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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 take the final mask that we have created over the course of the last several exercises now, and we are going to use it to select this woman and composite her against a different background. So notice that I am working in this document called base WWF mask.tif. That doesn't stand for World Wrestling Federation, and by the way, they changed their name to World Wrestling Entertainment. How insensitive of you not to notice? This actually stands for Woman with Flame I'll have you know, all right. So this is the woman with the flame, of course, from photographer, Andre Barack and we are going to take her, and we are going to composite her against this image right here, this is the Valley of Fire in Nevada.
Actually, as it turns out a photograph that I shot in Nevada and how much synergy is that, that we are going to take the woman with flame and put her in the Valley of Fire, it makes total sense to me. So make sure that you have both of these images opened, and then we are going to take an alternative route to combining this two images together just so that you are incessantly aware of all of your options. I am going to start things off by going over to the Layers palette. Notice that final mask is in the fourth position, the fourth channel position right there, so we can get to it by pressing Ctrl+4; we can load that mask by pressing Ctrl+Alt+4 that would be Command+4 and Command+Option+4 on a Mac.
Let's go over to the Layers palette. Double-click on the thumbnail for the background layer, and let's call this layer WWF and click OK. So we are converting what used to be the background layer to a floating layer. Now I will press Ctrl+Alt+4 or Command+Option+4 on the Mac to load that alpha channel as a selection outline and then let's convert it to a layer mask by clicking on the layer mask icon down here at the bottom of the Layers palette. So we now have a floating layer of her, and I have to say, check out that hair.
That hair that was so synthetic, we were drawing this edge using the Pen tool, and it just didn't look like it was going to render the hair out worth beans because we didn't have little flex of hair sticking out, and yet, it looks gorgeous, it looks wonderful, and wonderful. And you will see once we composite it against the background that is one of the features that is just rendered impeccably. And it really is a function of the Pen tool. It's a very good tool for masking images inside Photoshop. Now I want to create a new layer below the active layer. Let's go ahead and move the bottom of the palette up a little bit. You can do that by Ctrl+Clicking or Command+Clicking on the little page icon. That little trick creates a layer below the active layer as opposed to on top of it. And I will go ahead and undo that modification.
If you Ctrl+Alt+Click or Command+Option+ Click on the little page icon you will not only create the layer below the active layer, you will also be invited to name it. So let's go ahead and called this one VOF for Valley of Fire and click OK and notice that it appears below. So, yet, another trick for you in case you are interested, something that you won't ever remember possibly, but still there it is. It's available to you, if you care to stash it in your brain. Now, let's go up to the Image menu and choose the Apply Image command, and by default it's going to be set to base WWF mask.tif or whatever image you have been working along with me inside of. You will want to change that over to Valley of Fire, since Valley of Fire has the exact same pixel dimensions. So you can choose it as well. Make sure that blending is set to Normal. Make sure you are working with the background layer, channels should be RGB. All of the check boxes, except for Preview, should be turned-off. Opacity should be 100%.
We are good to go. Go ahead and click OK. And we have now managed to create the composition. Let's go ahead and Shift+Tab away the palettes for the moment here. Most of the edges are in terrific shape and especially that Pen tool edge that we drew, look at that edge, it looks sensational. I think it looks just awesome. It's a little tricky right there around the knuckle, that's okay. I don't think anybody is going to notice that, and let's say he would spend as much time in the image as we have. The shoulder looks totally awesome as well.
And then if you go up to the top of the hair, it looks good. Let's go over to the other side. Our hair detail on the right hand side of the head looks just great as well. We have these nice little hairs that are just, sort of, flecking off the image, a great looking shoulder, this is just a sensational mask. It's working out for us beautifully. The only thing I am thinking, when I take in the image from a distance I am, sort of, thinking, "Ha! It's kind of unusual that there is this dark edge along this blonde hair," so it goes from being platinum blonde to darkish and then back to lightish, again, in the background.
Why would this dark edge exist in the real world, and it probably wouldn't. We are going to get rid of that dark edge using a pretty simple technique, as it turns out, in the next exercise.
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