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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."
Now that we seen how arbitrary maps work, let's take a more deliberate approach to selecting this bird. We will actually apply arbitrary maps, in bits and pieces, around the bird to get the selection exactly right and we are going to do this in a couple of exercises. We are going to start by selecting the back of the head, all the way around this green area, and over the red tuft, and then we will grab the bill, and then this lower region down here. So for starters, I want you to switch images; I want you to open this guy right here. Even if you have Military macaw. jpg open, I want you to switch to this guy, its Arbitrary macaw.tif, also found inside the 16_tough_stuff folder. I would like you to go ahead and bring up the Channels palette and you will see that I have gone ahead and saved off the arb map, that I created in the previous exercise. For what little its worth, we are not actually going to be using this; I just thought I would go ahead and include it, so you can compare it to your own.
What have you. It's not really necessary that we have it there but there it is, just in case this is necessary. We have a path in the Paths palette called Bill outline and it's a Pen tool path, that I drew around the bill. It's pretty darn accurate, except for this region around here, of course, which is the least bit accurate but it doesn't need to be, since it falls inside of the animal's face. Now we are going to be using it in order to select the bill because this Pen tool outline works best for the bill, works better for the bill than anything else that we are going to be doing. So I might as well use it because after all, no single feature in Photoshop, but particularly, no masking feature inside the program works in a vacuum. You want to be able to use them together in order to get the best possible results.
All right, so let's go ahead and turn off the path for now. Let's go back to the Channels palette, let's grab Blue, still the best channel for our purposes right now, and drag it on to the little page icon, and we will go ahead and call it mask, once again. I will go ahead and press the Enter key or the Return key on the Mac. Now let's approach this bird in pieces, as I say. Actually, I am going to Shift+Tab away the palettes again, so I can see a larger portion of the bird horizontally, anyway. I am going to grab my Rectangular Marquee tool. We are going to be using the Rectangular Marquee tool in order to select this bird, believe it or not, because first of all, the Rectangular Marquee tool has got to be the most underrated Selection tool in all of Photoshop because it's your constant pal, right? It's got this cross shaped cursor, it's a great tool to have selected on a regular basis, by default, but also, it's never anti-aliased.
So if you select a rectangular region, you are not going to have any soft edges ever because every one of the edges is perpendicular. So it doesn't need anti-alias thing and then your every corners are perfect, 90 degree corner. So everything is picture perfect where this rectangular is concerned. That means, we can select one region and apply a modification, and then exactly select a neighboring region and apply a different modification to it. The border between those two modifications will be nil, it look just great, as long as we apply our modifications correctly.
So let's start off by selecting this area here, just like that and notice what I am doing. I am trying to select the region between where the feathers are much darker than the background and where they start to become just slightly darker than background, because once we start getting into this gray region, sometimes the feathers are darker than the background and other times, the feathers are lighter than the background. It doesn't seem that way, it looks like the feathers are always darker than the background, but if you were to, sort of, examine this shade of gray right there versus this shade of gray right there, you would find that this one is actually darker; meaning that we are not going to find any, sort of, arbitrary map that's going to get this area all the way across, completely right.
So anyway, let's start with this zone over here and now we could actually increase the size of this selection, a little bit. So let's try that. Now I am going to press Ctrl+M or Command+M on the Mac to bring up the Curves dialog box. I am going to move it over a little bit and we can do the whole bouncing ball thing. You will see, of course, as I drag over the feathers that we are seeing the ball bounce around in the lower-left quadrant, fine. Here is what I am really going to do. This is again based on experimentation, here. With the Pencil tool, I am going to drag all the way over, across the top of the first three columns, and then I am going to drag along the bottom of the last column right there, and we get this nice choppy sharp edge selection, as you can see it there. Then let's go ahead and apply Smooth, Smooth, Smooth. So three Smooths in a row.
Now I have done you a terrific favor, I think, I hope, and that is I have saved every one of these little micro arbitrary maps that we are going to apply as a preset. So if you want to load the preset, here is what you do. You go over to Preset options right there, that little Preset menu, go ahead and choose the Load Preset command in order to bring up this Load dialog box. I want you to train it on this sub-folder, it's called Macow arb maps, and it's found inside of the 16_tough_stuff folder. It will appear to be empty and that's because you have Files of type, by default, set to Curves, *.ACV files. ACV files work great with the Point tool, but they don't have any effect on the Pencil tool.
So we need to load arbitrary map files and you get to those by changing Files of type to Map settings (*.AMP). Then you are going to see a handful of these AMP files right here. Whether or not they appear this large inside of the Load dialog box, is a function of this guy right here, I have got it set to Large Icons, so they look pretty. The one that I want to load, is this guy right there, Back of head. All right, so you can either do what I just told you to do; you can go ahead and load this Back of head setting, just so that you are exactly matching what I am doing. Click Load, you will get this exact same thing that we are seeing on screen right now. It will appear here inside of the Preset pop-up menu, so that you can go back to it later, if you like.
