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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 use our hair mask in order to separate the hair from the flesh tones, so we can regain the details along the model's jaw, neck, and shoulders. Now, I am going to switch over to the RGB composite at the top of the Channels panel. Switch back to the Layers panel, Shift+ click on the layer mask for the M2 R10 layer in order to turn it back on, so we are now seeing the two model layers working together inside of our composition thus far. The M1 R40 layer; that's the one that contains the good details where the model's jaw, neck, and shoulders are concerned.
If you want to see what I mean, I'll go ahead and switch the Blend mode from this layer from Multiply back to Normal, and you can see that that brings in that good information along the shoulders, along the neck, and along the jaw on both sides of the model. So what I propose we do is we take this layer, we make a duplicate of it, and then we mask her hair away, because after all, where this layer is concerned, it's the hair that's the problem. All right! So with this layer selected, let's go ahead and press Control+Alt+J, or Command+Option+J on the Mac, in order to both duplicate and name that layer. And I am going to call this one fleshtones, and then click OK.
Now let's move that layer to the top of the stack, like so. Then switch back to M1 R40, and restore it from Normal to Multiply, so that we're burning those details into place. Now, we can't see the difference at this point, because the fleshtones layer is covering it up, and we will need to mask that hair away before it makes any difference. I want you to click on the Layer Mask thumbnail for that fleshtones layer in order to make it active, then switch back to the Channels panel and press the Control key, or the Command key on the Mac, and click on that hair-only mask in order to load it as the selection outline.
Now that you've selected the hair independently of everything inside of her face, except for that left eye, which we're actually not concerned about, then return to Layers panel, and with that layer mask selected -- very important that the layer mask is selected; not the layer itself -- fill that selection outline with black. And in my case, the foreground color is black, so I will press Alt+Backspace, or Option+Delete on the Mac, in order to blacken out that hair. Now I'll click off the hair in order to deselect it.
Notice that didn't make all that much of a difference. We still have those bright halos around the hairs, and that's because if you Alt+click or Option+click on the layer mask in order to view it independently of the image, you'll see that we didn't really mask all of the hair away. We just masked away the interior of the hair. But that's actually 90% of the battle, because that helps separate those flesh tones from the hair, and now we can just paint the hair away, mostly.
So let me show you how that works, and we have to be careful, by the way, at this point. Go ahead and grab your Brush tool, which you can get, of course, by pressing the B key. Increase the heck out of the size of your cursor, and right-click, and make sure that the Hardness value is cranked up to 100%. It is for me, so good. Then make sure your Blend mode is set to Normal. It is for me, so I'm ready to go. Black is my foreground color, so I am just going to paint along up here. Do not paint over her jaw. You do not want to paint into this area.
We're just painting out in the big area of hair; might as well take care of that hair as well. Up here is another place to click and get rid of stuff. Paint sort of close to her eye, if you want to; you just do not want to paint over anything that even might be a flesh tone. So you want to take it easy around these areas right there. I've now gotten rid of, I think, all of the big exterior areas of the hair. Now we need to get closer to those flesh tones. There's a little something wrong right there at this point, so I'll go ahead and click to hide it, and I am going to grab my Elliptical Marquee tool, because after all, so much of life is elliptical. And then I'm going to drag around this jaw line until I get a pretty good match. And of course, as usual, I am using the spacebar for alignment.
Then, once I've successfully selected along this edge of the jaw, I am going to go up to the Select menu, and choose Inverse, or press Control+Shift+I; Command+Shift+I on the Mac. The reason I'm doing this is that I want to paint outside the jaw; I want the jaw to be protected. Then let's go back and grab that Brush tool. Now, here is where you have to be careful. You can't just do one of these numbers, because you'll paint right into her neck. And even though that's an exaggeration of what you might end up doing, those kinds of edits are very common; it's very easy to make those sorts of mistakes if you are not paying absolute attention.
So I'll press Control+Z, Command+ Z on a Mac, to undo that change. I'll start over here where I can't possibly create any problems, and drag upward, like so. To test your work, press Control+D, Command+ D on the Mac, and go ahead and kind of zoom in there. Make sure that you didn't end up creating any kind of harsh transition, and in my case, I did. So I am going to press Control+Alt+ Z a couple of times in a row. That would be Command+Option+Z on the Mac a couple of times. And with that selection outline intact there, I'm going to press the Right Arrow key in order to nudge it just slightly over to the right.
Then, I'll press Control+H, or Command +H on the Mac, so I can hide that selection outline, and keep better track of what I'm doing. And now I'll click, and that looks good. That looks like a pretty darn good transition to me. Zoom out; get rid of this little bit of garbage as well. Notice I've got this little bit of edge here; we'll take care of that in a moment. Now we need to do the same thing over here on the left-hand jaw, so press Control+D, Command+D on a Mac, in order to deselect the image. Draw another elliptical marquee. So I went ahead and switched to the Elliptical Marquee tool, and I'm going to encircle this area right here.
Of course, I am using the spacebar for alignment. Once you've done that, you go up to the Select menu, choose the Inverse command; Control+Shift+I, Command+Shift+I on the Mac, and then you go ahead and grab your Brush tool once again. Press Control+H, or Command+H on the Mac, so you can keep track of what you're doing, and paint. This is where you've got to be really careful, because notice this: if you do this kind of number right there, and you don't notice that you just painted into the jaw just a little bit, that is going to mess things up like crazy in future steps.
So don't want to do that. I will press Control+Z, Command+Z on the Mac, and I will paint from right about there, midway up the jaw, upward like so, and we get a nice smooth transition. Now press Control+D, or Command+D on a Mac, in order to deselect the image. I am going to reduce the size of my cursor by pressing the left bracket key, and I will right-click inside the image window to bring up the Brushes panel. Reduce the Hardness value to 0% this time around. Press the Enter key a couple of times in a row in order to accept that modification. Press Shift+Alt+O, or Shift+Option+O on the Mac, to switch to the Overlay mode, and then press the X key in order to make your foreground color white.
Actually, I am going to increase the size of my cursor a little bit, and then paint along these details, like so, because we want some nice sharp edges around the jaw, and around the neck, and around the shoulders. So go ahead and paint all the way around there. Now I'll press Control+0, or Command+0 on the Mac, in order to zoom out. And I'll press the M key a couple of times to switch back to that Rectangular Marquee tool. And then you can just go ahead and click on the image thumbnail in the Layers panel in order to switch away from that layer mask, and notice what a great result we get.
So this is the composition without the fleshtones layer; bad jaw, bad neck, bad shoulders, especially over here on the left-hand side. And this is the difference with the new fleshtones layer; we get this wonderful backlighting, as if the light source is behind her, which is going to work out brilliantly by the time we're done with this composition, and we end up with these very smooth, organic transitions as well. The final step here, where the model is concerned, is to integrate her lighting, so she feels like she's actually part of the background. Very simple stuff; just a matter of applying a Color Overlay effect, and I will show you how that works in the next exercise.
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