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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 will show you how we can make quick use of modifying a really good selection outline using the Refine Edge command. I'll also show you how you can use Refine Edge to confer the selection outline into a layer mask. I am working inside a file called Guy with mask.psd found inside the 07 Refine folder. The reason I've created this file is that I've gone ahead and saved my selection as an Alpha channel called face mask here inside the Channels panel. If you're working along with me, I'd like you to do that too. So go ahead and drop down to the Save selection as channel icon and click on it.
The reason is, because we actually need to adjust the selection, before we visit Refine Edge. Notice this area behind the guy's neck. That's actually part of the background. So we need to deselect it. Then you might figure, well, we should have done that while we were in the Color Range command. The problem is that this is such a dark region. You may recall that we were actually selecting the background. And the background over here on the left-hand side is quite light. If we had tried to add this dark area to the selection, then we would have integrated portions of his hair and his beard and his eyebrows and so forth.
That would've made for a big mess. So we are better off making a second approach. Go ahead and press Ctrl+D or Command +D on a Mac to deselect the image. Then press the D key in order to reinstate the default colors, which are black for the foreground and white for the background, and go up to the Select menu and choose the Color Range command. That way Color Range is basing the selection on black and this area behind his neck is pretty darn dark. Now we don't want to select too many dark regions. So let's take the Fuzziness value down to 20.
That will help us out tremendously. Then I want you to Shift+Drag all over the place inside of this area behind his neck, just Shift+Drag up and down Shift+Drag to the edge and so forth. We want to make sure that we are integrating as many colors as possible. Notice I went ahead and Shift+ Dragged three separate times. With these settings in place, go ahead and click OK in order to create that selection. Let's drop down once again to the Save selection this channel icon and Alt+Click or Option+Click on it, to bring up the New Channel dialog box.
I will call this channel neck and click OK. You can press Ctrl+D now or Command+D on a Mac to deselect the image, and you'll notice your new channel down here at the bottom of the panel. Go ahead and drag it up below face mask, so the two are right in a row. You will see that I've created a few other alpha channels in advance for you. We will come back to them later. Go ahead and click on the neck channel in order to select it. Using the Rectanglar Marquee go ahead and marquee this large left portion of the image, like so. Then I'm going to Shift+Drag around his beard, Shift+Drag down here in the lower right corner, Shift+Drag up in this region to select the top of his hair, and then Shift+Drag around the sideburns.
I might as well enclose this area as well. With this large region selected, make sure that your background color is black. If it's not, press the D key to make it so. Then press Ctrl+Backspace or Command+ Delete on the Mac to fill that large selection with black. Let's check our work, press Ctrl+D, Command+ D on a Mac in order to deselect the image. Select the Magic Wand tool, make sure that the Tolerance value is set to 0 and Anti-alias is turned off. Then click inside the black region. Mine is nice and clean, so that's good.
Now I am going to zoom in over here in this neck region that I selected and go ahead and click on it in order to make sure that it's completely selected as well. And I didn't select all the way to the edge. So I have some slight problems here. I'll go ahead and grab my Rectangular Marquee tool and I'll Shift+Drag around this region, like so. That looks like I got everything. I am pretty far zoomed in, so I should be able to see all the marching ants. Press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete on a Mac to fill that region with white. Press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on a Mac to center my image.
Then I'll press Ctrl+D or Command+ D on the Mac to deselect the image. Now let's load the face mask and subtract the neck from it. Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on face mask and then Ctrl+Alt+Click or Command+Option+Click on the neck channel in order to subtract that small area. Now let's switch back to the RGB image and I'll also switch back to the Layers panel. Now I could convert this selection into a layer mask and I'll go ahead and do it, so you can see what that looks like. I'll click on the Add layer mask icon at the bottom of Layers panel.
You can see that we have a pretty good selection. Here is the problem though. I'm going to go ahead and zoom in on some regions. Notice that we have some pretty rough stuff going on in the bottom of the forward portion of his hair and then if we scroll down into his beard, also very rough, and down here along your shoulder we have some rough details as well. That's all stuff that ought to be nice and soft, because those are blurry details. The focus is dropping off along the edge of his face. We can make those details nice and soft using Refine Edge.
All right, I am going to press Ctrl +0, Command+0 on a Mac once again. I'm also going to undo the creation of that layer mask by pressing Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac. Now you could just go ahead and modify the layer mask using the Refine Mask command. The only reason I'm not doing that is so I can show you yet another trick. So I am going to work with the selection outline and I'll go up to the Select menu and choose Refine Edge, or you can press Ctrl+Alt+R or Command+Option+R on a Mac. That brings up the Refine Edge dialog box of course. Let's go ahead and change the view from On White to On Black, which you also get just by pressing the B key.
Instead of painting inside the image window, I am just going to take advantage of the automated edge detection values. I am going to take that Radius value up to 50 pixels and turn on the Smart Radius check box and now notice how we have soft edges. Now they may not be perfect everywhere. For example, right along this area of the beard I'm not too happy with things and I could go ahead and increase the size of my brush cursor and paint around that area to see if things get better. In my opinion they actually got a little bit worse, but this is a much better selection outline.
Now I was telling you that you can return a layer mask if you want to, by default, you're going to output to a selection outline. If you want to make it a layer mask instead, go ahead and click this down pointing arrowhead and choose layer mask like so, then click OK, and Photoshop goes ahead and automatically generates a layer mask for this layer. All right. Now I want to take care of that little weird spot inside of his beard. So I am going to zoom in there, and I am going to click of a layer mask thumbnail here inside of the Layers panel. I'll go ahead and grab the Smudge tool.
I've got a big soft brush, my Strength value is set to 50%, now I am just going to go ahead, and smudge in and out here, until I get something that looks a little better. And this is looking pretty darn good to me. Now if you still have a problem with things, it's not all you want it to be, then you could in this case, because we have the soft focus, you could switch over to the Brush tool, go ahead and reduce the size of your cursor by pressing left bracket key. I am going to right-click inside the image window and I am going to take the Hardness down to 50% and press the Enter key or the Return key on a Mac.
My foreground color is set to white. So I am just going to click in a few of these problems spots like so, in order to add a little bit of soft beard back into the picture. This is actually looking pretty darn good to me. Press Ctrl+0, Command+0 on the Mac, center my zoom. That is our progress so far. That's all of the work we need where Refine Edge is concerned in terms of compositing this guy against a new background. In the next exercise, we are going to apply a handful of Smart Filters in order to get the foreground and background in agreement with each other.
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