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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."
All right gang, we have managed to sharpen this image using a High Pass layer, that's called sharpen inside the stack. Because it's set to the Overlay mode, it's affecting everything underneath it, so the grays are dropping away. I also exaggerated the Contrast of this layer so that we have this over-sharpening effect to start with. I am working inside of an image called High Pass layer.psd. If you want to open it, it's inside of the 12_specialty folder. Notice, in addition to the fact that we are unfortunately sharpening her pores and the fine hairs on her face and the moles and all the other stuff that she probably doesn't want us to sharpen.
We are also sharpening the work that we did. Notice that we have crisper edges along the hair and along the collar of the blouse and over here along this collar as well. We are pretty much just screaming at the viewer. We are saying hey! Look at our edit, check it out, we change the color of the blouse. We don't want to do that. So we need to soften our sharpening or at least rein it back a little bit. What we are going to do is we are going to isolate the sharpening to the darkest details inside the image, which are the most essential details inside of this particular portrait shot and inside many other portrait shots as well. We are going to do so using what's called a Density mask.
Now remember a Luminance mask, we saw that near the beginning of the chapter. A Luminance mask is a mask that enhances the light areas of an image; a Density mask is a mask that enhances the dark areas of the image. It's named for ink density, is the idea. All right, so I am going to Alt+Click or Option+Click on the eyeball in front of the Background layer to hide the other layer so that we are seeing just the Background layer. Let's go ahead and click on it to make it active. Switch over to the Channels palette. Our Red channel contains the most contrast, but if you want to confirm that, you could press Ctrl+1 or Command+1 for the Red channel, Ctrl+2 or Command+2 for the Green channel and then Ctrl+3 or Command+3 for the Blue channel.
We want that face to be really lit up to be nice and white so that we will be sharpening as little of the face as possible. Bear in mind, we are going to be or I should tell you, I guess not bear in mind, we are going to be inverting this mask right here. So everything that appears light right now is going to turn black there by protecting the image and everything that's dark right now, everything that's black is going to turn white there by revealing the sharpness inside of those formerly dark areas. So we want to some very light skin, go ahead and Ctrl+Click or Command+Click on the Red channel in order to load it as a selection. Then go back to the RGB image, so we are seeing the RGB composite. Switch over to the Layers palette and I want you to turn on the other two layers once again. Click on the sharpen layer, at the top of the stack right there.
Now I could just go ahead and click on the layer mask icon in order to add a standard Luminance mask. If I were to Alt+Click or Option+Click, you would see there is the Red channel inside of this layer mask container for the sharpen layer. But that's not what I want to do. Now I could just invert it at this point, right, I could just press Ctrl+I or Command+I and I will invert the mask and it turns into a Density mask. So all a Density mask is, it is an inverted Luminance mask. But instead, here is another way to work. I am going to press Ctrl+Z or Command+Z on the Mac to undo that operation. We have got the selection outline back intact.
Another way to create a Density mask is to Alt+Click or Option+Click on the layer mask icon down here at the bottom of the Layers palette. Now check it out, we have an inverted version, if I Alt+Click or Option+Click on the layer mask thumbnail for the sharpen layer, you can see that we have an inverted version of that Red channel. So anywhere where we were seeing dark colors, that's a protected region of the image, so we are not going to sharpen those details; anywhere where we were seeing lightness is a revealed area, we will be sharpening those details. Now I am going to Alt+Click or Option+Click again so we can see the composite image.
I am going to zoom in to the 100% zoom ratio so that we can see the effects. So this is before the addition of that Density mask. Notice that we are unwisely sharpening all over the place. We are brining out details that we really don't want to bring out, and this is after the addition of the Density mask. The skin is much more smoothened out, but we are calling attention to the eyelashes, the eyebrows, the transitions around the irises and the pupils, the lips, the nose and all the other good details inside of the image. You can also go ahead and turn this layer off if you want to, to see what the original unsharpened version of the image looks like. So this is without a High Pass sharpening layer and this is with a High Pass sharpening layer, applied in a professional manner using a Density mask.
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