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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 show you another way to selectively enhance the contrast of a mask. I've saved my progress as Overlay painting.tif, found inside the 08_everyday folder. And notice that I'm looking at the alpha channel called Overlay Painting, here inside the Channels panel. I am going to convert it to that inverted version of the Blue channel. So you can see just how much detail we lost. So there are the original hairs, and here's what they look like now after overlay painting. So a considerable amount of damage has been done here.
Now, I'm not saying that painting with the Overlay mode is a bad thing; it's actually a really, really great technique, but sometimes it goes a little bit too far. So what if you want to produce more subtle results? Well, rather than reducing the Opacity value, as I was saying, that just produces more tepid results. The background will never quite get all the way black, which is what we need. Instead, you ratchet down the blend mode, and let me show you what that looks like. I'm going to switch to this alpha channel that I went ahead and created in the previous exercise. It's called soft light painting, and right now it's nearly exactly the same as that inverted Blue channel there. The one difference is I painted away the face.
Now I'm going to go ahead and zoom back out, and switch back to my Brush tool, which I can get by pressing the B key. Notice that my foreground color is black; that's very important. Right-click inside the image window. You can go ahead and crank that size value back up to a thousand pixels; whatever. Make sure the Hardness is set to 0%, and then go up to the Mode menu, and change it from Overlay, to the one and only more subtle contrast mode, which is Soft Light. So Soft Light is the most subtle contrast mode of them all, by the way.
Go ahead and select it, and then paint inside the background, just as you did in the previous exercise, and go ahead and paint on the left-hand side of the image as well. All right, now let's take a look at our new edges. I'll go ahead and zoom in until we get to 100%. So here is the result of the Overlay Blend mode; you can see that we have some pretty choppy details. And here is the result of the Soft Light Blend mode. Obviously, we end up with a lot more of those fine hairs intact. So here's what I suggest: when you're selectively enhancing the contrast of a mask, which is something you do routinely when you're working through these everyday masking projects, start with the Overlay Blend mode, and see how it works.
If it ends up going too far, try Soft Light instead. And over time, by the way, you'll come to recognize which mode is going to work best in which situations. But when you have very fine hair like this, and you're starting off with a pretty dark background in the first place, then Soft Light tends to do the trick. All right; now I'm going to go ahead and zoom out once again, and what I need to do is test the background to see just how black it is. And so the best tool for that purpose is a Magic Wand tool. Go ahead and select it.
Make sure your Tolerance value is set to 0, Anti -alias off, click somewhere in the background; notice that I didn't select the whole thing. So I selected a pretty big area, but there's an awful lot of the background that's left out. I could Shift+click, like so, to add to that selection, but I'm going to end up missing a lot of intermediate pixels, so here's the better approach. Press Control+D, Command+D on a Mac, to deselect the image, and crank up that Tolerance value. Now, what you probably want to do is take it up to, say, 12. Let's try it and see how well that works, and then I'll click again, and that ends up selecting that entire background, but maybe that went a little bit too far.
So press Control+D again, Command+D on a Mac. Let's try half that; I'll try a Tolerance value of 6, and click in the background, and that still selects just about everything, so this is probably a better setting. I'm going to go ahead and zoom out just a little bit here. Notice that it missed this little area. Press the M key in order to switch to Rectangular Marquee tool. Shift+drag around that little bit of animated selection outline. Anything that's moderately close to the edge, you don't need to worry about; we're just concerned about the big, huge regions of the background.
All right, now go ahead and grab that Magic Wand tool again, and Shift+click on the left side of the image. That hair comes pretty far out to the left-hand side. So not to worry about the fact that it ends up interrupting the selection outline. Go ahead and Shift+click down in this region, and then Shift+click down in this region as well, and you should select more or less the entire background. If you have a few items sticking out here and there -- I'll go ahead and zoom in to 100%, so I can better see what I'm doing. And these all actually look pretty darn good. These little stray bits of selection outline follow the contours of hairs, and I definitely want that.
So none of these items look to be much of a problem, actually, pretty much throughout my image. It's just that one area over there on the right-hand side that was a problem. Maybe this guy right here; I could go ahead and get rid of it, but in general, I think we've got pretty clean selection. Now, remember that it's actually not entirely black, because I had to increase the Tolerance value for my Magic Wand tool to 6. What I want is absolute black, so because my foreground color is black at this point, I'll go ahead and press Alt+Backspace, or Option+ Delete on the Mac, in order to fill that region with absolute jet black.
All right; press Control+D, Command+D on the Mac, to deselect the image, if you want to confirm. You can reduce the Tolerance value to 0 now, and then click in the background; it should be absolutely uniform, like so. Shift+click over here on left-hand side, and those areas should become quickly selected as well. That's it; I'm going to press Control+D, Command+D on the Mac, in order to deselect the image. What we have now is our first highly accurate hair mask. In the next exercise, we're going to employ this mask in order to composite the model against a new background.
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