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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're looking at two versions of the airplane from photographer Christoph Ermel of iStockPhoto.com. In the background here, that is the rear of the two layers, it's the plane layer which is the original plane photograph all be rotated at a jaunty angle. And that jaunty angle is exactly horizontal, just makes it easier to gauge the results of our Motion Blur that we're about to apply. And then in front we have the blur layer, which is stretched like crazy and it's both stretched and skewed to match the angle of the wings, and the reason that I stretched it is so that it will better withstand the withering effects of the Motion Blur filter, which has a tendency of reducing the size of a foreground image. This is going to look absolutely great, because it's so stretched; we're going to have a ton of Motion Blur to work with.
All right. So make sure that blur layer is active, and incidentally if you're just joining me, you can catch right up by opening the image called Rotate & stretch.psd, which is found inside of the 11 layer masks folder. Select that blur layer there and then go up to the Filter menu, choose Blur and choose Motion Blur. I want you to set the Angle value to 0 degrees because we are blurring along a straight horizontal axis, and then I want you to increase the distance value from its default of 10 pixels to 300 pixels. We want a ton of Motion Blur. No use being subtle for this effect, we want this plane to basically be the visual equivalent of whoosh! all right.
So go ahead and apply 300 pixels, 0 for angle, click OK, there is your effect right there. Now I am going to press the 5 key to reduce the Opacity of that effect of 50% once again, the opacity of this layer that is to say, so that I can see the original plane in the background. And that's going to allow me to mask this plane image a little better so I can see what the mix of the two versions of the plane is. So with the blur layer active, I am going to go down here to the bottom of the Layers palette and click on the Add a layer mask icon and that just goes ahead and adds a layer mask to the image. Now it's hard and it's most basic, a layer mask is your way to temporarily erase portions of an image. So rather than getting the Eraser tool and permanently erasing pixels inside of a layer, you just paint in temporary holes that you can then turnaround and paint back into Opacity if you want to. You paint in Transparency using black; you paint in Opacity using white.
So I am going to go ahead and get my paintbrush and I am going to increase the size of my brush cursor as well, by pressing the Right Bracket key a few times. You want to make sure that you have a soft brush, so if necessary, press Shift+[ four times in a row to set the hardness to 0. Make sure that your foreground color is set to black. If it isn't, press the D key and then the X key, and then begin painting and I am going to paint along the front of the wings like so and I am going to paint away these motion trails that are on the left-hand side of the image. So I want the plane to blur strictly over to the right so that it looks like we're seeing the front of the plane and all the motion trail is in back of it.
Then I am going to paint away this portion of the wing and paint this area, the fuselage or whatever that thing is, I don't even know what these pieces of plane are called, this jet thing over here. Then I am going to paint away the front of the plane, like so, and just completely paint it away. Even though this area is going to eventually be cropped out, I am just going to paint it away to the best of my ability and get rid of it, of course. Then we want to leave all this stuff intact over here. Now I am going to press the X key to switch the foreground color to white. I am going to reduce this size of my brush cursor a little bit and I am going to paint inside of the plane like so, this direction, so that I am painting back in the Motion Blur in the interior of the plane and up through the nose and so on.
I think this is going to end up looking pretty darn good. Let's just confirm by switching back to the Marquee tool, which I did by pressing the M key, and now I am going to press 0 to restore the Opacity of this layer to 100%. You can see that it just looks fantastic. Yeah, it just looks like this thing is blurring out of control. This is awesome! All right, we do need to paint away a little more of this residue that's right there. So let's go back to the Brush tool by pressing the B key. I am going to press the X key when I am painting with black and then I am going to paint this area away. Oops! That means I just painted away the nose of the plane as well.
So I am going to have to press the X key again. That's the beauty of working inside of a layer mask as you can go back and forth, back and forth with impunity, because we're never harming any of the actual pixels inside of the image and I will paint back in the blur thusly, and actually I want to take it all the way into the nose like that. But I think this looks great. Now then, it's obviously at the wrong angle, that is the plane is, it started off at that whizzing upward into the left, into the sky and I want to restore that angle to the plane. So I am basically going to undo my last two rotations that I applied in the previous exercise.
So the first thing is to go up to the Image menu, choose Rotate Canvas command and choose this guy right here, 90 degrees clock-wise or you could take advantage of my keyboard shortcut if you loaded Deke keys back in the Preface, which is Ctrl+Shift+Alt+], Cmd+Shift+Option+] on the Mac, that will rotate the plane straight upward, and now let's go ahead and return to that Arbitrary function there. Go to the Image menu, choose Rotate Canvas and choose Arbitrary, which is Photoshop's way of saying highly-specific rotation. Go ahead and choose that command and notice that it still has that same angle value that we recorded earlier in the previous exercise, intact here. Let's just go ahead and change it from 41.82 degrees CW, to Counter Clock Wise, let's go ahead and select the Counter Clock Wise option there and click OK. It will go ahead and rotate that plane exactly back into place, like so. So we've restored the original orientation of the plane.
Now the final thing that we need to do is crop the plane and I am going to do that by zooming in so that I can see exactly where the corner is. Now the corner is going to be a little fuzzy because of all the rotations that we did. There is some anti-aliasing that has now gotten mixed in with these edges here. So what I suggest you do is just cheat a little inwards with a crop boundary. By the way, when you're cropping an image, well, it's trying to -- actually it's trying to snap into alignment right there. All right, that's fine. When you're drawing a crop boundary you can press the Spacebar as you're drawing, just as you would with your Marquee tool in order to move the crop boundary on the fly, but it's trying to go ahead and snap for me. So that's fine, actually, we'll just take it.
I am going to go ahead and try to find the bottom corner of the plane, but I am not finding it very well. So let's see, I can't turn off the foreground layer when I am cropping inside of Photoshop, which is a big nuisance, actually it's an enormous nuisance, not a very big fan of the Crop tool. All right, there we go. I've now cropped it to the edges of that background layer right there, that plane layer. I'm going to go ahead and turn on the Hide option, so that we don't get rid of any pixels inside of either layers, we're just hiding them from view and then press the Enter key in order to perform the crop, that would be the Return key on the Mac.
If you look closely, you can see that we still got some bad edges going, we still have a little bit of transparency around the edges. Let's crop that away since we were having problems with the snapping there, which we could have turned off if we wanted to, but actually it helped this out. Let's go ahead and crop those edges away using the Canvas Size command. So we'll go to the Image menu, choose Canvas Size, or I could press Ctrl+Alt+C, Cmd+Option+C on the Mac. Make sure Relative is turned on. And let's just go ahead and crop let's say 6 pixels inwards. So -6 both directions for both width and height. Where am I getting that value from? I am just making it up, I am just saying, well, that will take us 3 down, 3 up, 3 in, 3 in, that will probably work out pretty well for us.
Make sure that your center chiclet is selected, click OK. Now Photoshop is going to warn you, hey! Your new canvas size is smaller buddy, that means I am going to have to clip the contents of your image, some clipping will occur. That's a total lie, no clipping will occur as what it should say. If we were working with a background layer, we had a background layer inside of this image or if this was a flat image, then yes, some clipping would occur, but we're not going to clip layered images, and that's all we have inside this composition. So proceed with impunity.
All right, there it is. Last thing I am going to do is, create a bit of a mix between the plane and the Motion Blur version of the plane and I am going to do that with the Motion Blur version of the image active here, with this blur layer active. I am going to press 85 to reduce the Opacity of this layer to 85 degrees, and there it is folks, the Motion Blur version of the plane, a gentle blur created using a combination of the Motion Blur filter and layer masking inside Photoshop.
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