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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, I'm going to introduce you to the Channels panel and explain how it compares to the Masks panel just so that you have a sense of where you stand right from the start where masking is concerned inside Photoshop. I'm working inside an image called Toucan with swatches.psd and it's based on a photograph from the Fotolia Image Library, about which you can learn more at fotolia.com/deke. But, I've made a few modifications to the image. If you go to the Layers panel and Alt+ Click or Option+Click on the eyeball in front of the Background layer, you will see the original photographic image.
Now, it's a very colorful image indeed. But, my problem from the vantage point of trying to teach you how channels work is that there's not much contribution from the Blue channel inside this RGB image. So I went ahead and added the next layer up which is a gradient layer, set inside of a layer Mask. That goes ahead and re-colors the background behind the bird by infusing some blues and violets into the image. Then I also have this next layer up which provides us with a few representative color swatches.
Now, I mentioned this just so that you have a sense of how this composition is put together. I also want you to note that this is an example of masking. If I Alt+Click or Option+Click on the layer Mask thumbnail associated with the grad layer, then I'll view that layer Mask by itself. Any portion of the layer Mask that appears white allows the gradient to show through to the background. Any portion that appears black makes that gradient transparent. So what you'll sometimes hear people say is where masks are concerned, white reveals and black conceals.
I also have a Vector Mask associated with the Swatches layer. I'll go ahead, and click on the layer thumbnail in order to switch back to the RGB view of the image. Notice if I click on this Vector Mask thumbnail, I'll see the Vector Mask represented right there inside the image. Its contribution is that it goes ahead and clips away that small corner of the swatch, so it appears behind the toucan's bill. All right! So while all of this is very well and good, what does it have to do with the inherent difference between the Channels panel and the Masks panel? Well, let me explain.
I'll go ahead and click on the Background layer to make it active, and then I'll go up to the Window menu and I'll choose what one would presume to be the primary panel where masking is concerned inside Photoshop. I mean after all, if the Layers panel provides access to layers inside of an image, then one would naturally assume that the Masks panel provides access to masks. If you can hear the slight chuckle in my voice, it's because nothing could be farther from the truth. I'll go ahead and choose Masks, and you'll see that currently, even though there are many masks inside this image, we're not seeing a single one of them and every option inside the Masks panel is dimmed.
I'm going to go ahead and collapse the Color panel, so I have a little more room to work. Now, the problem is that I have the background image selected. We're ready to select one of these other layers. For example, I'll go ahead and click on the grad layer to make it active. It has a layer Mask. I'm still told that no mask is selected. That's because I haven't clicked on the layer Mask thumbnail. As soon as I do, then all of the options inside the Masks panel light up. And therein lies the function of the Masks panel, it's what I call a Facilitation panel because its primary contribution is to allow you to do things that you can do elsewhere inside the program.
You can do those things specifically to layer Masks and Vector Masks as well. But, that's it! Otherwise, the panel has no purpose. I'm going to go ahead, and hide the Masks panel in order to collapse it. Now, I'm not saying it's a bad panel far from it, and we'll spend some time with it when we discuss layer Masks in the later chapter. But, in the meantime, command central where masking is concerned in Photoshop is not the Masks panel, but rather it's the Channels panel. Now notice, if you've loaded my dekeKey shortcuts, I've gone ahead and assigned a shortcut to the Channels panel, and here's my reasoning.
The layers and Channels panels live side-by-side. Adobe has already assigned a shortcut to the Layers panel of F7, so I went ahead and created a shortcut of Alt+F7 or Option+F7 on the Mac, so that you can easily switch back and forth between these two panels. Now, notice here inside the Channels panel, I see the layer Mask for the active layer. I also see this Alpha Channel mask that I've created in advance and then finally, I see the full color composite RGB image with each one of its component color bearing channels.
I'll explain what I mean by all that in the very next exercise.
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