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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 we're going to select that black background behind the frog and we are going to turn it into a kind of blue sky complete with this lens flare effect, and we are going to do so once again using the Magic Wand tool, and hopefully along the way you'll get a clearer sense for how to use that Tolerance setting. I've saved my progress as Golden frog skin.psd. I am going to go ahead and click on the original frog layer once again, and now with the Magic Wand active, I'll go ahead and press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac in order to highlight the Tolerance value and I'll change it to 0, so that we're selecting one and only one Luminance level.
Then I'll click in the background, and amazingly I'll go ahead and zoom out here a little bit so that we can see. Amazingly, I've managed to select the entire thing and that's because where this image is concerned the entire background has been reduced to black. Now I imagine what happened in this case was that the photographer actually captured this tree frog against a dark background and then used either the Levels or Curves command or something along those lines to get that background absolutely jet-black and eliminate all noise and so forth.
Well that does us a tremendous favor obviously because it means that we can easily select the darn thing with a single click. However, I want to show you what this selection looks like. Let's go and switchover to the Channels panel once again and I'm going to Alt+Click or Option+Click on the Save Selection icon down there at the bottom of the panel, and I'll go ahead and call this guy tolerance 0, and then I'll click OK. All right, now let's rerun that same selection with a different Tolerance value by pressing Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the image.
Then I'll press the Enter key or the Return key in order to highlight the Tolerance value and I'll change it to the default setting of 32 and then press Enter or Return to accept that setting. All right, now I'll click once again anywhere inside that black background and it looks as if we've pretty much got the exact same selection we had before. After all, the background is entirely black so we've managed to select it. Well it actually looks quite different. I'll once again press the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and click on that Save Selection icon and let's call this guy tolerance 32 and then click OK.
And now let's go ahead and compare the two by pressing Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac to hide the selection, we want to keep it active, and I'm going to zoom in on this frog so I can see him at, at least 100% for now. And then I'll switch to tolerance 0, and notice that we have some pretty ratty edges going on, because what we told Photoshop to do was select just those blacks nothing else and then do its best to resolve the edges. And you can see that it's tracing around a bunch of JPEG compression artifacts, because this file started off as a JPEG image.
Whereas, if I switch to tolerance 32, we have a much smoother Selection Outline by virtue of the fact that Photoshop was able to leak that selection into those compression artifacts and then smooth off the results. So a higher Tolerance value often helps you to achieve a more smooth selection. All right, I am going to switch back to my RGB image, switch back over to the Layers panel as well, press Ctrl+H or Command+H on the Mac to bring back my Selection Outline. Then I'll zoom out and let's go ahead and add a gradient layer, by pressing the Alt or Option key and clicking the black- white icon at the bottom of the panel and then choose the Gradient command located toward the top of the list and I'm going to call this guy blue sky and then click OK.
Now notice the Selection Outline is automatically converted to a layer Mask. I am going to click this Down Pointing Arrowhead next to the Gradient Bar, then click the Right Pointing Arrowhead and choose the Load Gradients command, navigate your way to be the 04_select folder and you'll find this gradient called Blue sky.grd, go ahead and click the Load button in order to load it up. Notice we have a very basic dark blue to light blue gradient at the end of the list. Go ahead and click on that thumbnail to load it up. Then click off the list in order to hide it and change that Angle value to -90.
The Style should be Linear, the Scale should be 100 and so forth. Then go ahead and click OK to create that layer. All right, the next thing we want to do is soften off those edges. So let's bring up the Masks panel once again and I'll do that by clicking on the word Masks. Now apparently my layer Mask is not selected. However, I know the layer is selected so here's what you can do. You can just click on that little layer Mask icon in order to select the pixel Mask, that is, it's a pixel-based layer Mask. Then select the Feather value and press the Up Arrow key and notice as you do you're gradually softening the edges around the frog.
I am going to take the Feather value all the way up to 5 pixels and then hide the Masks panel once again. All right, finally let's go ahead and add that lens flare and we are going to add it as an independent layer. So press Ctrl+Shift+N or Command+ Shift+N on the Mac and let's call this new layer lens flare. And then I want you to turn on Use Previous layer to Create Clipping Mask, that way the lens flare will appear exclusively inside that masked background. Now click OK and we've got a new empty layer as you can see. I want you to fill it with black, just so that we have a neutral background on which to build the lens flare effect.
Black is currently my foreground color, so I'll press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete to fill that later with black. Now this may seem crazy since we started with a black background in the first place. But you'll see that there is a method to my madness. Now just so that we have the option of applying an editable smart filter, let's go ahead and convert this layer to a smart object by going up to Layers panel flyout menu and choosing Convert to Smart Object or if you loaded dekeKeys you can press Ctrl+Comma, Command+Comma on the Mac. Then go up to the Filter menu, choose Render and choose lens flare and these are the values I am looking for.
Make sure Lens Type is set to its default which is 50 to 300 millimeter zoom, increase the Brightness value to 150 and you want to click right there at that point inside this tiny little wee preview in order to set the center of the effect. Then go ahead and click OK in order to create that lens flare effect in the background. Now at this point we don't need the Filter Mask, so let's avoid some clutter by right-clicking on that Filter Mask thumbnail and choosing Delete Filter Mask. Now at this point we want to drop out the dark portions of the layer. We want to keep the bright lens flare effect.
So with the lens flare layer active go up to the Blend mode pop-up menu there and change it from Normal to Screen and we achieve this effect. Now, you'll notice if you've been working along with me that we have this kind of halo surrounding the frog, I don't want that, and it's caused by the fact that this gold skin layer is interacting with the sky. So what we need to do to avoid the effect is grab the gold skin layer and drag it below the blue sky layer like so and that gets rid of the halos as you can see. And that friends, is how you go about selecting and replacing a very basic background using the Magic Wand.
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