Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

selectionTut
Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks


This is the first tutorial I am making exclusively for dmonzon.com. I hope you enjoy it and learn something new.

One of the most popular and most powerful features of Photoshop is the ability to make a selection of an object in an image, no matter how complex it is. You can use this feature to change its background, move it around, make a photo manipulation, or whatever comes to mind.

Despite being extremely popular, this feature is seldom used properly, and there are few tutorials on how to do it right.

Let me start by saying what no other tutorial tells you. To get professional results, you first need a great photograph. The better the photograph, the better the results you will get.

You need a photograph with a background that is as plain as possible. When I say plain, I mean flat colored, at least around the subject. You also want the background to have contrast with respect to the subject you intend to separate. If possible, take the photograph with this technique in mind.

There are tools and plugins that say they do this automatically. I have tried some of them, but I have never gotten the control and result I get with this method I am about to explain.

Tutorial Details

  • Program: Adobe Photoshop
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Estimated Completion Time: 30 minutes

Download Source File
Final Resulting Image

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 1
In this case, we are going to separate the Barbie’s head from it’s background, and place it on another background. First, open the image “barbie.jpg” provided in this tutorial.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 2
Open the Channels Window from the top menu (Window/ Channels). Select the channel that has the most contrast with the subject you want to separate. In our case, that would be the Red one. Always keep in mind that in masks, what is white is what remains, while what is black is what is erased, and that greys are transparent transitional pixels. In this instance, we are going to use grey pixels along the edge of the object to create a nice realistic transition between the object and the background.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 3
Drag the Red Channel to the “Create new channel” button at the bottom of the Channels Window.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 4
The objective here is to make a channel with the area that we want to select completely on white, and the remainder of the image on black. To do this, we have to define the silhouette of Barbie’s head, hair and shoulders.

Select the burn tool (O) in the Tools Window (Windows/Tools). Select “Shadows” in the options.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 5
Now, with the burn tool, start darkening the outer edge of the silhouette until it is black, but do not burn the edge until it is pixelated. Lower the Exposure of the tool if you see that it is darkening too much, and reduce the Size of the brush in narrow spaces.

This task becomes much easier if you use a Wacom tablet.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 6
Now we will do exactly the opposite along the inner edges of the silhouette.

Select the Dodge tool (Use Shift + O to switch between the Dodge, the Sponge and the Burn tools). Make sure that “Highlights” is selected in the options.

Start lightening the inner edge of the silhouette until it is completely white. Remember not to pixelate the edge. Lower the Exposure of the tool if you see that it is dodging too much and the Size of the brush in narrow spaces.

If there are out of focus areas, try to respect this; don’t sharpen the edges too much in those areas.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 7
As you can see, we could not lighten the necklace because it is too dark.

So, what we did was find the channel in which the necklace has most contrast with the background. In this case, it is the Green Channel.

Duplicate the Green Channel. In the Green Channel the necklace has contrast with the background, but it is darker than the background. That does not matter because we will fix that by inverting the channel later .

Darken the necklace using the Burn tool, and lighten the background using the Dodge tool.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 8
With the Polygonal Lasso tool, select all around the necklace making sure that you select over the white area.

Then press Ctrl/command + Shft+ I to invert the selection.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 9
Now make your foreground color White in the Tools Window. Press Shift + F5 to bring up the Fill Window. Make sure that the Foreground color is selected and click OK.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 10
Press Ctrl / Command + D to deselect all.

Press Ctrl + I to invert the image and you should end up with a Green Copy Channel looking like what you see in the following image.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 11
Go back to your Red copy channel and select it.

With the Polygonal Lasso tool make a selection of the Barbie like in the following image.

Press Shift + F5 to bring up the Fill window and fill it with white.

Press Ctrl / Command + D to deselect all.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 12
Now let’s select the background with the Polygonal Lasso tool.

Press Shift + F5 to bring up the Fill Window and fill it with black.

Press Ctrl / Command + D to deselect all.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 13
With the Red copy channel selected, press Crtl/Command + click on the Green copy channel thumbnail to make a selection out of it.

Press Shift + F5 to bring up the Fill Window and fill it with white.

Press Ctrl / Command + D to deselect all.

Now we have a channel with the Barbie silhouette in white and the background in black. That’s what we need to separate the Barbie from it’s background.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 14
If the Layers Window is not tabbed with the Channels Window, go and open it (Windows/Layers).

Drag your Background layer to the “Create new Layer” button at the bottom on the Layers Window to duplicate it.

On the Channels window, press Ctrl / command + Click over the Red copy thumbnail channel to make a selection out of it.

Go back to your Layers Window and, with the Background copy layer selected, click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers Window.

Hide the Background layer, and you will see how the Barbie separated from its background.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 15
As you can see, we have a lot of green in Barbie’s hair. That’s because we had the green background too near the Barbie, and it got reflected on the hair.

Instead of taking the picture again with the background further from the doll and having to start the steps in the tutorial all over again, I will show you some tricks to fix this, and even make it look more realistic.

First, we need to paste in the image we want to use as background. I selected an out of focus random night image.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 16
Notice that the hairs at the back of Barbie’s head are a little bit too sharp.

Select the Blur tool, enter a strength of 20% and blur the mask of the Background Copy Layer a little.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 17
With the Background copy layer selected click on the “Create new fill and adjustment layer ” button at the bottom of the Layers Window, and select Hue/Saturation.…

Right click the Hue/Saturation 1 adjustment layer and click on “Create Clipping Mask.”

Double click the Icon of the Hue/Saturation 1 adjustment layer to bring up the Adjustments Window, and enter the values shown in the following image.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 18
Select the mask of the Hue/Saturation 1 adjustment layer, and press Ctrl / Command + I to invert it.

Now, paint the mask over the green part of the hair white to fix the color.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Step 19
Click on the “Create new fill and adjustment layer ” button at the bottom of the Layers Window, and select Photo Filter.

Right click the Photo Filter Adjustment Layer and click on “Create Clipping Mask.”

Enter the values of the following image and we are done.

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

Additional effects
You can now flatten all the layers and add an effect. In this case, I added a Glamour Glow effect that I won’t cover in this tutorial, but if you are interested, download the psd to see how I did it.

I really hope you enjoyed the tutorial and learned something new.

Download Source File

Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

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Photoshop Complex Selection Tricks

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14 Comments

Many thanks for your comments.

Leave a comment
  1. Wow! That was amazing! That’s what I call, picture perfect! :D

  2. This is a great tutorial! Glad you said “the better the photo, the better the results” Can’t stress that enough when doing photo editing of any kind! Thanks for this!

  3. Your Fan Man

    Hi,

    Thank You soooooooooooooooo much! We ask great artists to share the pro techniques and they never completely do. But you did! And I am really thankful to you for being so generous.

    Your fan! :)

  4. This is soooo cool. I’m bookmarking it right now. @rlharris9337.

  5. This is soooo cool. I’m bookmarking it right now.

  6. mat

    great tutorial dude, this is very helpfull :)

  7. Pablo

    Diego I guess you speak spanish.
    Gracias por compartir tus conocimientos, una muy buena técnica.
    (Nice technique and thanks for share your knowledge)

    Saludos

  8. Hi and thanks for the tut!

    …specially Sepia (56) Filter, is better than Warming Filter 85.
    Final Add an adjusment Brightness (-61) /Contrast (49) