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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."
Okay, so here I am looking at my 32-bit HDR composite photograph. This image that was merged to HDR from a trio of auto bracketed shots. And I have exposed the image for the sky and you have too if you have been working along with me. I am still working inside of that same Houseboat 32-bit.hdr files, and the reason I am not saving updates as I go along is because they are huge, these are huge files and I hate for people to have to download these gargantuan files, unless of course, it's absolutely necessary.
So I am assuming that you are building this particular effect along with me. It's not hard to do. We do now have a sky mask that we built in the previous exercise. You have it too if you made it. And so what we are going to do before we put the sky mask in play there, I am going to go ahead and expose the scene a little differently. I am going to expose for sort of this boat area down here, like so. I mean this looks like a pretty darn good exposure to me, just something rough. It doesn't have to be exactly right. But we do want the boat to be in good shape and we do want to lose those blue shadows if we can. In this case, we have, I will go ahead and raise it just slightly more there, so that the boat looks like it's in good shape. And I am going to go ahead and now zoom out to take in the rest of the scene. It's looking good. It give you some additional saturation, I think. It's a little drab.
But the main problem, of course, is that the sky is way too hot. So let's go ahead and Ctrl or Command+Click on the sky mask Alpha Channels, here inside the Channels palette. Ctrl+Click on the thumbnail if you are working on the PC, Command+Click if you are on the Mac. Then let's go over to the Layers palettes and I am going to press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, and I am going to click on this black/ white icon in order to bring up the adjustment layer pop-up menu. Now notice that they aren't a heck of lot of adjustment layers available to us.
For example, there is no Curves inside of 32-bit, inside the HDR mode. And you don't have well lot of other functions available to use. Well, you don't Brightness and Contrast darn it. But you do have Levels. So go ahead and choose the Levels command. And because you have the Alt or Option key down, you can name the layer and I am going to call it sky exposure. And then I am going to go ahead and click OK and of course, it's going to come masked automatically. We have a layer mask. Photoshop went ahead and converted the selection outline to a layer mask. And now I can go ahead and reduce the exposure of the sky and I would do that by dragging this white point output slider over to the left. It's a strange way to work. You wouldn't work this way inside of any of the other modes in 16-bit or 8-bit because you would just be darkening the whites, right.
But notice that we are leaving a lot of whites up here in the sky, and the reason is because we are basically dragging the highlights behind this white point. There is a ton of other highlights over here that we are moving over. So we are just saying what we are formerly white points are going to be moved to this location here and everybody else is going to follow once again from that neighboring room. So the highlights are moving in from one room through the walls into the visible room, into the room where we are, and as a result, we are seeing the sky darken to about there I would say. Looks pretty good! And again we have to eyeball. This is one of my frustrations with HDR inside of Photoshop, is you have to do a lot of eyeballing, which doesn't seem to me to be the right way to work at all. So we need some better previewing controls inside the software.
Eventually, I imagine things will come together. But for now, this looks pretty darn good. I will go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification. Now I will go ahead and Shift+Tab away the palettes here. We have managed to combine a nicely exposed sky with a nicely exposed boat and landscape and so on here, zoom out a little bit, is a perfect by no means. We have this weird little sort of edge that's tracing around the bottom portion of the image. So it's kind of a bad mask, is basically what it comes down to. It looks like we took a pair of scissors to the image at this point.
That's something we need to reconcile and we are going to reconcile that problem in the next exercise.
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