Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Hair

with Deke McClelland
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Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Hair
Video duration: 0s 3h 6m Intermediate


In this installment of his popular Masking & Compositing series, Photoshop guru Deke McClelland shows how to select hair—down to the individual strands—and composite portraits against new backgrounds. The course covers how to mask out hair, paint in detail, blend hair, merge channels, and match light sources. Deke also explores special techniques for working with both dark and light hair, as well as extracting hair from complex backgrounds.

Topics include:
  • Understanding the Calculations command
  • Calculating masks with the Subtract and Add modes
  • Enhancing a mask with Apply Image
  • Creating a traditional blue screen mask
  • Masking dark hair against a busy background
  • Painting in missing hairs with a Wacom tablet
  • Masking blonde hair and flames
  • Performing selective edits with Dodge and Burn
  • Masking a difficult image in multiple passes


- Hi, I'm Deke McClelland. Welcome to Photoshop Masking and Compositing: Hair, my unflinching guide to isolating that most delicate detail in all of digital imaging: human hair. To you and I, a strand of hair is an admittedly fine, but ultimately discreet object. To Photoshop, it's the usual series of pixels, and such thin strands of pixels. They come, they go, and they mingle with the surrounding environment.

One hair may be darker than its background and the next one lighter. The transitions may be obvious and abrupt or so subtle you can hardly distinguish them. And here's the worst part, hair grows and shrinks when set against similar luminance levels, so a dark hair will appear slim against a light background and thicken up as the background darkens, even though the actual hair never changed. It's a photographic illusion that creates special challenges when masking. The upshot is that hair doesn't respond well to Photoshop's automated tools, which is why I'll be showing you a handful of advanced manual approaches, all of which produce excellent results.

I'll start by introducing you to the commands that do the best job of seeing hair, calculations and apply image. Then I'll show you two unique blend modes, add and subtract, and their supporting options scale and offset. From then on, we'll examine hair in a series of four projects. First, we'll isolate hair set against a blue screen or sky. Then we'll work on dark hair, even going so far as to paint in missing strands with a Wacom tablet.

In chapter three, we'll select blonde hair, and just for fun, we'll mask a translucent flame. And finally, we'll take on the tough stuff. Hair of all luminance levels set against an almost identically colored and very busy background. Over the next three hours, we'll start simple and then get very very complex. Here's how to mask and composite hair in Photoshop.

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