Join Richard Harrington for an in-depth discussion in this video Using the Refine Edge command, part of Practical Photoshop CS5 Selections.
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If you're using a newer version of Photoshop, one of the coolest commands is the Refine Edge command. This lets you take a complex selection such as hair, or feathers, or something that's more organic in nature, and really refine it so it creates a believable transition. Let's see how it works. In this case here, I have a pretty tough image. And whiskers and all, I want to extract this out of the photograph. For example, you see here the end result, and it looks pretty good; lots of little transitions here on the wispy whiskers as well as the feathered edges of the fur.
Let's see how it works. I'm going to go ahead with the Quick Selection tool and start to make a basic selection; just clicking and dragging in the image to pick up details. Now I want to get as accurate as possible to start, but I don't need to be perfect. Remember, the Alt or the Option key lets you subtract from a selection. There we go. We are just picking up the general edges; got too much there, so I will hold down the Alt or the Option key, and just drag through to subtract.
It's having a tough time with that edge there, but I'll get it. There we go! So we've got a basic selection that needs refining. Let's go ahead and click the Refine Edge button up here in the toolbar. This brings up the Refine Edge dialog box. And what I want to do is reposition things so you can see a bit. So I'll pull this off to the side as I work. The first area to realize is you could change the view. So you can view this over White or Black, making it easier to see your edges, or take a look at it over the original layer, or over transparency.
But typically, White and Black is going to work the best. You also have keyboard shortcuts here. So pressing B or W will simply switch me between White or Black. Next, I'm going to turn on the Smart Radius, which allows me to go ahead and analyze those edges better. I'm going to go ahead and crank that up. It's going to look at those edges and automatically detect the fur and the transitions out. You don't want to go too big, but it does work nicely there.
So let's find the balance. Notice how it picked up most of the whiskers. I can use the Ctrl+Plus or the Command +Plus key to zoom in a bit, and then paint over the areas that I wanted to reanalyze, and in doing that, you see that it's picking up the whiskers that much better. Photoshop will think where you brush and it automatically latches onto the good pixels. It's usually pretty intelligent.
If you need to subtract, just hold down the Alt key when you paint, and it will remove pixels. That's looking pretty good! I will just refine that edge a little bit there. Let's come down here. Good! And by holding down the spacebar, I could just move around my image. Painting along that fur transition zone, lets Photoshop reanalyze those pixels, and make a better transition.
If you work with Photoshop long, you will know the fact that I was able to get this level of detail on the fur is absolutely amazing. Next, you have controls for smoothing and feathering. In this case, I won't use them but you can see here how it rounds out the edges or creates more of a transition. Sometimes a very slight Feather like half-a-pixel works pretty well. You can of course expand or contract as well, pushing the edge in or out if you need to erode it or expand it.
I will just pull that in about 2 pixels. Looks good. To remove color spill from the background on to the subject, I'll click Decontaminate Colors. That will remove any color cast coming from the background into the subject. Lastly, we will make a New Layer with the Mask applied for transparency and click OK. You see that it extracts it to its own layer, leaving the original photo behind.
Because this is a nondestructive mask, I can come down to areas here like the claw that was having a hard time getting picked up. Clicking on the mask, I could paint with white to add to the mask. So let's switch over to white, and just get a larger brush and paint that in. B for brush and a little bit of paint will add in some of those missing pixels. There we go! Pull on back. Looks great.
One of the things I sometimes like to do is drop in a solid color, so I can more easily see did I get my edges right. And it definitely looks great there! You can also take advantage of things like this. For example, you could add a Black & White adjustment layer, and leave the background on to create a spot color effect where your subject stands out from the rest of the photo. And while you're there, feel free to take advantage of other adjustment layers such as Exposure in this case to just darken the background down a bit.
That looks pretty good and gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to making accurate selections and re-compositing your photo.
- Creating masks from selections
- Moving a selection
- Selecting with the Quick Selection tool
- Transforming a selection
- Using the Refine Edge command
- Selecting a color or tonal range throughout the image
- Making a selection with the Pen tool
- Saving a selection as an alpha channel
- Creating a selection from multiple channels with the Calculations command