Photoshop’s Need To Know Lasso Selection Tools

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The Lasso tool is best for defining highly irregular selections manually.

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The Polygonal Lasso tool is best for defining rectilinear shapes.

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The Magnetic Lasso tool uses pattern recognition to define existing contours.

Photoshop’s Lassos (Lasso, Polygonal Lasso, and Magnetic Lasso) are go to tools for drawing irregular selections.

Which Lasso tool you choose depends on the job you need to get done.

The Lasso tool is best for defining highly irregular selections manually.

Just click, hold and drag to define a selection. Draw selections in closed loops from beginning to end; if you let go of a selection halfway through a shape you’re drawing a straight line will automatically be drawn from where you let go to where you started; on rare occasions, this can be useful.

The Polygonal Lasso tool is best for defining rectilinear shapes.

The Polygonal Lasso tool differs in that it only draws straight lines. Click, don’t hold, drag to the point you’d like to draw a straight line to and click again, then repeat until you define a closed shape. While drawing a selection, you can alternate between the Lasso and Polygonal Lasso tools by holding the Option key.

The Magnetic Lasso tool is best for taking advantage of pattern recognition to define existing contours.

The Magnetic Lasso tool is different; it uses edge detection to draw. You simply guide it roughly along a contour you’d like to define and if the contour has enough contrast the tool will find it. (Using an adjustment layer, you can temporarily boost the image’s contrast, while making a selection to help the Magnetic Lasso tool find edges more easily … and then delete the adjustment layer after the selection is complete.) If you draw too quickly with the Magnetic Lasso tool it becomes less accurate. If you find you’d like to refine the line it defines you can press the Delete key to eliminate the anchor points it makes along the way, one at a time, in the order they were made.

Remember, if you plan to feather a selection substantially you don’t need to be precise; close enough will do, so don’t waste your time making perfect selections for very general applications.

Read more about Selections & Masks.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Two Powerful Keys That Will Help You Combine Photoshop’s Selection Tools

A simple Rectangular Marquee selection.
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A second selection is added using the Shift key.

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A second selection is subtracted using the Option key.

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The intersection of two selections is created using both Option and Shift keys.

There are so many times when you make a selection in Photoshop and it’s not quite right. But if the selection just needs a little more here and/or a little less there, there’s an easy fix.

You can press the Shift key to add or the Option key to subtract a new selection to any existing selection, no matter how the existing selection was made or what tool you’re making the new selection with (Lasso, Marquee, Magic Wand, Quick Selection). Hold both the Shift and Option keys at the same time and you’ll get the intersection of the new and old selections. You can do this as many times as you like.

Sure, you can use the Add to selection, Subtract from selection, or Intersect with selection options in the top toolbar, but these key commands are easier.

Read more about Selections & Masks.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Photoshop’s Marquee Tools Make Surprisingly Useful Geometric Selections

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Photoshop offers two Marquee tools (Rectangular or Elliptical) for making simple geometric selections. They’re easy to use.

Click hold and drag to define a selection.

Hold the Option key to draw from the center of the shape.

Hold the Shift key to constrain the shape to a perfect square or circle.

You might question how often you’ll use simple geometric selections, particularly in complex photographs, but you’ll be surprised. They’re excellent for quickly selecting large areas of a canvas, which can be further refined with any of the other selection tools. They’re extremely useful if you feather them heavily; targeting the center of an area then fading off gradually to create vignetting effects, either for the entire image frame or a small portion within it.

Read more about Selections & Masks.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Easily Refine Any Photoshop Mask With A Brush

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You can refine any mask in Photoshop with a brush. How? Choose any Brush tool and paint on it. The Brush, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Eraser, Gradient, Blur, Smudge, Dodge and Burn tools all have their uses. Whether simple or complex, layer masks are just black and white images; you can do anything to a mask that you can do to a black and white image.
It’s important to remember this because you might not realized just how much you can refine a selection or mask. Sometimes tools like Quick Selection do an amazingly fast job of selecting specific image areas, but their results can be improved further with a brush. Many times the sophisticated selections made with tools like Select By Color Range (which will allow you to quickly select Shadows, Highlights, or single colors like Red, etc) end up selecting too many areas and you may want to remove some of those areas from the selected regions in a mask. Painting over those areas with a black brush is one way to do this. (By contrast painting over areas with white will remove any gray values and let the effect of a layer pass through unimpeded.) While there are many brushes you can refine them with, more often than not you’ll find yourself using a simple soft-edged brush to paint black and/or white at varying opacities. It’s a simple but powerful technique, making it extraordinarily useful.
There are many times you’ll want to manually refine a mask with a brush.
Here are a few examples.
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The edge of a contour made with the Quick Selection tool can be refined.

