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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.
Now we have been creating some pretty rudimentary masks, because we've been relying on the selection tools, which while convenient, are not Photoshop's most powerful masking functions. But even if we had wicked accurate masks, we would still have to rely on our compositing skills in order to get the scene to match up. Specifically in our case, we have these dark edges surrounding the frog. That doesn't look natural. This foot still does not work inside the scene. So we're going to bump up the quality of the image like so and we're going to do so relying almost exclusively on layer effects.
So let me show you how that works. I'll go ahead and switch back to the progress file which I've called Magical happy background.psd. We're going to start things off with this hot foot layer. So go ahead and click on it to make it active. Then I'm going to zoom in on the foot and it's got all kinds of problems. Even though I spent a good five minutes trying to tweak this mask using the Smudge tool, the edges still don't look right. So we could go back to the layer mask and spend a lot more time worrying over it, or we can go ahead and fudge the differences around the edges here using layer effects, specifically Drop Shadow and Inner Glow.
Now notice that my layer mask is active. That's going to affect the creation of the layer effect as you'll see in just a moment. Click on the fx icon and go ahead and choose the Drop Shadow command. That'll bring up the big layer Style dialog box. Now I'll click on the Color Swatch and I want to go ahead and lift a color from the image, but if I click inside the foot, then my color becomes white. And if I click outside the foot, it becomes black, which tells me that I'm not lifting colors from the composite image, I'm lifting colors from the layer mask.
That doesn't do me any good. So cancel out and then what you do is you click on the Adjustment layer thumbnail in order to turn that layer mask off. Now I'll drop back down to fx, choose the Drop Shadow command, and click on that Color Swatch again. Now if you click somewhere in the dark region of the foot, notice you'll lift a bona fide color. I'm going to change the Hue value to 5 degrees and a Saturation value of 100 is just fine, but I'm going to take the Brightness value down to 20% and then click OK.
I'm satisfied with my Global Light which is 45 degrees, but I'm going to take my Opacity value down just slightly to 65%. The default Distance and Spread values of 5 and 0 are fine as well, but I'm going to take the Size value up to 12 pixels. That gives us a better integration of the foot and the background and you can see the difference. If you turn Drop Shadow off, this is what it looks like now. So pretty big difference. Now we've got to get rid of those weird dark edges here and we're going to trace over them using an Inner Glow.
So go ahead and click on Inner Glow to make it active. That's not the color we want, so go ahead and click on the Color Swatch. I lifted a color from the image and then rounded it off and here's what I came up with, a Hue value of 25 degree, a Saturation value of 50%, and then a Brightness value of 100%. Click OK. Let's go ahead and take the Size value down to say 2 pixels should do it. I don't want any integration between this effect and the background, so I'm going to change the Blend mode to Normal. Then finally, this is way too much Opacity, so let's go ahead and take the Opacity value down, way down to 25%.
So now let's take a look at the contribution of this effect. This is what the toes look like before and this is what they look like now, and the result is a far less jarring effect. You can still see those edges, but they look a heck of a lot better. One more thing I want to do inside this dialog box. Go ahead and click on Blending Options right there in order to switch to your general blending functions and drop down to the This layer slider. What I want is for these highlights to show up better. They're getting kind of killed by this Multiply effect.
So I'm going to drag this top white triangle all the way down to say about 150. So anything with a luminance level of 150 or brighter in this layer is going transparent and allowing the contents of the underlying layers to show through. Now we have some awfully harsh transitions. So let's soften them by Alt+Dragging or Option+Dragging the right half of this white triangle up to 200, like so. We end up with some nice subtle transitions. That takes care the foot.
Go ahead and click OK. Now I'll press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on the Mac in order to zoom out so that I can take in the bigger frog. Now what I want to do is caste a glow onto the skin of the frog. So I'll go ahead and click on the gold skin layer to make it active. If you want to be able to lift a color, then you need to click on the Adjustment layer thumbnail so that the layer mask is no longer active. Then click on fx and choose Inner Shadow, because I want a directional glow effect. Let's turn the shadow into a glow by clicking on the Black Color Swatch and I'm looking for a Hue value of 60 degrees and Saturation and Brightness values of 100% each.
Go ahead and click OK. Then change the Blend mode from Multiply, which is going to try to darken the image with that yellow, and choose Linear Dodge (Add) instead, and we'll end up with this much brighter effect as you can see. I want to change the angle of the effect, but if I just start and changing that angle value right now with Use Global Light turned on, that'll mess up my Drop Shadow as well. I don't want to do that, I want to be able to manipulate this angle independently. So I'll turn Use Global Light off, and then I'll take the Angle value up to 140 degrees.
Next let's take the Size value down to 0 pixels and that may seem like an odd thing to do, because that would give us a very harsh shadow. Well, we've got such soft edges by virtue of the fact that we applied that high Feather value inside the Mask panel, and as a result our Drop Shadow is going to turn out soft no matter what we do. Now I'll take the Distance value up to 20 pixels, and that's all there is to that effect. Go ahead and click OK to accept your changes. Finally, I'm not satisfied with the transition between the eye and the gold in the background.
We're losing some of that definition. So I'm going to trace the eye with an Inner Shadow effect as well. Go ahead and scroll up your layers list and click on the eye color layer to make it active. Again, if you don't want that layer mask selected, you'll have to click on the Adjustment layer icon, then drop down to the fx icon, and choose Inner Shadow. And this time we're going to create a real shadow effect. So click on the Black Swatch and we'll change the Hue value to 30 degrees this time around, the Saturation to 100%, and then finally, the Brightness value to 25% and click OK.
I'm going to take that Opacity value all the way up to 100%. Again, I want to send the Angle of this effect in a different direction, so I'll turn Use Global Light off and I'll go ahead and dial in a value this time of -45 degrees. The Distance and Choke values are just fine as they are. I'm going to take the Size value however up to 10 pixels, and that gives me the shading effect in the bottom right region of the eye. Go ahead and click OK to accept the effect and I'll turn that effect off for a moment so you can see how it's affecting not just the forward eye, but the eye in the background as well.
So here's what the layer looks like without the Inner Shadow, here's what it looks like with. I think that gives us the definition we're looking for. Now there is one problem. I'm not really all that satisfied by the amount of glow coming off this frog, he could be brighter. So I'm going to drop down to this gold skin layer once again, double-click on the Inner Shadow effect, and I'll go ahead and take that Opacity value all the way up to 100% and once again, click OK. So the great thing about compositing in Photoshop, if you take the right approach, is that everything you do can be redone in a different way.
So every modification is parametric and therefore editable. I'm going to zoom out a little bit by dialing in a Zoom value down here in the lower left corner of the image window. Our frog composition is looking pretty darn good to me. The only thing left is to add that gold text and I'll show you how that works in the next exercise.
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