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Making selections in Photoshop

Presented by Pixalo - Submitted by Rob Barron

Rather than start with the Magic Wand, which most people probably use a lot anyway, I thought I'd start with one people often don't think to use or perhaps are not aware of how to use it: The Color Range tool. I'll be touching on Quick Mask as well as part of the process.

This allows you to select a colour that probably appears in lots of places in your picture or is just a pig awkward shape or whatever. I should point out that this tool works virtually the same way as the Color Replace tool in terms of making the selection: that just goes a step further and lets you choose a colour to replace it with.

Going to keep this as simple as possible and I'll show a few screenshots that should add some clarity to the proceedings:

Ok, here's a picture of a 7-stack Revolution. Ok, for those of you not into the art of four-line controlled kiting (you're not???) let's just call it a load of kits and be done with it :o)

Ok, we have decided the sky is a bit naff so we want to replace it with something else. Selecting this sky could be done with the magic wand, it's fairly flat colour, but for the purpose of this demonstration, we'll use the Color Range tool (Yes, I know we Brits spell it Colour but in PS they spell it Color so going along with them!)

Let's open the Color Range window which we can find here:

That's on the SELECT menu.

Ok, so we have opened our picture and opened the Color Range tool. Now let's take a look at the controls available to us:

At the top is the default selection of: Sampled Colors. If we wanted to, we could select all shades of any main colour which can prove very handy at times. However, if we chose the closest colour to what we want, cyan, you would find the selection would be some of the kites as well, nowhere near enough control for what we want. So, we'll carry on with Sampled Colors.

Ok, under that selection window is a bar with a handle on with the wonderful title: Fuzziness.
Whoever came up with that title was having a bad-hair day in my opinion but I am sure they had their reasons! Ok, it sort of tells us something about the selection but actually just confuses the issue. So, what IS the fuzziness selection?

It's actually the most important selection adjustment in this tool: it is used in conjunction with the eyedropper tools used for sampling the colors so first let's check those out and then come back to fuzzy! There are three eyedroppers:

  1. The single sampler. Use that to select a colour from the picture. Click again somewhere else and it forgets all about the previous selection.
  2. Addition sampler: Instead of replacing the previous selection, this adds to the selection (you guessed huh?) Ok, have a go at number three....
  3. The subtraction sampler: Takes away from the colours you have selected.... yup, thought you'd cotton on to that one so I won't insult your intelligence further!)
Ok, so, take the single sampler and click on the sky. Ok, you will see that the preview window (this shows only blacks, whites and greys as it shows the selection, not the picture itself.) has now got the kits mostly in black and the sky, probably a fairly speckled white. You can get rid of a lot of the speckling (bits that aren't yet selected) by using the 2nd eyedropper and clicking in places around the sky. To get to where we really want to be, i.e. the kits all look black (masked) and the sky all white, we can slide the Fuzziness slider to the left or right. Move left and you get more black, move right and you get more white.

In other words, when you move to the left, it selects colour shades that are very close to the ones you sampled. Move to the right and it selects colour shades that are further away from the ones you selected.

If there is a bit that is showing selected that you know you don't want, use the third eyedropper and click on a part of the picture you don't want in the selection.

This can take a bit of clicking and trial but you'll soon get used to the way it works and will be able to make selections very quickly. It's usually a lot faster than clicking like a madman with the Magic Wand tool! Ok, now, we have got the sky all white (selected) so let's hit OK.

Now we see the sky selected with our marching ants all around it and the kites not.... except you may well find a few little spots are selected with the sky. See this picture for what I mean, I magnified a section to help you:

Ok, the best way to deal with these is to go into Quick Mask. Again, this is a tool people often forget about yet is so quick and easy to use. How to find it? Just click on Q!

This turns your selection into a rubicon (like it's been painted with a semi see-through red paint!) and the bits that were selected that you didn't want will be little holes in the red. Just grab a paintbrush and apply black paint (Hit D to instantly change colours to black FG and white BG and start painting. It won't actually paint black, it will paint red! Just paint over the red areas that have little holes in and this will ensure the whole kite is masked.

Ok, to check you don't have bits of kite selected, just hit Q which takes you back to the marching ants. If you see some more, toggle with Q again, paint those out and so forth until it's ready. It should look something like this now (part of image shown):

Once you have the selection you want, just hit Backspace to remove it (best to feather by about one pixel first) and then you can put your new sky in behind and you'r done!

So there you go, that's how to use the Color Range tool. Very useful for complicated selections and works the same for the Color Replace tool when you want to change colours.

If you have a summer picture that you want to change into an autumn (fall!) picture, use the color replace tool, make your selection of some of the green leaves, replace with some shades of yellow, gold, brown, red, etc. and do it a few times and you'll have a beautiful autumn scene without ever having to go out in the wind and rain of October :o)

Hope this helps. I'll be adding further selection tool tutorials soon so if there is a method you'd like covered, let me know. Pen tool anyone?