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Old 02-10-2008, 20:18   #1 (permalink)
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Making Selections in Photoshop

Something that was mentioned in a thread recently asked about the best way to 'cut out' an object from one photo to put it into another photo with a new background. I felt this might make a useful tutorial so I hope this is helpful.

The instructions here refer to Photoshop CS3 but most of the tools (except Quick Selection Tool) are available in most versions of Photoshop.

In this tutorial, I shall briefly cover 5 different tools that can be used for making selections and suggesting which to use in different circumstances. The tools I shall mention are:
  1. Quick Mask Mode
  2. Quick Selection Tool (in CS3)
  3. Pen Tool
  4. Extract Tool
  5. Color Range Selection
Two tools I shalln't really go into are the marquee tool which is simply a matter of dragging a rectangular or circular marquee over a given area, and the magic wand tool which is well-known to most people.

However, if anyone wants a more detailed tutorial on either or both of these, let me know and I'll happily put one together for you.

Before we start...

Just as a quick pointer, we need to know what to do with the selection once we have made it. Here are the main options:
  1. Feather the edges (Ctrl+Alt+D) so that the selected image blends better into its new background. I would always use some feathering, however minimal. On a low res picture, at least 1 pixel of feathering, for a high res at least 2 pixels. There are occasions when I don't but to be honest, it is almost always preferable to feather a touch.
  2. Copy the selection to a new layer. Just press Ctrl + J and that's it done. This is now a separate object that can be moved around, made larger or smaller, duplicated, rotated, etc.
  3. Drag on top of a different photograph. Just have the other photograph open ready in your work area and then with the source picture selected (where the selection is coming from), hit V (Move Tool) and then click on the selection, drag it over to the new photograph and drop it. It will automatically make a new layer on the destination photo so you can then manipulate it however you want to.
  4. Save Selection: Go to Select > Save Selection and give your selection a name. Now save this whole photo as a Photoshop (.psd) file. This will now enable you to open this photo and instantly select the object by going to Select > Load Selection. This option is really if you want to make the selection now and do the rest at some other time.
Quick Mask Tool:

For any objects, especially those that are awkward shapes and might contain fine detail though not recommended for hair and the like (See Extract tool for that!)

To use this tool, just hit Q. You are now in Quick Mask Mode. Hit D so that your foreground and background colours are set to black and white. If they come up as white and black, hit X to reverse them.

If you now take your paintbrush (B) and paint on your selction area, you will see that instead of painting in black, it will be painting in a semi-transparent red (by default but you may have it set to blue or green etc). In the old days, this was referred to as a rubicon so what you are doing is painting a mask over a specific area.

You can adjust the size of your brush and also the softness of the brush just like normal and if you zoom in you can paint even very awkward shapes. I strongly recommend using a digital pen if you have one rather than a mouse. It really is far easier and quicker.

If you paint over an area you didn't want to, just hit X to change to white and paint that area and you will remove the rubicon.

At any time, you can see what you have selected simply by pressing Q again. It will show you the marching ants selection. Hit Q again and you're back in Quick Mask mode so you can go back and forth whenever you want.

NOTE:
When you look at the selection as marching ants, it will actually be a reverse selection. In other words, you will have selected everything EXCEPT the bit you want! Don't worry, just hit Ctrl + Shift + i to invert the selection and now you have got your object selected just as you want it

So, look at this picture...



Imagine you want to select the Tower using the Quick Mask Mode. By hitting Q and using the paintbrush / pencil tool (B) you can paint on the object like so:



That is what it will look like while in QM mode. Hit Q on the keyboard and you'll see your selection as detailed above.

Quick Selection Tool (CS3 only)

For objects that are non-geometric shapes, can be very complex but not too fine detailed. Works great selecting skies, people, individual objects, anything that is well-defined against its surroundings.

This tool is fabulous and one of the great additions that we got in this version of Photoshop. It is found underneath the Magic Wand button so click and hold the button and you will see a flyout menu with the other button available to select.

An alternative, and quicker way to get the button is to hit W to get the magic wand and then Shift+W to get the button underneath. You can use this method to get to any button hidden underneath buttons that appear on the toolbar.

Have a look at this picture and then I'll explain some more...



Ok, if you are used to trying to select something with Magic Wand and spent ages clicking all over the place whilst geting more and more frustrated, this tool is an absolute joy to use. Set the brush fairly small, this stops it selecting too much if there are surrounding colours similar to what you are selecting.

Now, click in the object you want and drag across and around the area you want to select. In the picture above I made the entire selection of that flower head in one movement, all of three seconds! It also didn't select the flower that is the same colours but is blurred behind it. Imagine click selecting that with the magic wand!

If you find it selecting more than you wanted, don't worry. Just let go and see what has been selected. Now press Alt and click select in the area you don't want and drag your cursor around and it will deselect those areas.

