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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."
By this point in the chapter we have seen a lot of very interesting stuff. We have seen how to extract a natural cast shadow from one image and map it against another. We have seen to separate and combine flesh masks and object masks. We have seen how to mask blond hair and composite it extremely successfully against a new background. We have seen how to use the Mask check box inside of the Calculations dialog box, and we even saw how to bolster a flame, which was wild, but you might be thinking by this point in time.
When you imagine masking the tough stuff you are thinking of a complicated foreground image with all kinds of colors, and feathers, and hair set against a very complicated background of all kinds of like scaffolding, and colors, and like a flock of seagulls in flight, and maybe some wicker furniture or something like that. I mean just every possible weird, wacky thing in a background, a big junkyard heap. And what do you do in that case, how do you mask the image? Well, first of all, I am going to tell you at the risk of being a little bit ponderous here, I am going to say, do yourself a favor upfront and avoid those kinds of images, if you can. If you are behind the camera and you are shooting, for example, this macaw. And by the way, the name of this image is Military macaw.jpg, it's found inside of the 16 Tough stuff folder. It comes to use from photographer, Chris Russell, of iStockphoto, and he has done a terrific job.
But if he was planning of masking the image, he would want to shoot this macaw against a bright blue background, like a sky, for example, or a whiteboard would work well - anything that separates the background from the foreground, anything that would provide a high degree of contrast. If you are not shooting the photo, then talk to the photographer. A little bit of conversation goes a long way. Now, of course, there are times where images are just going to float onto your desk. Those times maybe every day for you, you may be seeing images on a regular basis, and you might be asked to mask them or do special things with the foreground subjects. In that case, I have got some techniques for you that we are going to apply. We are going to try them all out on this particular image, this Military macaw.jpg image.
I should say, you have probably noticed that the background isn't all that complicated. For one thing, it's well out of focus, so that provides us with some contrast, and there isn't a lot of scaffolding, or a flock of seagulls in flight, or any wicker furniture, or any of that stuff going on. The reason is that this image is representative of the worst kinds of images you do run in to when masking. It's just that I don't have all that other stuff going on because it just makes masking process more laborious. It doesn't change your approach, you are still going to apply one of these approaches that I am going to share with you but it does make the image a lot more painful. Now I don't want to share the pain with you, you are going to discover the pain all by yourself, believe me, and on your own time, I assure you; but I want to make sure that you can get through these projects and really try them out and have a fair degree of success with them.
So check out what we have got here and this is why this image is pretty darn calculating. Let's just, sort of, wander around the image in a, kind of, counterclockwise fashion. We have got low focused feathers over here, against a bright white background. So we have got dark feathers and light background. Then we transition in to this area over here where we have a dark background and light feathers in sharper focus, this time around. Then we have this area of very, very red feathers, some, sort of, special feathers here on the tip at the top of the Macaw's bill, set against a warmish background. Then we have a light bill against the dark background transitioning in to a dark bill against the lighter background. Then we go down in to this terribly wonderful world of very low focused feathers in this region, here, that are both lighter and darker than the background. Then we get to some, sort of, more sharply focused feathers declining in to barely any contrast at all.
So this is quite the bird. We really have our work cut out for us where this bird is concerned. Here is what we are going to see over the course of the next few exercises. These are the true masking, the tough stuff exercises. First, I am going to show you a special variation of the Pen tool. So the Pen tool is often a really great tool for masking very difficult images, where you are determining the edges rather than relying on Photoshop to find the edges for you but there is this special variation of the Pen tool that I want to show you. You may find it useful, maybe not. Then we will move on to Arbitrary Maps which you can create using the Pencil tool inside the Curves dialog box. Then if nothing else works for you, I am going to show you this technique, a very complex technique from the perspective of just doing the work, it takes a lot of work, and it relies on the High Pass filter. And it always works but it always demands a lot of work from you. So you are basically creating an extremely complicated comic book and then you are coloring it in.
Then finally, we are going to take a look at what is the best approach for this particular image here, which are multiple variations of the Calculations command. That's the most complicated technique, mentally, to wrap your mind around, and to become familiar with, you know, which applications of the Calculations command, you want to apply but once you, sort of, get beyond that hurdle, it can be your best approach, as we will see. So those are the scenarios. One of them is going to work for you, somehow, some way, and we will start looking at them starting, of course, with the Pen tool variations in the very next exercise.
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