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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're going to smooth out the edges around the shark using an old-school technique that involves Gaussian Blur and the Levels command, and then we'll restore a few corners using the Magnetic Lasso tool. I've saved my progress as Levitating shark.psd, and if you zoom-in on the detail of the shark such as the tail here, you can see that we've got a few jags going on, and I want to smooth those away and here's how you do that. Switch over to the layer Mask for that shark layer. So click on the thumbnail to make sure it's active. Then, you go up to the Filter menu, you choose Blur, and you choose Gaussian Blur and this is a recipe that works beautifully for just about any image.
I'm going to change the Radius value in this case to 4 pixels, that's what I ended up coming up with. But, you want a value that's large enough to blur away those jagged edges, so that we have some smooth forms going on. Now, you don't want it to be too big either, so as low as you can go. In our case, as I say, that's 4 pixels, go ahead and click OK. Now, the next step is to go ahead and firm up those blurry edges, and you do that by going up to the Image menu, choosing Adjustments, and then choosing the Levels command, or you press Ctrl+L or Command+L on the Mac.
Notice now I can choke and spread those edges using a combination of the Black Point value and the White Point value. So if I drag on the Black slider Triangle, I will choke the edges as you see happening on screen here. So the edges are moving inward. If I do the opposite, if I move the Black Point down, and I drag the White Triangle over to the left, then I end up spreading out those edges. The values I came up with for this image are 200 for the White point value, and then 150 for that Black point, and so I am generally scooting those edges inward because my Black point value is still very high. All right.
Now I will go ahead and click on the OK button in order to accept those changes. And incidentally, when you're masking an image against a new background, you tend to want to choke the edges, because usually, you want less of the image as opposed to more, that way you don't get a lot of color fringing. All right. Now, I am going to go ahead and drag the image over. Now, the thing is we can't really see that much in a way of color fringing right now because our foreground image came from a blue background and we've now composited him against a new blue background.
So we've got kind of a match going on. We're fortunate in that regard, and that is a tip, by the way. The easiest way to get good results is to make sure your foreground and your background vaguely match each other. We will see all kinds of exceptions to that in future projects. But for now, what I am going to suggest you do to really get a sense of what's going on in this image, let's recolor the shark so he doesn't match the background, and we'll do that by dropping down to the fx icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, then choose Color Overlay, and red happens to be a great color because it's going to stand out from that background nicely.
However, we're going to change the Blend mode from Normal to Hue, and that way we're bringing in the red hues, but we're retaining the original saturation values and the original luminance levels as well. Then click OK. Now, sort of scan around inside the image for corners that have gone wrong;, for example, right there at that location, we've lost a corner. That happens when you smooth. Anytime you smooth out a mask, you're going to end up rounding corners as well. The best way to reinstate those corners is to grab the Magnetic Lasso tool. So I'll go ahead and choose the Magnetic Lasso from the Lasso tool flyout menu.
I was telling you back when I introduced this tool that it's not a great tool for selecting an entire image because it takes forever. However, it's an awesome tool for re-establishing corners. So I will go ahead and click next to the shark fin, then click on the corner that I am trying to reinstate, and then I'll click out here in order to trace that corner like so, and then I will just move my cursor out a little bit and double-click in order to finalize the selection. I want to fill that area inside the layer Mask with black. Black is currently my foreground color, so I am going to press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete, then I'll press Ctrl+ D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect that area.
Now, if you don't get it exactly right, that's okay, you can always follow up with something like the Smudge tool. I am going to go ahead and grab the Smudge tool and I want to show you that I've set the Strength value to 100%, and that's a great setting for moving pixels inside the mask around. But, if you're going to work that way, then you need to work with a small cursor like so, maybe take it up just a tad and you want to drag just ever so slightly inside the image. In this case, I dragged maybe a pixel, and that's about it. I will drag again, and you can see as I am dragging, we're really moving that edge around.
All right. That looks pretty good. I'll go ahead and scroll to a different location, something like this area right here, could use a little work, and you might be able to do it entirely using the Smudge tool. I will go ahead and try that out. That looks okay I guess, I kind of went a little too far with that adjustment right there, take that out a little bit those guys, and maybe move back in a little bit as well. All right. Let's try this corner, and see if we can do it with the Smudge tool and that looks pretty good to me. Again, we're going to be able to get away with more in this image because after all we're not really going to paint the shark red. All right.
At this location right here, in the underside of the shark's mouth or whatever, we've cut the selection into the shark a little bit too much, and that doesn't make sense. So what we're going to need to do is Shift+Click on that layer Mask thumbnail, there in the Layers panel in order to temporarily turn the layer Mask off. Let's also go ahead, and turn the Effects off for a moment, and then I'm going to go at this area right here using the Magnetic Lasso once again. So I'll switch to the Magnetic Lasso tool which I can get by pressing the L key, and then I'll click well into this area and I'll just click going down along the bottom right there, pretty far along till maybe about here is going to work for me probably, and then I will move into the shark, like so.
I don't really care that I get anything else exactly right, and then finally I'll click on that first point in order to close out the selection. Now, Shift+Click on the layer Mask thumbnail again to turn it back on, and we also want to turn the Effects back on. All right. Notice that this isn't going to be a good match, it will work out great over here on the left-hand side next to the fin, but down here along the bottom of the animal, we're going to have a problem if we just fill-in this selection. So we need to sort of rotate the selection ever so slightly, and here is how you do that. Go up to the Select menu and choose the Transform Selection command, and that'll bring up that Transformation Bounding Box.
Now, drag this target in the center right there over to this location, right there at the intersection of the bottom of the animal, and that fin and then move your cursor down here bottom- right until you're outside of the Bounding Box, so that you can rotate and just drag up ever so slightly, so that you rotate that selection outline into position, so you've got a match. Then press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac in order to complete that transformation and now with the layer Mask active, which it is, I can fill this region with white, because I want to paint the shark in, by pressing Ctrl+Backspace here on the PC, or Command+Delete on the Mac, and then I will press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect the image. All right.
That looks good. We've got a little corner that we could work on right there, so I'll just go ahead and click around it there if I can with the Magnetic Lasso tool. This can be a little tricky by the way, and I want to scoot that guy down and in a little bit, and I did that just by pressing the Arrow keys and now I will press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete to fill that area with black and I will press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac to deselect the image. Let's see what else we've got? This might be about the extent of it, there are not too many corners in this animal to worry about. Everything else actually looks pretty darn good.
I guess I could nudge this area in just a little bit using the Smudge tool once again. So I will go ahead and select the Smudge tool, and this time I am going to take the Strength value to 50% which is the default setting by pressing the 5 key, and I'll increase the size of my cursor by pressing left bracket a few times, just kind of scoot that edge in ever so slightly. I believe that takes care of it. I will go ahead and zoom out here, so that I can take in more of the animal. No, there is one more thing that needs to be addressed here. This corner right there is a problem. So I will go ahead and switch back to the Magnetic Lasso tool and then click along like so into the corner if I can.
If that thing stops wobbling around, you may have to click a few times to get it right and then double-click in order to finalize the selection, press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete on the Mac to fill it with black, press Ctrl+D or Command+D on the Mac in order to deselect, and we've got ourselves a nicely outlined shark here. I'll press Ctrl+0 or Command+0 on a Mac to center the zoom, and I will go ahead and turn off the Color Overlay Effect. Don't turn off the Effects in general, just Color Overlay, because we're going to be adding a couple of more in the very next exercise.
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