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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."
Where this project is concerned we have successfully selected the flesh of the hand and masked it as well, but we still have to do the fountain pen which is, of course, unrealistically translucent at this point in time. I am working inside of a catch-up document called hand and circuits.psd that's found inside the 16 Tough Stuff folder. And you can see by the way that this top layer which is called hand only conveys the hand information. If I were to turn Off the Shadow information this is what that layer looks like.
So the Shadow Layer is providing a lot of additional details really bolstering not only bolstering the shadows inside of the background, but it's also bolstering the shadows inside of the selected foreground image as well. Now we do need to add the pen to the selection. So what I am going to suggest is that we go ahead and get rid of the layer mask that we've created so far because it's not complete. It was useful to see it so that we can see that the flesh is nicely selected. But we still have some more work to do before this hand is properly outlined.
So let's go ahead and click on the layer mask to make it active. And then Alt+Click or Option+Click on the Trash can in order to delete it. Now I want you to go back to the Channels palette and what we need to do here is find a channel that's going to allow us to hone in on the tip of that pen. So I am going to go ahead and zoom in here so that we can see it up close and personal. This is what the pen looks like in Red channel, which is to say there is a lot of information missing right here in this region. And that's going to be true throughout the channel because we've got, basically, a neutral object captured against a neutral background. There's a little bit of color in that pen there.
If I switch back to the RGB composite you can see that it has a little bit of gold but the silver, check out that silver area. There's basically no distinction between the foreground and the background; our eyes filling in the detail at this point, which means that we are going to have to do some manual work just a little bit of manual work as it turns out using the Lasso tool. Pretty easy stuff, but it's something we are going to have to do in just a moment. First let's check out these channels once again. Here is the Red channel, actually pretty bad; I mean there is not too much that we can do with that channel. Here's the Green channel, even worse actually the pen gets little brighter inside that channel. And then here's the Blue channel it gets a little darker in this region up here and probably gives us the best contrast. So we're going to start with that Blue channel. I am going to grab the Blue channel and I am going to go ahead and create a copy of it by dragging it on to the new icon there, the little page icon.
And I'll call this channel pen and now let's enhance the contrast of this channel like so. I am going to press Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac and I am going to take the black value up to 165 which I could do just by entering that value, of course, or dragging it like I am tediously dragging it. And then I'll take the white value down to 210 and so those are the changes I want you to make. We're going to get some rough transitions here but we've got to make this pen as contrasting as possible.
Bring it on as much contrast as we can. So 165 for the black value 210 for the white value and then, of course, we really want a white pen against the black background. So let's go ahead and swap these guys. Let's go ahead and change this value to zero and then this value to 255 like so. So by swapping the output level values we invert the image. So these are the values I want you to apply then click OK in order to implement that modification. Now I need to do some manual work with the good old Lasso tool here. So I am going to zoom out pretty far and get rid of my palettes for a moment. And I am going to Alt+Click like this. This will be Option+Clicking on the Mac of course and then I'll come into this area. You'll notice it's almost just a rectangular marquee that I am drawing with the Lasso tool. But I do want to just, sort of, shave along between the pen nib and its Shadow.
And then I am going right through that third finger there. We'll come back to it in just a moment. And then the background color is black, so I'll press the Backspace key or the Delete key on the Mac to fill that region with black. Now let's zoom in on that third finger. I really want to get rid of it. So I am going to drag around this region and then I am going to press the Alt key, press and hold the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and just circle around like so. And I want to add a little bit of feathering here. So I am going to go up to the Select menu I am going to feather the old way I am not going to with refine edge. I am just going to grab the Feather Command here. I am going to enter a feather radius value of 1 and click OK. Just a little bit of softness and let's press the Backspace key once again to fill that area with black as well.
Now I am going to bring back my channels palette because I want to look at the RGB image at the same time. My pen Mask is showing up as Blue which is a good thing. Notice that it goes out too far so we're going to get a little bit of fringing if we were to use this Mask the way it is, that's no good. So why don't we add a little bit of Gaussian Blur and Levels; another pass of the Gaussian Blur and Levels command in order to shift that edge around a little bit. So Gaussian Blur should be last filter I applied sure enough it is. So I am going to go ahead and press Ctrl+Alt+ F or Command+Option+F on the Mac and change the radius value to 2 this time around. And click OK and then let's bring up the Levels command; actually, let's change the color of this Mask just ever so slightly. I am going to double-click on it and I am going to change the color to more like 240 in this case.
So I am shifting that Hue value to 240 degrees and let's take the opacity up to something like 80% and then I'll click OK and I just wanted to be slightly different. I want the color of this Mask to be slightly different than the flesh Mask. And now let's go ahead and apply the Levels command. Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac, so that we can move that edge inward and we're going to choke the heck out of it and raise it to 230, so that everything that has a brightness value of 230 or darker becomes black and we only have this much area left over.
We're not going to expand the Mask at all. So leave the white point value the way it is. And you can see that we're choking way in and you might think, hey that's way too far. We're going to have this weird blobby edge to the pen. No, this is the black edge to the pen right there and that's already communicated by that Shadow Layer, so we don't need to worry about this edge here. We can choke way into it. I'll go ahead and click OK in order to accept that modification. Well done we have the initial phase of this pen Mask done, all the automated stuff that we can do is done at any rate. We now have to basically draw in the highlights manually using the Lasso tool which may sound like a big pain in the neck but it's going to go pretty quickly as you'll see if you join me in the next exercise.
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