I promise you that with a little practice you will find this tool absolutely awesome. You can select a whole sky WITH lots of clouds of different shades all in one go! Awesome!

Pen Tool

For objects that have clearly defined edges but not fine detail. Especially good for objects that have lots of straight and curved edges. Virtually any man-made object will be selected well with the Pen Tool.

This tool allows you to make highly accurate selections of shapes that have curved edges that would be hard to select in other ways, especially if they are multi-coloured or multi-toned.

Here we can see the tool in action, making a selection of the Eurofighter aircraft. More details of how to use this tool underneath....



I put two pics together to reduce the number of files I had to upload for this tutorial, hope it doesn't confuse. Apologies for the poor quality of that one but I think you can see all you need to see.

Ok, to use this tool:
  • Select the Pen tool by pressing P on your keyboard or clicking the button as shown in the picture.
  • It will help to zoom in on your picture so that you can select more accurately. Just press Ctrl+spacebar and drag a marquee over the area you want to zoom in to.
  • You can move around the picture easily by just pressing the spacebar and click+dragging the picture around.
  • Now, start anywhere by clicking somewhere around the edge of the object you want to select. It will put a small black box where you clicked.
  • Now click AND HOLD at a point further along that edge. If it is a straight line between the two points, just let go and it will draw a straight line along the edge. However, if it is curved....
  • While still holding the pen/mouse down, drag out a handle by pulling the cursor away from the point. If you move it left or right, you will see the line bending in that direction.
  • Imagine you want to bend the line from half way between your two selected points: drag out the handle until the other handle reaches to halfway and then drag to left or right. The line will bend at that point, evenly and accurately hugging the edge of your object. BUT...
  • If you need to select a complex bend (where the bend differs in its sharpness at different points or has a double bend making an S shape) you should do this in several steps, don't try and do it all in one!
  • Before you go on to select your next point, you will find it better to get rid of the handle which is now probably in your way. This is simple: just press Alt and click on the main selection point you just made (between the two handles) and the leading handle will disappear
  • Keep working your way round slowly until you have selected the entire object. When you get back to the starting point, you will see a little o next to the cursor. Click here and it will close the line, joining it up and making your full selection.
  • Now you need to turn it into a proper selection path (with the famous marching ants!)
  • Just click Paths (Should be a tab on the same pallet as Layers but if not click on Window > Paths) Now click on the 3rd small icon along the bottom of the pallet. See the picture above where it is clearly highlighted.
Now you have the selection you wanted. Please don't give up if your first selection doesn't quite come off, practice a little as this tool is brilliant and once you are used to it you will find you can make selections very fast indeed.

The airplane in this picture above took me under 2 minutes from beginning to end!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To avoid any danger of losing all my work above, I am going to now post this. I will continue the tutorial in the next post so do read on
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Old 02-10-2008, 21:00   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

Tutorial continued...

Extract Tool

For objects that have fine detail like hair or fur that would be very difficult to select in any other way.

This tool is another one that takes a bit of practice but your persistance will be amply rewarded so don't give up too soon!

It works best if you are extracting something that has a clean edge and background so if you know you might want to put this person onto a new background, ie you are taking this photo for that purpose, shoot your photo against a clean background and the extraction will be much easier.

Ok, here is a photo of a friend who got married a little while back. I have her permission to use the picture.



As you can see, her hair has a lot of wispy fine detail that would be a nightmare to try and select. It could be done with the quick mask tool but would take a long time and would be very laborious.

So, with the picture open, hit Ctrl+J to duplicate it onto a new layer. Now hit Ctrl+Alt+X to open the Extract Tool window. The picture will be in this window ready for you to start work.

The first thing to do is to make your selection by painting a highlighter pen all around the edge. This is the first tool at the top of the toolbar on the left-hand side. Go all the way around covering the edge and painting over any 'outcrops' of wispy hair. You must highlight all the way around and close the line completely. If not, you can't do the next part....

Take the Fill tool (press G) and click anywhere inside the highlighted area you have selected. You should now see something like this:



You can erase highlighter using the eraser tool (E) if you have put too much on or gone over an area you didn't intend to. The tools are highlighted and described in this next picture.

When you have got your selection filled in, it's time to see what it looks like. So, hit PREVIEW. You should now see something like this:



As you can see, Photoshop has done a pretty good job of extracting the lady with all her hair intact.

If there are edges that are not quite right, you can adjust this using the two clean-up and edge touch-up tools. Remember anything you do here is still in preview so it is not affecting the final outcome until you press OK.

Now, why did I get you to do this on a duplicate layer? Well, there are a couple of reasons....

1. You can now make a blank layer and fill it with a pale colour or whatever you want and put this underneath the extracted person layer to see exactly what it looks like. It's much easier to see that way rather than against the cheque board background.

