Making a good selection or a good mask is an essential skill in Photoshop. Whether you're working on a composite, dropping part of a photo onto a different background, whether you are doing selective editing, or whether you are trying to limit an adjustment layer to just a particular area of the photo. In past versions of Photoshop, you may have found it challenging to select soft edges that are composed of fine detail like this model's hair and particularly if the object you were trying to select also had some edges of sharper contrast, like the smooth edge of this model's skin, you are going to find that all of that is easier to do in Photoshop CS5 either in the Refined Edge dialog box when you're creating a selection, or in the similar Mask Edge dialog box if you're working on a layer mask.
And by the way, a layer mask and a selection are basically the same thing. They're just two different ways to visually represent transparency in Photoshop, and so the same technology applies to both. In this case, I have a model on a white background and I'd like to drop her onto a different background. This photo of a sunset that I took in Colorado and that I dragged into this document. So what I need to do is select the model and then mask away the white that surround her. If you're working along with me with the Exercise Files, you can just load a selection that I've already made for you to save you some time.
If you're working on your own image, you are welcome to use any of the Selection tools that you familiar with from the last versions of Photoshop to make an initial selection of the model. I'll load this selection I've already made from the Select > Load Selection command. I am going to choose the model channel and click OK. Notice that I've deliberately left some of the hair outside of the selection boundary. I did that because I found that the refinements I am about to make in Refine Edge dialog box work better when I start with an initial selection like this.
The next step is to open the Refine Edge dialog box. I'll go to the Layers panel and I'll select the model layer and then I'm going to go up to the Options bar for any one of the Selection tools and click the Refine Edge button there, or I could go to the Select menu and I could choose Refine Edge. You may be familiar with the Refine Edge dialog box from previous versions of Photoshop but there have been some major changes to this dialog in Photoshop CS5. I'd like to show you those and show you how I would use this dialog to refine my initial selection so that it fits well with the soft edges of the model's hair and with the higher contrast edges of her skin.
I'll start with the View menu. Here I'll choose the way that I'd like to view the selection mask while I'm refining it. There are seven options here. The first five of which were available in Photoshop CS4. The two new options are down here. Reveal Layer simply shows the image as if it were not masked or selected and I don't use this very often, but I do like this new On Layers view. Here I can see the area that I've selected already against the content of the layers below.
I like this view because when I am making a composite image as I am here, it's most like my final result so I know where I'm going with this selection. By the way, if I weren't making composite but I was just trying to select something out of a single layer, I might use one of these views, the On Black view, which shows the selected area against black or the On White view which shows the same area against white depending on which view show the highest contrast around the selection edge and the Black & White view is also sometimes useful. This basically is showing me the selection as a grayscale mask.
For now I am going to click on the On Layers view and by the way, if I wanted to cycle through these views, I could do that by pressing F on my keyboard. To close this menu, I am going to click in a blank area of the Refine Edge dialog. I'll start by seeing if I need to refine the smooth edges along the model's skin. It looks pretty good here at 100% view but I'm going to zoom in for a closer look by going to the Zoom tool in the Refine Edge dialog box and with that tool, clicking on the edge of the model's skin. Here I see that I probably could smooth this out a bit.
To do that, I'm going to go to the Adjust Edge sliders in the Refine Edge dialog box. These are similar to the controls in the Photoshop CS4 Refine Edge dialog. So I won't spend a lot of time on them but I will go to the Smooth slider and drag that just slightly to the right to smooth the edge of the selection in this area, and I might feather the edge a little bit as well which blurs it for a more convincing composite against the sunset background, and then I'll go back to 100% view by double- clicking the Zoom tool in the dialog.
I am going to move Refine Edge dialog over to the right a bit so that I get a better view of my image as I start to refine the fine detail at the soft edge of the model's hair. This is where Photoshop CS5 really shines. The important controls for this purpose are located in the Edge Detection area of the Refine Edge dialog. I'll start with the Radius slider, clicking-and-dragging it to the right. Notice that as I do so, I'm bringing back more and more of the fine detail in the edges of the model's hair.
If I take it all the way over to the right, I get a lots of the detail back but I'm also getting something that I don't want. If I take a look down here near the high contrast edges of the model's skin, I can see that I am starting to see some of the mountains in the background breaking through her shirt and her skin. So what I'm looking for with the Radius slider is a sweet spot that gives me plenty of detail up here but doesn't allow the background to break through down here. So I am going to back off on the Radius slider a bit.
You might think that moving the Radius slider is directly changing the selection edge but it is not doing that. Instead the Radius slider determines the thickness of a border that's being created on either side of my initial selection edge. And within that border Photoshop is automatically making edge refinements to bring more detail into the soft edges of the model's hair. The radius value that I choose is the maximum number of pixels in each direction from that initial selection edge in which Photoshop is refining my selection.
