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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 are going to perfect the transitions between the hair and the newly yellow blouse inside of this image and this image by the way is called Ongoing hair problems.psd found inside of the 12 Specialty folder. As usual where hair is concerned, it's going to turn out to be a little bit easier than we thought and it's down right anticlimactic quite frankly when approached properly, as we will approach it of course. Now, we do have a job ahead of us because we have got not only her brunette hair, the natural color of her hair, but we also have a lot of leftover crimson inside of her hair, and then we have these areas of intense yellow where the hair has been converted over yellow along with the blouse. We want where it possible the hair to look brunette all the way around.
Now, we are going to have a little bit of residual red and a little bit of newly yellowed pixels here and there, but it will actually look organic to the image. So here is what we are going to do. I want you to start by getting the Lasso tool, so we are going to define the area that we want to work with generally, using the polygonal lasso as usual. I want you to turn the Anti-alias check-box off in order to generate nice jagged transitions because we are going to be copying part of one channel and bringing it over into the layer mask. Make sure the Feather value is set to 0 as well.
If you have a selection active as I do, I still have this area of the shoulder selected, then press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect it. Then, I want you to do as follows here. I want to go ahead and select the region that I am about to show you. So the easiest thing is to just show you as I do it. I am Alt+Clicking or Option+Clicking with the Lasso tool. So I have the Alt or Option key down the entire time. I am clicking to define the selection. I am going to come down here into this good region of this hair and stop shy of the bad region like so. So I am just generally defining the portion of the hair that needs work, is essentially what's going on.
I am going to select these red hairs as well. Notice, this region of hair is red. So I am going to select it as well, and then I am going to come down into this hair over into the yellow zone, over there back like so. Then, down along this hair into the yellow region. Actually, I want to make sure that I select that yellow region of hair there and now, I can be fairly lose. So I will just go ahead and go down the body until I get back to the original starting point there, and now I will release the Alt key or the Option key in order to complete the selection outline.
So you can see I have selected well down into this area, so that I have every bit of yellowise hair down toward the lower portion of the image. So this selection outline represents our problem hairs. I am now going to turn off the adjustment layer. I am going to click on the background layer to make it active. I will go to the Channels palette and I am going to click on the Red channel because it contains the best definitions between the hair and its formerly crimson background. The idea is that I do want the hairs to be black and the background to be white, and the Red channel as closest, is essentially what it comes down to.
Now, I will press Ctrl+C or Command+C on the Mac to copy that selection to the Clipboard. Go back to the RGB image, go to the Layers palette, turn on the adjustment layer, click on the Layer mask. So a lot of little micro steps here. Now, what you would like to be able to do, since the layer mask is active, you'd figure you can just paste it right into there by pressing Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac. You are going to paste an independent layer if you do that. So you don't want that. Go ahead and Undo that modification. Here is what you have to do instead, Alt+Click or Option+ Click on that layer mask to isolate it from the rest of the image. Now, press Ctrl+V or Command+V in order to paste the selection into place.
So we have got the hairs in place, better versions of the hairs as you will see. Press Ctrl+H or Command+H in order to hide that selection outline, so that you can better see what you are doing. Now, Alt+Click or Option+Click on the layer mask icon to return to the composite image, and you can see that things are already actually a lot better. This was before the paste, and this is after the paste. So we have some work to do, a little more work to do, but not all that much. So now, that we are still working inside the layer mask, notice that it's active here, and we still have our selection outline intact. Go ahead and press Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac in order to enter the Levels dialog box. I am going to take the White point down to 190, and notice at that point, that we lose those weird red transitions that we were seeing before inside of the blouse.
