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  • Glossary

    Selections, Selections, Selections! (Part 2)

    So you're thirsty for more, eh! Okay, there are a few more advance ways to make selections. The first is probably the most powerful way to select parts of an image and I probably use this method more than any other. It will give you absolute perfect control when it comes to selecting most natural objects. The option I am speaking about is quick mask mode - and you're gonna love it baby!

    Lets take our rubber ducky picture once more since its a nice crisp picture to work with. Then make any kind of selection you like in the middle of it, I've used the lasso tool to quickly draw a circle like this:

    Now we have to go into quick mask mode! To do that we use the mask on and mask off buttons here:

    When we click the mask on button the following picture will appear:

    What has happened? Photoshop has turned your normal selection into a kind of red masking paper. Because of our original selection this masking paper has a circular whole cut out of it. If you would like to go back to our first selection just hit the mask off button again. Feel free to switch between the two as you see fit.

    So what's so special about mask mode? While you are in mask mode you cannot actually paint on your picture (though it looks like you can). Instead, when you paint it will change the shape of the mask. Try it, use the brush tool to draw a line across the middle of the ducks head, like this:

    Now press the Mask Off button again and you will be presented with the following selection:

    Bingo! That's really all quick mask mode does! It allows you to paint the shape of your selections. Once you have painted the shape you need, you can just come out of quick mask mode and use that selection as if you had drawn them with the lasso tool!

    By default photoshop only shows black and white as the colours to be used in quick mask mode. This is because you are NOT painting over your picture. You are merely painting the shape of your new mask. Its a little bit like using that latex masking fluid artists use; they paint it on their work to mask out certain areas and then peel it off after.

    To paint more red masking over your painting choose black. To rub out the red mask choose white. To quickly switch quickly between white and black just press the switch colours icon as shown in the picture below:

    TIP: In quick mask mode Photoshop will usually show the masking paper as red by default. But if you double-click on the Mask On button it will ask what colour you'd like to have it and also how transparent you'd like the paper. This is useful if you were editing something red like a rose because it would be hard to see. I suggest you keep the masking paper transparent enough to see the picture easily because this makes positioning better.

    This Quick Mask mode is the most useful of all the masking modes became it lets you spend time literally drawing the perfect selection. You can change the size of your brushes and use all the shaping tools available in Photoshop. It really is the best and quickest way to select almost any complex object.



    The magic wand tool is yet another useful way of selecting areas of a picture, but why is it magic? Well, lets show how it works on our duck picture again. Choose the magic wand icon from the toolbox:

    Now without messing with any settings just click the wand in the middle of the ducks mouth. You will probably get an effect like this:

    The magic wand tool tries to select a single colour for you, but since most modern photos have millions of colours in them, and that even a single block of near pure colour (like the ducks beak) would contain hundreds of shades of red, the only way the magic wand can select this colour is to select a large groups of colours that are very similar to each other!

    If our aim was to select just the red beak of the duck with one click we would have failed. So what do we do? Well, look up to the options tool bar and you will notice that the magic wand tool has a special option called Tolerance.

    Increasing the tolerance number will make the magic wand less picky. In other words with a high tolerance it will select colours that are less similar than each other. If you lower the tolerance then it will only choose colours that are more similar to each other. If we want to choose the whole of the ducks beak then we must turn the tolerance up a bit. In this case I have turned it up to 60.

    Notice that almost all of the ducks beak has been selected except the brightest white highlights. Using a lower number would no doubt leave the less bright highlights alone too.

    There is usually more than one way to do something like this. For example, you could try leaving the tolerance at its default level and select more than one part of the beak. To do this click in one place of the beak, then hold down the Shift key like we did to add selections in the previous article. Then click on another part of the beak that hasn't yet been selected. Most of the time this method works very well.

    Yet another method that is almost the same is to use the Grow command. Go to: Select > Grow. This command automatically looks for similar colours near to the selection you already have.


    Select Similar

    Before we leave this subject, this looks like the best place to tell you about the Select > Similar option. Let's say we had two or more ducks in our picture instead of one. Maybe we would like to select the beak of every duck at the same time. All we do is select one ducks beak with the magic wand tool and then choose Select > Similar. Photoshop will then select any colour that falls into the same range as the original ducks beak. In actual fact I have not found the select similar option all that useful, but I'm sure one day I will =o).


    More Magic Wand Tricks

    One last trick we can do with the magic wand is to take away from a selection we made. For example, lets say we wanted to grab just the middle yellow balloon and make copies of it.

    It would take quite some time to select the balloon with the lasso tool. It couldn't be captured with the magic wand tool alone because its multicolored. You couldn't easily select just the sky with the magic wand because of the other baloons in the way. If you could just select the sky you may be able to then choose Select > Inverse. This would work on our duck picture because it is alone on a white background!

    So what do we do? First we select the balloon with the normal rectangular marquee as shown in the above picture. Then we select the magic want tool and leave it at its default setting of 32 (you may need to change it on other pictures?).

    Hold down the Alt key on your keyboard and click the sky area inside the rectangular marquee box.

    Bingo! As you probably recall from my first selection article holding down the Alt key subtracts from a selection. In this case the magic wand tool subtracted the blue sky around the balloon Try it yourself, its a very useful method.

    Now if you wanted to copy and paste this balloon all over the place all you need do is go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste.


    Photoshop automatically pastes every new image in the exact same position you cut it from so you may not see it at first. So use the move tool (encircled below) to reposition the newly pasted image.

    Note: Photoshop automatically pastes every new image on a new layer. This means if you paste more than one you will need to select that layer to move it. This is not important for now but all this will be explained in my tutorial on layers.

    Still hungry for more? Then move onto my selections guide Part 3.



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