I can actually see that border if I want to by going up to the Show Radius checkbox here in the Refine Edge dialog and checking that box. This confirms that there is a pretty thick border not only around the hair where I want that border but also around the smooth edges of the model's skin. While this thick refinement border is good for refining the selection around the hair, it can bring in unwanted background details around the harder edges. So what I'd like to have is a relatively wide refinement border around a hair but a narrower refinement border along the hard edges of her skin and that's exactly what the new Smart Radius feature in Photoshop CS5 can produce for me.
Here in the Refine Edge dialog, all I have to do is check Smart Radius. Keep your eye on the document as I do this and you'll see Photoshop automatically change the width of the refinement border keeping it relatively wide around the hair but narrowing it down here along the high contrast edges. I am going to uncheck Show Radius so I can see the effect of this on the image. I think things still look pretty good but I'd like to do a little more refinement and I can do that using another new feature in the Refine Edge dialog, the refinement touch-up brushes.
Those are located here behind this icon. I have two brushes. The Refine Radius tool, which I can use to bring back some more detail at the edge of the hair, and it's opposite, the Erase Refinements tool. These two brushes are useful for making small, localized changes to the refinement border. I'll start with the Refine Radius tool and with that tool, I'll go into the image, make my brush a little bigger by pressing the right bracket key several times and I'll move it over the edges of the hair. And as I do I start to see more and more hair come back into the picture.
Now if I'm not sure where the hair is located, I can always go back to the View menu and choose the Reveal Layer view and now I can see exactly where those extra hairs are and I can even paint in this view. I might go over here and do the same on the side, and again I'm not moving the selection edge, I'm just increasing the size of the refinement border using this touch-up brush.
I am going go back to the On Layers view and then I'm going to come into this area between the neck and the left thumb and I am going to paint a little bit in there because I think there's more hair to bring back. But notice that I went a little too far and now I have some artifacts that I really don't want. I did that on purpose so that I could show you how the other touch-up brush works. I am going to select that second brush, the Erase Refinements tool, come into the image, and I'll make my brush a little smaller by pressing the left bracket key.
And I am going to remove that refinement that I just placed there to get rid of that artifact. And there is a little bit here as well on the model's thumb and so that's how I would use this two touch-up brushes to fine-tune the edge refinement border. So at this point, I think I have a pretty good selection with lots of detail in the hair and smooth edges along the model's skin, but there's still one problem. If you look closely at the model's hair, you'll see that there is some white around some of the strands of her hair.
This color contamination is coming from the white background that was originally around the model. Fortunately in Photoshop CS5, there is another new feature in the Refine Edge dialog that will take care of this problem for me and that is the Decontaminate Colors feature. To enable that, all I have to do is go over to the Output section of the Refine Edge dialog, and click in the Decontaminate Colors checkbox. Then I'll go to the Amount slider, and I'll click-and-drag to the right. When I release that slider, most of the color contamination has disappeared from the image.
The color decontamination feature has analyzed the contaminating color and replaced it with colors that are more central to my selection. The way this works is that Photoshop is actually changing out the color of pixels rather than just adding a mask. That's the kind of destructive editing that I often try to avoid when I am working in Photoshop but in this case it can't be helped and I think it's worth the price. The last thing to do here is to output my resulting selection. I'll do that from the Output To menu, if I click that menu, I see that there are a couple of options here Selection and Layer Mask that are grayed out.
The reason those aren't available to me is that I have enabled this Decontaminate Colors checkbox and because decontaminating colors does change actual pixels, I can't save the results of my work as a straight selection or layer mask on an existing layer, but what I can do is create a new layer or a new layer With layer mask a new document or a new document With layer mask. I am going to choose New Layer with Layer Mask. I am also going to click Remember Settings so that if I decide to come back into this dialog box with this image Photoshop will remember the settings for all of the controls as I have them here.
I am going to click OK to close Refine Edge and I can see now in my Layers panel, I not only have my original model layer but I also have a new model layer containing a layer mask that reflects all of the refinements that I just made to my initial selection. I'll show you that layer mask by holding the Option or Alt key and clicking on the mask and you can see that the mask has smooth edges along the model's skin as well as lots of detail around the model's hair. I will Option+click or Alt+click again on that layer mask to go back to the regular view.
I no longer have need for this extra model layer so I am going to drag it to the layer trash and I'm very pleased with this rather difficult selection which have been difficult to accomplish in previous versions of Photoshop but was a snap using the new features in the Refine Edge dialog in Photoshop CS5.
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