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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."
In this exercise we're going to move the young lady with her mask into the backyard blur background. So I want you to make sure that you have both of the images you are going to need opened. First, there is the Backyard blur.jpg file and secondly I have an updated version of the PhotoSpin girl file. It's called Triple the masks.tif. Both of these files are found inside of the 10_advanced_blend folder. Now the reason I went ahead and updated the Triple the masks.tif file is because I've created now three variations on this mask, the one that we had at the outside of the previous exercise, the one I created in front of you in the previous exercise, which I've now named fluffier. And then yet another mask that I created while I was just sitting around here, which I called fluffiest.
The whole idea is to just give you a sense that every single time you mask an image, the mask is going to turn out differently. So you can work from any three of these masks or your own mask if you work along with me in the previous exercise. We could switch back to the RGB image and load one of these masks by Ctrl+Clicking on it or Command+Clicking on it on the Mac and then we could drag-and-drop the image from one image window into the other. But if we do that, then we're limited to that masked region that we selected, and I would rather have a lot more flexibility. So we're going to bring over the image and the mask independently using automated and little known functions inside of Photoshop that require that both images be exactly the same size. So let's go ahead and make sure that the two images are of the same size, currently, they're not. I am going to deselect this image incidentally by pressing Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac.
You can see that she is a Square format image and if I switch over to the Backyard blur image, it's a Wide format image, right. It's a landscape image anyhow. It's wider than it is tall. So they have different pixel dimensions. In order to take advantage of the techniques that I am going to share with you right now, they have to have the exact same pixel dimensions. So let's check out what those pixel dimensions are. I am going to switch over to the Info palette, which you can get to by clicking on the Info tab or by choosing Info from the Window menu or by pressing the F8 key. Down in this region you will probably see the document size. It will tell you how big the document is in memory including all of its alpha channels. But you probably won't see the color space or the pixel dimensions.
To see that information, go to the palette menu right here and choose the palette Options command. Then I want you to turn on these three checkboxes, Document Sizes, Document Profile and Document Dimensions. The other ones, I could give a darn about. Those three though are really great. It's good to see that information, good to have that information on hand when you have the Info palette on screen. So I'll go ahead and click OK. In the Color mode you just get to see which color model you have assigned to the image, which in our case is Adobe RGB. This information though is critical. The image measures 1162 pixels wide by 1072 pixels tall. If I switch to the Backyard blur image we can see that it's 1484 pixels wide. So wider and the exact same dimensions tall, 1072. So that's kind of a fluke. So that means that we need to make the girl wider. We need to expand the size of the image that contains the girl. Notice we also see a resolution value, that does not matter for our purposes; resolution has nothing to do with what we're doing inside of this exercise or any of the remaining exercises inside of this chapter.
All right, switch back to the photograph of the young lady. I want you to go to the Layers palette. You can now go ahead and collapse the Info palette if you like. I need to do that because I need more room on screen here. I am going to go ahead and convert this image, this background layer right here to an independent floating layer, so I don't risk damaging it with the Canvas Size command. So I am going to double-click on this layer, brings up the New Layer dialog box. I'll just go ahead and call this layer young lady and press the Return key. There is a new independent layer inside of my image, in the background, of course, is transparency. So I have a floating layer. I'll go ahead and turn it back on. The next step is to go up to the Image menu and choose the Canvas Size command. So by virtue of the fact that we have an independent layer, we are not going to risk clipping it with the Canvas Size command.
Also, if we increase the size of the image, which we're going to do, then we don't have to deal with a bunch of extra white pixels. We'll just have the image set against a transparent background. It will work out beautifully. So go ahead and choose the Canvas Size command or you can press Ctrl+Alt+C or Command+Option+C on the Mac. Once you see the Canvas Size dialog box on screen, you can pretty much ignore everything that's going on here. You just need to go up to the Window menu and choose Backyard blur. That will go ahead and load the dimensions of the other image into the Canvas Size dialog box. So you don't have to enter a darn thing.
We really don't care where it's anchored. We don't care how it's centered or anything at this point, all we care is that we're going to expand the size of the image. We can see that we're expanding it all the way around, because of all those arrows going outward. If we were going to make one of the dimension smaller than the current dimensions of the image, that would actually be okay. A warning would come up telling us that Photoshop is going to clip the image, but really that's not going to happen, because once again we're working on an independent layer. Anyway, in our case, that's not going to happen. We're just going to click OK and Photoshop makes the image wider, as you can see. We don't have to deal with a bunch of excess white pixels or pixels of any color, actually. We just have transparency outside of the original image.
Now we're going to go ahead take her and place her against the background. We're going to do that by going up to the palette menu, the Layers palette menu and choosing this command right there, Duplicate Layer. So go ahead and choose that command, you'll get a dialog box that's asking you what you want to call the new layer. I'll just go ahead and call it young lady, for the same name it has presently and we're going to put it in a different document. Instead of putting this layer inside Triple the masks, we're going to place it inside Backyard blur. So I'll go ahead and choose Backyard blur from the Document popup menu and click OK. Now initially nothing is going to seem as if it happened. Because we're still looking at the Triple the masks.tif image. I am going to switch over to the Backyard blur image. Notice that we're seeing Backyard blur up here in the title bar and sure enough it now contains the young lady layer.
All right, now we need to mask her. We need to assign that alpha channel, that we worked so hard on in the previous exercise. So let's go ahead and bring in on over by going up to the Select menu. So once again we're working inside the Backyard blur.jpg file. Go up to the Select menu and choose the Load Selection command. Then I want you to change the document option to Triple the masks or to PhotoSpin girl if you're still working inside of that image. We don't want to load the transparency information, that would just be the square around the layer. So that's not going to do us any good.
What we want to load is one of the alpha channels and whichever alpha channel you want to load is totally up to you. I am going to go with fluffiest. I am going to go with the last alpha channel I created there, which has the most hair, that's why it's called fluffiest, because it borders on having selected too much inside of the image. We want to create a new selection and we want the Invert checkbox to be off. So we're all ready to go, just go ahead and click OK and notice that we have the selection outline exactly aligned with our new layer inside the Backyard blur image. So that's a fantastic thing. Now let's convert it to a nondestructive layer mask by going down here to the bottom of the Layers palette and clicking on the Add a layer mask icon in order to convert the selection to a layer mask and the deed is done.
So we're able to achieve the best of both worlds. We've brought over the image and we've brought over the mask independently. So we could still change that mask around. We have all of her pixels intact. We have all the freedom in the world in order to make this composition look its very best.
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