On Selections

When you need to make a selection, knowing which of Photoshop's many selection tools is the best one to use for that particular task can make all the difference. I'm often asked the difference between the magic wand tool and the color range command. This tutorial will show you the difference between them and when it's best to use each. To follow along on this lesson you can download the soldier and background images from the zip file located here. I will also show how to remove the stray pixels that sometimes remain on the edges of a composited selection and how to soften the edges to make them look more realistic.

Magic Wand Tool

Faster for selecting large consistent areas.
Does not select partial pixels.

Open both the soldier.psd and the background.psd images.

In the soldier image, use the magic wand to select the neutral background with the tool's tolerance set to 32.

Shift - Click the magic wand to add areas that were missed in the original selection. Don't forget the areas between the legs and between the scabbard and the body.

Invert your selection by chosing Select / Invert from the menu bar.

Cut and paste the selection into the background image by using the move tool. Move the cursor inside your selection. The cursor will change to scissors; click and drag the selection onto the background image.

You can click and drag the image around to place it where you would like it to be. Notice that the image of the soldier is on its own layer, in this case layer 2.

soldier 1soldier with background

Defringe Edges

Notice along the edges of the soldier you may see a fringe of light pixels in areas where the new background image is significantly different in color from the original background. This fringe is a common occurence in compositing and usually can be easily removed.

Make sure that the layer that contains the composited figure is active (layer 2 in this example) and that no selection is active.

Go to the pulldown menu and choose Layer/ Matting/ Defringe.

When prompted, choose a width of 1 pixel. In higher resolution images a larger number may be necessary.

Click OK and the fringe should disappear. If not, undo, and repeat with a wider defringe setting.



Softening Edges

On the layers palette, Ctrl - Click (Command Click on Mac) on the layer 2 thumbnail image.This will make an active selection of the composite image, in this case the soldier. You will see the dotted line around the soldier in the main viewing window.

Go to path palette. From palette options triangle (top right corner) select 'Make working path'. When prompted, choose a tolerance of 0.5

Select the blur tool, set to a low strength (about25%) with a brush size that is large enough (~35) to straddle the path you've created.

Click the 'Stroke path with brush' icon (2nd one from the left on bottom of the paths palette)

Deselect path by clicking once in the paths palette outside the active path

Your image should look more realistic against its new background.

blurring edges

Color Range

Better for changing color in areas of fine detail.
Does partially select pixels.

Return to the original Soldier.psd image.

Go to the top menubar and choose Select and then Color Range. A dialog box will appear. Leave the select box set at 'sampled colors'.

Move the cursor over your image. It will change to an eyedropper. Click anywhere on the red coat hanging over the soldier's left shoulder.You are creating a sample point. Notice the small grayscale image in the dialog box. The color you sampled with the eyedropper will appear white in the grayscale image. This indicated the selected area of your main image. Notice that some areas of the image are not pure white but shades of gray. These areas are partially selected pixels and any operation you perform on the selection will be reproduced here to a proportional amount.

In the dialog box change the fuzziness setting slider to around 160. This setting mimics the tolerance setting of the magic wand tool. Notice how more of the grayscale image is selected the higher the fuzziness number setting.

Click OK

In the layers palette create a hue-saturation adjustment layer by clicking on the fourth icon at the bottom of the palette (black-white circle) and choosing hue - saturation.

In the resulting dialog box move hue slider to change color. Notice how the color affects only the selected area and only to the degree proportional to the setting made by the color range fuzziness slider.

color range

hue change

© 2007 George Garbeck