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A gradient can be removed from an area.

Here a gradient only affects the sky but not the mountain.

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Specific areas of a luminance mask can be removed.

Only the highlights of the lower portion of this image are affected.


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Specific areas of a selection made with Select By Color range can be removed.

One orange area is removed from the selection of other orange areas.

Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

How To Choose Which Photoshop Mask Color To Start With

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Image before selective adjustment.

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Image after selective adjustment (dodging).

Mask

It takes fewer white strokes than black strokes to make this mask.

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So, instead of starting with a white mask, start with a black mask.

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The layer stack.

When you’re making masks in Photoshop, you can get the job done more quickly and easily by starting with the right color mask. When you make a mask, you can start with one of two colors – white or black. What’s the difference? A white mask shows everything on a layer as if it were at 100% opacity. A black mask hides everything on a layer as if it were at 0% opacity.
So use this simple strategy when you’re brushing in image adjustments with masks.
If you want to affect most of the image, start with a white mask and add a few black brush strokes to reduce the effect in smaller areas.
If you want to affect just a few areas of an image, start with a black mask and add a few white brush strokes to show the effect in only the areas you paint on.
For even more control, you can vary the opacity of the brush strokes you make to reveal or reduce effects partially. (Keep the Opacity of the layer being masked at 100% and then you can make the opacity of different areas vary based on the brush strokes you make.)
How do you make choose the color of the mask when you make it?
You can get a white mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All. Or, simply click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
Alternately, you can get a black mask when you target a layer and go to the menu Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All. Or, hold the option/alt key before you click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers palette.
A mask is automatically created when you make an adjustment layer. By default an adjustment layer mask is white. If you want to start with at black mask instead, hold the option/alt key before you make an adjustment layer.
To make masking even more efficient, you can start with a simple selection (made with any selection tool, including the Lasso, Marquee, Magic Wand, or Quick Selection tools) and then, while the selection is still active, make a mask. If you do this, the selected areas will appear in white and everything else will be blacked out on the mask. You can then brush the mask to refine it further.
But wait, there’s more! Remember, you can always invert a mask (making black white and vice versa) by going to the menu Image > Adjustments > Invert or pressing the keys Command I. So if you forget to start with the right color mask, just invert it.
These simple techniques will save you a great deal of time.
Read more about masking here.
View more in my DVD Drawing With Light.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Selecting The Unselectable With Photoshop’s Saturation Masking

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Original

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Increased saturation in high ranges of saturation only

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Red and blue added to high ranges of saturation only

Wouldn’t it be great if you could selectively adjust colors based on how saturated they are in Photoshop? You can! How? With a free plug-in, Adobe provides called Multiplugin; it hasn’t been updated since Photoshop CS5 but it still works with current versions.

Why would you want to do this?
Do you have images where semi-neutrals not saturated enough, but you don’t want other colors to get too saturated? Select the less saturated colors before adjusting them. Do you have images where you’d like to reduce the saturation of very saturated colors without affecting other levels of saturation? Select the more saturate colors before adjusting them. You can even select colors with medium saturation, separating them from both the high and low range of saturation. Using this technique, you can produce subtle color effects that aren’t possible with any other method.

You might ask yourself, “Isn’t relative saturation adjustment what Vibrance does?” Yes and no. Yes. Vibrance does saturate the less saturated colors more than the more saturated colors and it prevents clipping in the most saturated colors. No. Vibrance offers no control over which ranges of saturation are affected; it can only adjust saturation but not lightness or hue, and it limits how strong an adjustment you can make – it won’t produce effects as strong as Hue/Saturation.
Saturation masks aren’t for saturation adjustments only. This simple selection/mask can be used with any color adjustment tool in Photoshop, greatly expanding your ability to adjust color. Imagine adjusting the lightness and/or hue of high, medium, or low ranges of saturation independently of one another.

Semi-neutrals not interesting enough? Try selecting the low levels of saturation and shifting their hue. Cool them with cyan and/or blue. Warm them with yellow and/or red. Or, try a Renaissance painting technique and add brown.

Throughout the history of photography, most people didn’t think about color this way because they didn’t have the ability to do it. Now you can. It’s well worth your time to explore this new way of seeing, thinking about, and adjusting color.