All right, anyway click OK and we have gone ahead and applied the proper settings to the Back of head here. Now I am going to press Ctrl+Shift+I or Command+Shift+I on a Mac, so that we are selecting everything but this area. So that I can precisely grab a different portion of the image by Shift+Alt+Dragging around it or Shift+Option+Dragging around it. I am going to go ahead and select this region here, going down to the bottom; see this right there to the bottom of this tuft, so that division between the tuft and the beak right there, and selecting up, like so.
This way we have a very accurate boundary between these two regions. So because I Shift+Alt+Dragged or Shift+Option+Dragged, I found the intersection of the area outside of this selection and my new Marquee. That ensures that I just have this area selected and we have a perfect scene at this location, right there. Now I am going to press Ctrl+M again or Command+M on the Mac. You can go ahead and fool around with this, if you want to. The settings that I came up with, were dragging this guy all the way over. Oops! I can't even see what settings I am applying down here at the bottom but let's just go ahead and apply it to here. Then I will go down to the bottom and say, 97, all the way over to the right and then I will click on the Smooth button, once and actually twice, in order to smooth off the transitions, a little bit.
If you want to load my settings, you can go, once again, to the Load Preset command here, and you would change this guy, once again, to Map Settings, and you would find right here, Top of head. amp. Click Load and that goes ahead and load something that is remarkably similar. It looks like it shifted just slightly and then click OK in order to accept that modification. I would also, at this point, I would probably go in with the Dodge and Burn tools. There is my Burn tool right there, set, of course, to Shadows. I would go ahead and burn the shadows in a little bit, click, click, click, drag, drag, drag, so on, and so on, and so on. This guy up here needs to go to way too, of course. Then I will switch over to the Dodge tool by pressing the O key, make sure that's set to dodge Highlights, Dodge, Dodge, Dodge, go over here and notice that I have a very bad transition at this point, all right.
So it seems to me I could do a better job in this one region, along the top of the head, where everything is green. So let's press Ctrl+Tilde or Command+Tilde on the Mac and I am going to choose Shift+Alt+Drag around just the green zone, like so. This is a Shift+Option+Drag on the Mac in order to just select this region here. Let's go back to the Blue channel by press Ctrl+3 or Command+3 on the Mac, Ctrl+C or Command+C to copy that info. Then I am going Ctrl+5 or Command+5 to switch over to the mask, and now I am moving through this pretty quickly as we have been through this so many times now.
We want to go to the mask now, that we copied the Blue channel information, we are going over to the mask here; and I will press Ctrl+V, Command+V on the Mac in order to paste that in to place because this area needs some work. Then I will press Ctrl+I or Command+I on the Mac in order to invert it and then I am going to do this work just using the Dodge and Burn tools. I might start with dodging just a little bit in order to, sort of, get some of this stuff figured out properly. Then I would press O to switch over to the Burn tool and burn this area a little bit, like so. So that we are getting a good scene.
Now you can see we are getting a good scene in this area. I was just, sort of, showing you that, I wasn't really actually painting that last time. Now I am painting, of course, in order to paint all those stuff away. Then let's press the O key again to switch over to the Dodge tool, paint, paint, paint, paint, paint. Notice that I have the airbrush turned on. It's not necessary that you do that, but that's the way I am working right now. Then I will paint that area away a little bit, that area away as well. Now let's go ahead and de-select by pressing Ctrl+D and then I need to paint away that little area there with the Burn tool and this area as well. So you can see that we have got a nice selection going along the top of the head and a wonderful seam, check at our seams.
This seam, you can't even see at all, it worked out beautifully, at least in my case. Then this seam is a little bit wonky, so let's paint that little area away there. Then let's just get the Lasso tool and, kind of, get this junk. You could, of course, look at the image at the same time as the mask by pressing the Tilde key, if you want to, but I don't really need to, I don't think. I am going to go ahead and press the D key in order to reinstate the default colors, and then I will press Alt+Backspace or Option+Delete to fill that area with white, and maybe grab this area too, and fill it with white, and so on, and so on. I am working with the Lasso tool, obviously, at this point. As I say, I am, kind of, moving along fast through this image, just because we have been with over this territory so many times now.
That takes care of the top of the head. You can see how I am approaching it in pieces and how I am approaching it with any tool, I happen to find handy, essentially. I missed this little area over there, so let's grab it with the Rectangular Marquee tool and press the Backspace key or the Delete key to fill it with black. In the next exercise, we are going to grab the bill and we are going to select this area below the bird, as well, by integrating some information from the Green channel. I invite you to join me.
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