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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'll show you how to both use and control the behavior of the Quick Selection tool, and then in the next exercise we'll see a potential use for it. I've saved my progress as Matching frog eyes.psd, and you get to the Quick Selection tool by clicking and holding on the tool below the Lasso tool, which may in your case either be the Quick Selection tool or the Magic Wand, which is why the tools have a keyboard shortcut of W. After all, the Wand is an older tool, it got its keyboard shortcut first, and then Quick Selection was added later. I hasten to add here that the tools are utterly and completely unrelated to each other, they work in remarkably different ways, and they have different purposes as well.
Now, let's say I want use the Quick Selection tool to select this forward foot down here. So I'll go ahead and Zoom in on it. And you use the tool by brushing in a selection, and notice as you brush, Photoshop goes ahead and automatically grows the selection to what it considers to be an edge. And again, an edge is an area of rapid luminance transition; that is bright to dark inside the image. Now, it may be a subtle edge, or it may be an obvious edge, either way the Quick Selection tool is determined to find it. Unfortunately, you can't help it out, you don't have any edge control up here in the options bar, the way you do with the Magnetic Lasso tool.
And whereas, it's not very helpful where the Magnetic Lasso tool is concerned, it might turn out to be very useful for this tool. But Adobe, whether right or wrong, has chosen to keep this tool as simple as possible, so they've hidden some of the tool's behavior, which is too bad in my opinion, because I think if we did have some more controls, this tool would be a lot more useful. All right. After you get done brushing in a selection, you can add to it just by brushing in some more. And notice that tiny click and drag there, ended up selecting this entire toe. So the tool is automatically set up to add to an existing selection outline, and that's a function of these options over here on the left-hand side of the options bar.
So notice that Add to selection is active by default. But I've got a problem here, notice that I've selected a little too much of the ground, because the selection has kind of oozed into the shadow. I don't want that, so I want to paint away the selection. And you can do that by clicking this next option over, Subtract from selection, or you can get to that option on the fly by pressing and holding the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac. And notice as you do so, I'll go ahead and release the key for a moment, notice that we've got a little + sign inside of the brush cursor. If you press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac, it changes to a little - sign, and now you paint in order to paint away the selection, then you release your cursor, and you release the key. All right.
Because this is a brush, you can change its size, and you do that either by clicking this down-pointing arrowhead and changing the Size value. Notice that we have a bunch of other controls that really aren't going to make any difference, with the exception of Hardness, which I'll show you in a moment, but you can change the Size on the fly if you like by pressing those Bracket keys. So the right bracket key will make the brush incrementally larger and the left bracket key will make it incrementally smaller. Now, ostensibly, a larger brush is going to get more done at any given point in time, so you'll be able to generate a larger selection with less work, and then a smaller brush will go ahead and get into those little crevices.
But my experience is that it really doesn't matter much how big your brush is, as long as you can get into those regions that you want to paint, otherwise the tool pretty much behaves the exact same way, whether you have got a large brush or a small one. All right. I'm going to press the Alt or Option key and just click right there in order to paint away a little bit of that shadow once again, and now let's see what the selection looks like, by switching over to the Channel's panel. And I'm going to Alt-Click or Option+ Click on the Save selection as channel icon, in order bring up the New Channel dialog box.
And I'm going to call this guy gummy, because we've got a gummy selection outline so far, and I'll show you what I mean. I'll click OK and go ahead and click on that New Channel to take a look at it. Press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac. You can see that perhaps it's not so much gummy, it's choppy, we have a lot of weird choppy edges going on. And they can be made significantly better by turning on a single check box, but it's going to require us to repaint the selection unfortunately. So let me show you how that works. I'll switch back to the RGB image and I'll go up to the options bar, and notice these two check boxes; Sample All layers will pay attention to the contents of all layers as you paint.
And that's great if you're trying to analyze the composite image. However, note that you can only use that selection on one layer at a time. Auto-Enhance is going to do what it says. It's going to actually make those edges way better, as you're about to see, and in my opinion, Auto-Enhance should always be turned on. It's not like it slows the tool down measurably, and it produces much better results. So I'll increase the size of my cursor and paint over that right-hand toe, and I'll go ahead and paint along the forward toe and this left-hand toe as well, up into this sort of knuckle region, whatever it is, I'm not a biologist.
Anyway, I'll paint this guy right there, just click in order to expand the selection ever so slightly, and then I'll press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and paint into the shadow to paint it away. I want to click right about there as well in order to add a little bit to the selection outline. All right. Let's check this one out. I'll go ahead and drop down to that Save selection icon, Alt+Click or Option+Click on it, and let's call this one smoother, and then click OK, so we can get a sense of what it looks like. So I'll press Ctrl+D, Command+D on the Mac, first I'll click on gummy, so we can see that gummy/choppy mask, and then I'll click on smoother and you can see how much smoother the results are.
So it has done a much better job of generating the smooth outlines. All right. Now, let's see the results of one more attribute here. I'm going to switch back to the RGB image, Zoom out a little bit, so I can take in the image at 100%, and I'll click that down-pointing arrowhead, and notice that Hardness value right there. What it allows you to do is paint with the soft brush and it can sometimes be useful, where mimicking the natural softness of the focus of the images concerned. So I'll crank that value all the way down to 0%. Now, you can also change that value from the keyboard if you're so inclined, I'll press the Enter or Return key once in order to accept that value.
Then I'll press the right bracket key a couple of times in order to increase the size of my cursor. Now, if you want to increase the Hardness from the keyboard, then press Shift+], and each time you do so, you'll increase the Hardness in 25% increments. So I press that keyboard shortcut twice in a row, which means, if I go ahead and click on the down-pointing arrowhead, I've increased the Hardness value to 50%. If I want to take it back down to 0%, then I'll press Shift+[ twice in a row.] And because it works in 25% increments as well, when I click the down-pointing arrowhead, I'll see my Hardness value is now 0%.
And that works with any brush inside of Photoshop, by the way. All right. Now, I'm going to go ahead and paint inside the foot, as I have so many times now. And I grew the selection a little bit more than before, that's fine. I'm going to Alt+Drag down here in the shadow in order to take some of that shadow away. Now, because I'm painting with a soft brush, Photoshop is eeking into the edge a little differently than it did before. So I'm going to have to add that toe back in. I'm really not going to be able to get the results I'm looking for, but I'll keep working at it here.
First, I'll Alt or Option+Drag, and then I'll just go ahead and click inside the foot. Anyway, let's see what I've come up with. I'll drop down once again to that Save selection icon, Alt+Click or Option+Click on it, and we'll call this New Channel softer, and I'll click OK. Now let's take a look at what we've got. I'll Deselect the image by pressing Ctrl +D or Command+D on the Mac and click on that softer selection, and you can see where things went wrong, thanks to the fact I was working with that soft brush, we ended up getting some very strange transitions around that right-hand toe.
But we also get more of a naturalist blur up here in the top region. But tell you what, in my opinion, you're better off sticking with a hard-edged brush, which is what we use to achieve the superior smoother mask, and then if need be, go ahead and soften the results using something like Gaussian Blur after you've generated the selection outline. All right. So that's how the tool works. In the nice exercise we'll actually do something with it.
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