose Reset tool so that I get my default brush.
I am going to make it a little bigger and a little harder by pressing Shift+] and a little smaller actually than that, I think, and I am going to make sure that I am painting with black by pressing the X key and then I am going to paint along here to paint that nice and smooth. Now that may or may not be in or out of the parrot and you can check that by turning the parrot on for a moment, macaw, my bad once again. It looks like it's in pretty good shape. It's not exactly tracing the contours of the animal and it is an animal by the way. But it's doing a pretty good job, it's going to be credible, I think.
I will go ahead and now notice that Photoshop has automatically switched my foreground color to white. So I will go ahead and paint this area white and I will paint some of this area too and I will paint down here. That's very essential because I have that weirdness going. Then I will zoom out and see what's going on at the top here. There is a little rough edge, if I press the ~ key you can see what I am talking about, see how there is a rough edge here. I will press ~ again so I can see whether it's in or out of the bird. The bird sort of goes like this right here. So I will go ahead and paint along it and press the ~ key again. That looks like a pretty darn good edge to me.
Then we have got a little bit of roughness right there and I could either attack it with the Burn tool again or what the heck? I will just go ahead and paint with my Brush tool along this area and along this area too in order to fix that stuff. That looks like a pretty darn good mask to me, I have to say. I am going to go ahead and Shift+Tab away my palette, zoom in to the 50% view size so we can make a little more sense of this. The top of the head looks great; this area here looks good enough I think. Actually, it looks pretty darn good. I think it worked out pretty nicely. That is the finished mask, thanks to Arbitrary Maps.
So we have taken Arbitrary Maps to an absolute conclusion here. In the next exercise, however, we are going to switch over and we are going to take a look at using the High Pass filter. We are still going to be working on the Macaw; I am going to show you how the High Pass Filter works. We are not going to take it all the way through, I am just going to give you a sense of what's going on there, because it is the most tedious of the techniques, I have to warn you. It's tedious but it's also more or less guaranteed to work. So it's one of those tricks that if you are willing to put in the labor it's going to deliver the results.
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