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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 Density and Feather values found inside the Masks panel. I've gone ahead and restored the Bouncy midtones.psd file, found inside the 09_layer_masks folder. And just so that we can easily tell what we're doing here, I'm going to Alt+Click or Option+Click in the layer mask thumbnail for the midtones adjustment layer, so that we can see it independently of the image. I'm also going to go ahead and zoom on into 100%. Now notice that we do have a few harsh transitions going on inside of this layer mask, and that's a function of course of the Color Range command reading the natural luminance levels, which are bound to be choppy in places.
If you want to smooth over those areas, then you can increase the featheriness value and the great thing about this value, this is actually my favorite incarnation of feathering and softening inside of Photoshop, because it's absolutely parametric. Meaning that you're not permanently modifying the layer mask, you're just changing the softness parameter, and you're doing so on-the-fly. So I could either crank that feather value up if I wanted softer, smoother results, or I could take it back down if I want sharper results.
All right, I'm going to take that Feather value back down to 0 pixels for now so that I can show you density. So the idea is this, let's say I go ahead and Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask again, so I can see my full-color image. If I want to reduce the impact of this layer, then I would go ahead and reduce the opacity values. So, for example, if I take that opacity value down to 50%, then the midtones darken up, if I take the opacity value backup to 100%, then I increase the brightness of the midtones, because after all that's the function of this adjustment layer.
What if I want the opposite effect, in other words what if I want to brighten more of the colors inside the image? Let's go ahead scoot her over so that we can see her hair a little bit which is currently massed out, by then I would reduce the density values, so let's say I take that density value down to 25%, then I'm revealing more of the adjustment into the concealed region. I'll go ahead and Alt+Click or Option +Click on that layer mask thumbnail. The reason is I just increased the brightness of black. So whereas the darkest luminance level in the layer mask previously was 100% black, now the darkest level is 25% black, and as a result, we're revealing a lot more of our color adjustment.
And again, this is a parametric nondestructive modification that you can apply and change on the fly, so if I take that density value backup to 100%, then the darkest value in the layer mask is once again restored to 100% black. Now in the case of this specific adjustment, I came up with the following values, I decided to take the Feather value all the way up to 20 pixels, because I wanted some very soft transitions where this specific adjustment layer is concerned, and then I went ahead and took the density value down to 85% to apply at least a little bit of this adjustment inside the concealed regions.
And now I'll go ahead and Alt+Click or Option+Click on that layer mask to once again reveal the RGB image. Press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on the Mac in order to zoom on out, and just to give you a sense of what I was able to accomplish, I'll press the F12 key in order to restore the original saved version of the image. So that's the before version, before those modifications to the density and feather values, and this is the after version. It's a pretty subtle modification as you can see, but it's exactly the kind of control that you need over your adjustment layers here inside Photoshop.
So as much as I'm not a big fan of these three buttons, I definitely recommend you come to terms with and use on a regular basis the Density and Feather values, here inside the Masks panel.
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