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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 are going to take a look at the Single-channel mode which is grayscale. But first I'm going to reset my view of the channels to grayscale by pressing Ctrl+K. or Command+K on a Mac, which is the standard shortcut for the Preferences command. Then I'll click on Interface, turn off the Show Channels in Color check box and click OK. Now I can once again see my Color Channels in grayscale which is by far the best way to view them, when you're masking images in Photoshop. Now I am going to duplicate our composition at hand by going up to the Image menu, and choosing the Duplicate command.
And I'll go ahead and name this image Grayscale bird. And, by the way, before you do anything radical to an image like Convert it to Grayscale, for example, it's always a great idea to duplicate the image. That way you don't run the risk of accidentally overwriting the original. I'll go ahead and click OK to create the new image and I will zoom in. Now, let's go up to the Image menu, choose the mode command and choose Grayscale. Now we are going to get a couple of warnings. The first one is asking as hey, do you want to Flatten this image or leave it layered. The obvious downside of flattening is that you fuse away all your layers.
However, Flattening will also do a better job of maintaining the appearance of the image. For example, in our case, the Flatten button would do a better job of retaining the definition in the background, albeit, without any color. However, I am going to click on Don't Flatten, because I want to keep the layers and I want you to see what happens with that gradient background, so I will click Don't Flatten. Next, I get another alert, which is Photoshop's way of telling you that there's a better way to create a grayscale image. When you choose a grayscale command, you let Photoshop be in charge of the tonal conversion, whereas if you were to choose the Black & White command instead, you could make your own custom grayscale.
I am going to go ahead and click Discard, because I want to abandon my channels. And notice I almost certainly have. Here in the Channels panel, the Red, Green and Blue Channels have been fused into a single Gray Channel. I do however keep my alpha channels which contain my masks. I am going to go ahead and switch over to my Layers panel here, you can see that this Grad layer which is selected in my case, is rather losing everything. They used to be set to the Hue blend mode, so that the colors we are mixing in with the background. Well, the Hue blend mode is not supported in a grayscale image, so the mode is switch back to Normal and as a result, I'm just covering up the background with this gradient.
So I will turn off the gradient to reveal the original Background. Now at this point, you may wonder why it is Photoshop can't communicate color in a Single-channel. I will go ahead and switch back to the Channels panel so we can see that Single-channel there. Well, consider the way color must work. You have three ingredients to the color of any pixel. You've got the core Hue value, which is essentially all of the colors in the rainbow, whether that color is red or orange or yellow and so forth. Then, you've got what's known as Saturation, which is the intensity of the color, whether it's a drab orange which is going to look brown or a very vivid orange instead.
Then finally, you have Luminance which is the brightness from very dark to very light. Those are three different dimensions that are associated with color. No matter what to represent color, you need at least three channels. Those channels may be organized differently but they have to be there. Alright, now let's take a look at another way to create a grayscale image. I am going to switch back to our composition, go up once again to the Image menu and choose the Duplicate command. And I will go ahead and name this one, Single-channel grayscale and then click OK in order to create that duplicate.
And now, let's say I want to retain just one of the three channels. I will go ahead and click on Green because it's the best looking channel to me, and then I'll go up to the Image menu, choose mode and choose Grayscale. This time, Photoshop isn't going to give me the option of keeping the layers. It's going to tell me hey, you've got to flatten this image, because after all channels do not support layers. So I will go ahead and click OK. Now, it's going to ask me Discard other channels, which is Photoshop's way of saying I'm not going to mix the channels, I am just going to get rid of red and blue, click OK.
Now, I have a Single-channel image. I don't even have the mask anymore. If I go back to the Layers panel, all I have left is the Background and nothing more. But this is a very different view of the image than we saw before, so this is the grayscale mix of the bird. And incidentally, a typical grayscale mix inside of Photoshop, generally speaking, these are very broad strokes, by the way,. It's roughly 40% red, 50% green and 10% blue. And that's a wild oversimplification, because there is some color management that goes on as well.
But that's essentially what we are seeing in the case of the grayscale bird whereas, in the case of the Single- channel grayscale image, we were seeing 100% green channel and nothing more. Now the good thing about converting to grayscale, especially where a straightforward conversion is concerned, where you allow Photoshop to mix the channels, is that you get yet another view of your image that may prove helpful for masking. However, you're even better off if you mix your own grayscale version, and I'll show you what that looks like in the next exercise.
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