2. If there are areas you want to touch up, you can use the History Paintbrush and paint back in any parts that have been accidentally extracted out. You can also use the eraser to delete anything left behind that you didn't want.

3. The original picture has not been touched so this is non-destructive editing. To be honest, wrking on a duplicate layer is sound working practice whenever you are editing pictures so that you can always get back what you have lost if it all goes wrong!

Ok, practice with that one and you will find it can do a great job when no other process would quite make it. It is NOT a perfect tool and if this is something you intend to do on a regular basis with difficult subjects, you might consider investing in a Photoshop plug-in program like Mask Pro. It is not cheap but does a fantastic job when nothing else will do it. You can even extract a bubble from one picture and paste it into another picture and have the second picture showing through the bubble as though it had been there all the time!

Ok, final tool in this tutorial...

Color Range Selection Tool

For objects that have a small range of colours that are mostly not find elsewhere in the picture.

This tool is found on the menu bar: SELECT > COLOR RANGE

This is a tool a lot of people forget about or never get to know about but it is FANTASTIC so make a point of getting to know this one. You won't regret it!

Have a look at a flower I have selected usng this tool:



It's an awkward shape to cut out on its own and would take a fair while with the pen tool. It is the same flower as we used for the Quick Selection tool but this time I am selecting both flower heads.

With the Color Range window open, you will see the image in the left hand window and then a black and white area to the right. If you are not seeing the latter, make sure you have got 'Selection' checked and not 'Image'. Set the fuzzy slider to about a quarter of the way from the left at this stage.

On the right, you will see three little eyedroppers. The left one is the first one to use. Select the main colour in the object you want to select. Now use the middle eyedropper to sample other shades of the main colour, shadow areas, highlight areas etc. You will see in the black and white window more and more of the flower being selected. Keep going until you have something close to the whole flower selected. If you mistakenly pick up areas that should not be selected, use the right eyedropper to subtract from your selection.

Now adjust the fuzzy slider left or right so that it has as much of the flower selected as possible but not much of anything else. If it still has a bit from other areas in the picture selected, that won't be a problem. We will deal with those in a moment.

Hit OK and now you will see marching ants around the object we want. If you do have other areas selected too, just use the Lasso tool (L) and press Alt while you draw quickly around those areas and it will take away those selections you don't want.

If you have a picture with a lot of colours all over the place, you can still use this tool. Just use the lasso to make a rouch selection around the object you want, copy that to a new layer (Ctrl+J) and turn off the other layers so this selection layer is the only one visible (just click the Eye icon next to the other layers on the Layers pallet). Now use the Color Range tool on this layer and it will not be affected by the other coloured areas so will onyl select the colours you want from this layer.

Ok, another tool for your armoury

I do hope you have found this short summary tutorial helpful. As always, if you are confused or don't understand anything, either leave a message here or drop me a PM and I'll see what i can do to help you

Cheers,
Rob
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Old 03-10-2008, 12:55   #3 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

Great stuff Rob. Will give one or all of those a try.

Roger
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Old 03-10-2008, 16:00   #4 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

A superb tutorial thank you Rob. Lots of tips I didn't know there, and should help loads of people.
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Old 03-10-2008, 18:49   #5 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

You've just blown my attention span ....... I will have to re-read this at least a couple more times - great deal of very useful info...
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Old 06-04-2011, 21:03   #6 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

Hey, thanks for the tutorial, it is really helpful, but i am having a problem using the pen tool. tight after i draw the lines and i have the marching ants, then i select the inverse, i i try to delete, it gives a message that "Could not complete your request because the content of the layer is not directly editable" i would be so glad if you c an help out with this as i really do love to use the pen tool. thanks.
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Old 09-04-2011, 12:04   #7 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

I wonder if that is just because you were doing it on the base (background) layer which is locked by default? If so, before you start working on any picture, always press Ctrl+J which copies the entire picture to a new layer. All the work you are doing will then not be touching the original so you can always get your start picture back easily :o)

If that isn't the case, can I just check that you are actually seeing marching ants and not merely a selection line around what you have selected with the pen tool? Just in case, when you select something with the pen tool, you should then go to the Layers pallet window and select the 'Paths' Tab. Now click on the 3rd icon along at the bottom of the window, this is the 'Load Path As A Selection' icon. When you click that you will see a 'Working Path' in that pallet but more importantly in the picture itself you will now have true Marching Ants showing your selection.

If I have still missed it, give a touch more detail please and I'll work out what is going wrong.

Cheers,
Rob
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Old 09-04-2011, 16:37   #8 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

Well this tutorial will certainly help me, so thanks Rob for taking the time to share
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Old 10-04-2011, 17:45   #9 (permalink)
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Re: Making Selections in Photoshop

You're very welcome Slade. Thank you

Rob
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