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Easily Select Edges In Your Images Using Photoshop’s Contour Masks

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A complex contour mask – made one minute.

Digital imaging offers the ability to define complex contours efficiently and precisely, enabling users to affect an image in very specific areas. What was once extremely tedious and challenging is now quick and easy. Once you learn a few essential selection and masking techniques, few contours will elude your grasp.

Before I continue, let me caution you against always defining contours precisely. Remember, contours in continuous tone images are often quite soft. What’s more, many times, photographers simply need to define broad areas to work in with smooth transitions into surrounding areas. Just because you can define contours precisely, doesn’t mean you should. But it’s highly advantageous to have the option of doing so when you need to.

Besides defining an area by hand, either with a selection or brush tool, there are a number of more efficient and precise ways to isolate contours; the Magic Wand Tool, the Magnetic Lasso Tool, the Color Range feature, and deriving a contour mask from a contrast mask. Try these first.

Keep in mind that all of these techniques use contrast within an image to isolate a contour. Contrast in any one component of color can be used – luminosity (light and dark), hue (warm and cool), or saturation (intense or desaturated). If contrast helps define a contour then you can accentuate the contrast of any one component of color within an image to make it easier to define a contour, using an adjustment layer. Once the contour has been defined, you can throw away the adjustment layer that was only intended to be used to make selection easier.

The Magic Wand, found in the Tool Bar, is ideal for selections of broad areas of color. Two check boxes give you control over how the Magic Wand tool behaves; Tolerance (which defines the range of related values away from the sampled color that will be included in the selection – based on 256 levels) and Contiguous (which limits a selection to areas of similar color that abut one another). In the same location in Tools, the Quick Selection Tool offers fewer controls but does an even more intelligent job. Try it before you move on to other options. Many times it does a surprisingly quick good job with little or no fuss.

The Magnetic Lasso, also found in the Tool Bar, tool can be used for slightly more difficult contours. Using it, you can add an extra degree of discrimination manually. The tool will define the majority of the contour for you, if there is adequate contrast between it and surrounding areas. While the default settings often provide excellent results, Width (the distance from the path drawn where contours will be detected), Edge Contrast (the amount of contrast required for a contour to be detected), and Frequency (the number of points placed while defining the contour) can be used to modify the sensitivity of the tool. Drawing a contour too quickly will reduce the accuracy of the tool. While defining the contour, if points are placed that are undesirable you can hit the Delete key to eliminate previously placed points, one at a time. When using Lasso and Marquee tools, practice drawing selections in closed loops. If you define only part of a contour and then let go, a straight line will snap between your start and finish points. All selection tools can be used multiple times to define a selection and can be used in combination with one another; hold the Shift key to add to and the Option/Alt key to subtract from an existing selection.

The Color Range feature, found under the Select menu, is very useful for defining complex contours involving multiple areas. Color Range has predefined settings to automatically detect Reds, Greens, Blues, Cyans, Magentas, Yellows, Highlights, Midtones, and Shadows. In addition, it has a Sampled Colors feature that can be used to define a custom range of colors that can be increased or decreased by using the Add to Sample (+) and Subtract from Sample (-) droppers. Selections can be expanded and contracted using the Fuzziness and Range sliders for Sampled Colors, Shadows, Midtones, and Highlights but not predefined hues.  The selections Color Range makes are often more sophisticated than the previous tools mentioned, defining areas not just with black and white but also shades of gray.

Contrast masks can be turned into contrast masks, for the most challenging selections with very fine detail and/or transparency. Based on the luminance values of individual channels (R,G, or B), a contrast mask can be used to define a contour by accentuating it’s contrast so dramatically that all shades of gray are eliminated leaving only black and white values. Duplicate the channel with the best contrast in the area you wish to isolate. Or, load it as a selection by dragging it to the selection icon in the Channels palette and then create a layer mask. Then, accentuate the contrast of the alphachannel or layer mask, using Curves. When accentuating contrast, pay particular attention to using increased contrast to define the contour you are concerned with. Avoid the temptation to use contrast to drive broad areas to white or black, if doing so will adversely affect defining the contour precisely. On occasion, you may want to select a specific area of an alphachannel or layer mask to accentuate contrast locally. Where unwanted values remain, select and fill or use a brush to paint an area with the appropriate value (black or white).

Using these tools and strategies few contours will elude your definition. You’ll be able to define very complex contours efficiently and precisely.

Read more about Selections & Masks.
Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.