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Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Advanced, the second part of the popular and comprehensive series, updated for CS5, follows internationally renowned Photoshop guru Deke McClelland as he dives into the workings of Photoshop. He explores such digital-age wonders as the Levels and Curves commands, edge-detection filters, advanced compositing techniques, vector-based text, the Liquify filter, and Camera Raw. Deke also teaches tried-and-true methods for sharpening details, smoothing over wrinkles and imperfections, and enhancing colors without harming the original image. Exercise files accompany the course.
Recommended prerequisite: Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Fundamentals.
I've saved my progress as My jagged cow spots.psd, found inside the 21_layer_FX folder. And in this exercise, we're going to take this pattern of white and black pixels with nothing in between, so we have all these jagged edges going on, and we are going to smooth out the transitions using a combination of merge everything that we've done so far, Gaussian Blur and Levels. So for starters here, we need to merge what we've done onto a new layer, and we're going to do that by pressing that keyboard shortcut, mash your fist E. You may recall that one.
It's Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E or Cmd+Shift+Option+E on the Mac. And it goes ahead and merges the effects of all layers onto a new layer. And I'll call this layer smooth. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, because it's actually jagged not smooth, but in just a moment it will be overly smooth, as you'll see. Then I'll press the Enter key to accept that name. Go up to the Filter menu, the last command I applied is Gaussian Blur. So I can go ahead and press Ctrl+Alt+F or Cmd+Option+F on the Mac in order to bring back that same dialog box, enter a Radius of 6 this time around, and 6 is the closest we have ever come in this series to being a magic number.
This actually works very well for this effect on a regular basis. So once you've gotten these jagged blobs going on, then you can round them off using a Radius value of 6 inside Gaussian Blur, and then in the next effect, we'll go ahead and get rid of the blurriness, sharpen things up, so that we have some very, very smooth droplets. So click OK. Now then, what you need to do is apply the Levels command. So the idea here is we've just gotten done blurring the layer.
That's obvious, but we've also taken this layer that used to contain nothing but white and black pixels, and we've introduced a range of grays. Well, having done that and having rounded off all the transitions quite nicely, we're going to use the Levels command in order to increase the contrast without totally getting rid of the grays the way Threshold did. So we're going to send more of the colors we're now seeing that are bright to white and more of the colors that we're now seeing that are dark to black. So here's how. Bring up the Adjustments panel once again, and then go to Levels, which is the second icon in the first row, Alt+ click on it, and let's call this guy sharp, and then turn on Use Previous layer to Create Mask.
So we're basically sharpening the smooth layer here, but we definitely want Use Previous layer to Create Clipping Mask, because we only want to affect one layer at a time with these adjustment layers. Click OK. And now what I want you to do is enter these values; 120 for black, tab, tab, over to the white point value, so we're skipping gamma, and then I want you to change this value to 145. Again, these end up being some pretty magical numbers where this effect is concerned. So when you combine Gaussian Blur with a Radius of 6, and follow it up with these adjustments right here; 120 for black, so anything with a luminance level of 120 or darker is going to turn black, anything 145 or lighter is going to turn white, and then we just have that tiny little range there between 120 and 145, and that's what survives and becomes our gray anti- aliasing in between the various blobs.
Now I'll go ahead and hide the Adjustments panel. If you're tracking what's going on here, you might look at this, and you might say, well, why do we have to do a double Gaussian Blur? Why did we have to do Add Noise, Gaussian Blur, Threshold, which was the thing that gave us the jagged edges in the first place, then re-Gaussian Blur, which was because of Threshold after all, and then apply Levels, which, if you take a look at Levels, it's examining the histogram just like the Threshold adjustment was. However, as opposed to drawing a line in the sand, the Levels command goes ahead and exaggerates the contrast and leaves a little bit of grayness behind.
So why didn't we just apply Levels to this noise layer in the first place? Why did we mess with these middle steps? Well, let me show you. I'm going to Alt+click or Option+click this horizontal line between sharp and smooth hair in order to unclip that adjustment layer, and I'll turn off smooth and dropmaker. So the Threshold goes away, and so now, we're just applying Levels to the noise layer down here. And you can see that we're not increasing the contrast nearly enough. So I'll double-click on Levels, and that's because we have this dinky little histogram to start with.
I'm going to expand my panel. I have it set to the smaller size in order to save screen real estate. I'll go ahead and expand it so we can see the full histogram. And now I'll move the black point over to, let's say, 125, and I'll move the white point over to, let's say, 132. And we're still not getting enough contrast. In other words, I'm not seeing white at this point, and I'm not sure I'm seeing black yet. I'm seeing some dark grays and some light grays, but even then, there's really harsh transitions between them, everything's jagged even at this point.
So while we still have grays all over the place, we've got jagged transitions. And so that's why we had to go through the Threshold process first, is to go ahead and divide everybody up into black-and-white, and then we've got to smooth those results. Let's see if I can undo what I've done here. I'll press Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z on the Mac, and I may have to press Ctrl+Alt+Z or Cmd+Option+Z on the Mac. I want to make sure that I'm restoring my 120 and 145 values. In fact, I might as well just restore the fact that this is a clip layer by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Z or Cmd+Option+Z again.
Now it is, and now I turn these layers back on here, and we've got the cow spots that I'm looking for. So those are our droplets. The big problem here though is, I can't apply a layer Effect to this, because there is no transparency. There is black on white, every single pixel so far is opaque. What can I do with layer Effects? Layer Effects have to have edges between opacity and transparency in order to do their work. Well, I'll show you how to convert what we're seeing here, so that the black pixels are opaque and the white pixels are transparent, in the next exercise.
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