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Learn how to use selections and layer masks in Photoshop to create composite images and apply targeted adjustments. After covering the key concepts behind selections and exploring Photoshop's selection tools, Tim Grey delves into a variety of advanced techniques that will help you make accurate selections, create seamless composite images, and apply adjustments that do exactly what you want them to do.
One of the options available to you when you're creating selections in Photoshop is to feather that selection. You can perform the feathering as part of the process of creating the selection or you can apply the feathering after the selection has already been created. But my recommendation is to not feather selections. Now I'll be the first to tell that when it comes to utilizing that selection you always or at least almost always want a feathered result and yet I never feather selections. Well, okay, I feather selections only when I'm showing someone why I'd recommend not feathering selections. So let's feather some selections so that you can see why I recommend not feathering those selections.
Instead essentially saving that step for later in your work flow. I'll start off by creating a selection of the sky here. I'm not going to worry that it's a perfect selection. I just want to be able to illustrate the concept here. Now this image, of course, is rather subtle. But we're not going to be subtle at all when it comes to applying a targeted adjustment in this case. So I've created a selection. But it is not a feathered selection. I'm using the Quick Selection tool here and it does not feather the selection in any appreciable way or it doesn't offer any way an option to adjust the feathering as part of the selection creation process.
But we could feather the selection after the fact. Well, let's take a look at why you need to have the effect of a feathered selection in the first place. I'm just going to add an adjustment layer here. So I'll add a curves adjustment layer. And then I'm going to apply an exaggerated adjustment for curves. This is in no means aimed at trying to produce a good result in the image. I'm simply trying to make sure that we have a very obvious effect in the sky. And so I'll create a dramatic adjustment that darkens down that sky a bit. And I think even without zooming in you'll be able to clearly see that we have a little bit of an issue here.
The transition between the area that's being adjusted and the area that's not being adjusted is rather harsh. So we need some transition there. Maybe just the tiny, tiny bit of transition. But we do need some transition nevertheless. I'm going to reload my selection. Now don't worry about the particular steps on performing here. Just focus on the effect of this feathering. Because I want you to understand that concept first and foremost at the moment. So I have that selection once again. This is as we have already seen, a non- feathered selection. So let's go ahead and feather the selection so that we'll get a smoother transition between the adjusted versus non adjusted areas. I'll go to the select menu, and I'm going to choose modify followed by feather. That will bring up the feather selection dialogue where I can enter in the number of pixels by which I would like to feather the selection. And there's the rub.
I don't know, I have no idea how many pixels I would need to feather this selection by in order to get a smooth transition. or more to the point an appropriate transition based on the area of the image that I'm working on as well as the strength of my adjustment, because I'll need to be much more careful about that feathering, about that transition when I'm working with a very, very strong adjustment. I'm not sure what to do. Well, I actually, of course, from experience have a pretty good sense of what numbers I might use in terms of this radius value in different situations. But let's just assume that I figure maybe ten pixels will be a good feathering. I'll click OK.
My selection is now feathered. And so I'm going to add another curves adjustment. And I'll apply a similar adjustment to this curve right about there. And I'll pull the black point in and bring that curve down a little bit. And I'm sure you can see a rather obvious effect. Fact there, I'll zoom out just a little bit. We have this halo effect, so I'm darkening the sky, but there's a transition between the sky and the building. So I'm blending that adjustment into the building a little bit, and also of course transitioning so that the edge of the sky has that halo effect. I'm darkening a lot here and then not darkening quite as much until we get to the point where there is no more darkening.
So it would appear that that feathering of ten pixels was way too much. So I need less feathering. I'll go ahead and turn off my curves two adjustment layer, and I'll reload my original selection. I'll go to the Select menu. I'll choose Modify followed by Feather. I'll try five pixels and click OK. And I'll create yet another curves adjustment. Now of course under normal circumstances you wouldn't be creating multiple adjustment layers. You would just be using the right technique in the first place. And you can see that I still have a little bit too much feathering. And this is the crux of the problem.
When you're feathering a selection you don't necessarily know how much to feather by. The alternative, though, is very, very easy. I'll go ahead and turn off that Curves adjustment layer and I'm going to go back to my original Curves adjustment layer. You'll recall that this adjustment had no feathering at all, and so the transition is rather abrupt. But now I'm going to go to the properties panel and choose the masks option, and you'll see that I can feather my layer mask. In other words, I'm feathering the selection After I've created an effect with that selection. So, in this case, I used the selection as the basis of a layer mask with an adjustment layer.
Don' t worry about the particulars of all of that, but just bear in mind, that when you're creating a selection, you're probably going to be using it for some particular purpose. And, in the context of creating composite images or applying adjustments that only affect a specific portion of the image, it's better to apply that feathering based on the final effect in the image. In other words, in this case, based on the actual adjustment. So I'll click on my curves adjustment layer to make sure that the layer mask is active, and now I can feather. I'll go ahead and bring this value up to ten, for example, and you'll see that we get exactly the same result as thought we had feathered the selection by 10 pixels. And now when I see that too much, I don't have to undo a couple of steps and redo some steps and make changes.
I simply drag a slider to a different position. And so I can fine tune the degree of feathering after the fact. Now of course in this case, the selection was far from perfect, and the adjustment is absurdly exaggerated. But the point here was not to create a good adjustment for the sky, obviously. But rather to illustrate this concept of feathering. So this illustrates the reason why I never feather selections, except to show you why it's best not to feather selections, and instead to essentially feather the result, to feather whatever it is that you're doing with that selection later in your workflow.
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