So this is before I applied Levels. A bunch of pink going on inside that yellow, and this is after I set that White point down to 190. This will just be a matter of trial and error on your part of course. You would just drag this down until you get a nice blend between no red inside of the shirt and some red leftover inside of the hair. So 190 pretty well does it. Now, we have to boost up the blackness of the areas inside the hair a little bit. So I am going to take the Black point value up to about 50. So we get this kind of transition right there, and things are looking pretty darn good. I will now click OK in order to accept that modification. So again, that's 50 for the Black point, 190 for the White point, leave the Gamma value alone. Go ahead and click OK to accept that modification.
Now, we need to paint in some adjustments using an Overlay Brush. So press the B key in order to switch to the Paintbrush tool. Press Shift+Alt+O or Shift+Option+O on the Mac in order to switch to the Overlay mode. I am going to increase the size of my brush a little bit. Make sure you are working with a soft brush, and I am going to reduce the Opacity to 70% by pressing the 7 key and you can see that the Opacity value is dropped up here in the Options Bar. Now, I am going to paint up like so and that pretty much reestablishes the yellows between these two ponytails of hair right there. I am also going to paint along this side of the hair a little bit. I will paint a little right there, and maybe a couple of clicks of paint in this region.
Now, if I click up in this region, I am afraid that I am going to remove too much red. Let's try that again. See if I paint along this region instead of clicking. Actually, that looks pretty good, but if you find that your modifications are too large at any given time, like that modification I made right there was maybe a little bit too much, go ahead and undo that change and reduce the opacity. I suggest you work with either very large opacity values or very small opacity values at this point. So I am going to take this down to 30% in order to make very subtle modifications, and I will paint around here, click here, here, and here. So I just click a few times in order to make whatever changes that you feel are esthetically pleasing to the image.
Now, I am going to go ahead and scroll down a little bit. I have a little bit of an issue with this area of the hair right there. Notice that we have a little bit of a corner showing up. So I am going to press the X key to switch the foreground color to black. I am going to take that Opacity value up to 70%, and I am going to reduce the size of my brush cursor, and I am going to paint in there few times actually in order to paint some of that red back in and get rid of that -- pretty harsh transition we had a moment ago, but now we are still left with a little bit of harshness there. So tell me what I am going to do.
Now, that I am pretty darn happy with these hairs right there, and I could paint along a little more if I wanted to, but I actually think they look pretty darn good in this region. Then, I am going to soften this area a little bit by getting my Lasso tool. I will go ahead and press Ctrl+D or Command+D on a Mac in order to de-select that selected area of the image, and I will just go ahead and marquee around this region right there, and I still have the Anti-alias check-box turned off. It doesn't really matter because our edges are black in this region. So we are just going from black to black, we are not going to see jagged edges.
I am going to now go up to the Filter menu, choose the Blur command and choose Gaussian Blur, and I am going to soften these edges just a little bit. I think Soften value of about 2 pixels looks pretty good actually. Then, I could use the Levels command to scoot things in, or I could paint some more with the Overlay Brush if I wanted to. I can paint some more black in there. But, I am pretty happy with the way that looks actually. I think it will look okay if we zoom out from it, and leave it alone from this point on. So that's it, and actually I think this is looking pretty darn great overall, and if some detail is bothering you a little, like this sort of weird area of yellow over here on the right side of the image. Then, go ahead and compare it to the original.
Turn off the adjustment layer for a moment, and you will see that it was a pretty weird area in the first place. It didn't bother us then. So why should it bother us now. So go ahead and turn it on. You do have to do a reality check every once in a while when you are working inside of an image. So that you stay appropriately sensitive, but you don't want to become overly sensitized to the image. All right. Notice, we also have a little bit of red transitioning at the top of her blouse over here on the left side of her chin. I actually think that's something we should just leave alone because to me, it looks like a reflection that's coming off of the skin. In other words, the skin is informing the color of the blouse at this point. So I think that's just fine.
So this is, my friends, this is the final color mask here inside of Photoshop. We manage not only to select and accurately identify the blouse and change its colors, but we've also managed to create some credible organic transitions around those individual clumps and strands of hair, nicely done.
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