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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."
Here I am looking at the final version of our composition. This is the image called Study in blue.psd that's found inside the 10_Advanced_Blend folder. Notice that this image contains a swirling background. You can see these concentric rings that are at work in the background there and those concentric rings are a function of a Smart Object that has been modified by a layer mask and the Smart Object has a couple of Smart Filters applied to it, each of which are set to different Blend Settings and that's what we're going to be doing, we're going to be creating that Smart Object, we're going to be working with the layer mask, we're going to be applying the Smart Filters over the course of the next few exercises here.
I'm going to bring up the Layers palette so that we can see what's going on. Notice this swirling layer of beige right here, that's modified by this layer mask. I'm going to go ahead and make my Layers palette wider so that we can see that it's named. It's called tiles and this little icon right there indicates that this is the Smart Object, that includes Smart Filters. I'm going to go ahead and click the down pointing arrowhead so that we can see those Smart Filters. Actually, I'll start things up by turning off the Smart Filters by clicking that eyeball to turn it off and you can see that these are just regular paving tiles at work behind this woman's head here. Then I've applied two passes of the Radial Blur filter, each set to different Blending Settings. As I say, that's what we're going to be doing over the course of the next few exercises.
Notice that we have a layer mask, and the reason is, we can't rely on Luminance Blending this time around, because not only do we want the tiles, the swirling tiles to appear in back of her flesh which of course we could reveal using Luminance Blending if we wanted to, but we also want them to appear in back of the goggle. So we don't want the goggles to be part of this equation here. We want the goggles to be in front of the swirls. Therefore, because the goggles are the same color as the background, we need a layer mask. Let's go grab the tiles. I'm going to take you to this image right here. It's called Tiles.jpg, it's found inside the 10_Advanced_Blend folder, like usual, and this image comes to us from Photographer John Sigler. I want you to go ahead and press Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C or Command+A, Command+C in order to copy the tiles to the clipboard.
Then I want you to switch to this image. This is a composition in progress right here. For those of you just joining me, the name of the image is called Nice highlights.psd. Again, it's found inside of the 10_Advanced_Blend folder. Now, the most obvious thing to do, the most sensible thing to do, since we want to modify the tiles with a layer mask and I've already created the mask in advance for you, the most sensible thing would be to load that mask and then paste the tiles into it. So let's go ahead and try that logical solution, even though it doesn't turn out to be the right solution for us. I'm going to go to the Channels palette, let's go ahead and hide the Color palette for now. You can see that I've got a series of Alpha channels, four channels in all. That would show you how I went about creating this final mask right there, the one that's called cleanup.
I will show you, for those of you who are interested; I will show you how I created this mask in the future exercise. But for now I just want you to load it up by Ctrl+Clicking on it or Command+Clicking on that cleanup thumbnail on the Macintosh side of things. Then go back to the RGB image. I'm going to Shift+Tab away my palettes for a moment so that we can see the entire image and then I would go up to the Edit menu and I would choose Paste Into, or I could press Ctrl+Shift+V or Command+Shift+V on the Mac in order to paste the tiles into the layer mask. Now, we have a layer mask. If I return to the Layers palette here, you can see that I've got a layer mask right there. There is my tiles, everything is hunky-dory. Now before I can apply Smart Filters, I want to apply those Radial Blur items to Smart filters, reason being because I want to have Blend control over them. If you want to be able to control the Blend Settings, you need to work with Smart Filters and that means converting this image to a Smart Object.
But check it out, because it's got a layer mask, watch what happens. If I go up to the Layers palette menu, and choose this command right there, Covert to Smart Object or if I prefer then I could go up to the Filter menu and choose Convert for Smart filters, either one is going to work fine. I've also, by the way for those of you who loaded my Deke keys, way back in the preface, I've given you a keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+Comma or Command+Comma on the Mac in order to create a smart object, because it's a very handy thing to be able to do inside Photoshop CS3. As soon as I converted this image to a Smart Object, notice what happens, the layer mask gets gobbled up inside of that Smart Object. So you can now see that it's a Smart Object because of that little icon down there in the lower right corner of the thumbnail, but I can't get to the layer mask anymore unless I double-click on the thumbnails.
So if I double-click on the thumbnail, that's going to open up the Smart Object. Photoshop is going to give me a warning letting me know I'm opening the Smart Object. So I'll just go ahead and click OK. Now there is the tiles, right there, modified by the layer mask. That's not a very convenient solution, especially if I think I might want to edit that layer mask in the future, which I undoubtedly would like to do. So it's better to convert your layer to a Smart Object and then mask it. Let me show you what I mean. I'm going to go ahead and close this Smart Object by clicking on this little close box right there, or I could just press Ctrl+W or Command+W on the Mac in order to return to the host composition right here, by which I mean this is the composition that contains the Smart Object.
I'm going to go ahead and press Ctrl+ Alt+Z, Ctrl+Alt+Z, Command+Option+Z, Command+Option+Z on the Mac in order to backstep two steps, so that I get back to the point at which I had my selection outline going here inside the image. Now I'm just going to press Ctrl+V or Command+V on the Mac to just do a straight paste. Instead of a paste inside, I'm just doing a straight paste. My selection outline goes away; it's ignored the whole number. Now the image, because it's the same size, it is exactly centered inside of the new composition. Let's go ahead and call this image tiles and then let's convert it before we do anything else, let's convert it to a Smart Object. So I'll go up here to the palette menu once again and I'll choose Convert to Smart Object or I could press that keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Comma, Command+Comma, if you have loaded Deke keys.
It becomes a Smart Object like so. It retains its name. That's a very nice thing. Now let's go to the Channels palette, Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on cleanup, like so, in order to load it as the selection outline. You can see the marching ants at work here inside of the Image window. Go back to the Layers palette. Then go down to this little icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, the layer mask icon and click on it. It becomes a layer mask for the Smart Object. So now we can get to the layer mask at any point in time in the future.
It's right there and we're not going to have to enter the Smart Object to do our work. Now one other thing that I want to note, you may see that there is no link icon between the layer mask and the Smart Object. You cannot, in Photoshop you cannot link a layer mask to a Smart Object. It's just not possible inside the program. I think it's an oversight, maybe it's something you'll deal with in a future version of Photoshop. But for now just note that that's not a possibility. All right, so far so good. We've managed to introduce the tiles into the background right there. In the next exercise, I'm going to introduce you to the Fill Opacity 8, which are the eight blend modes that respond differently to the Fill value than they do to the Opacity value, stay tuned.
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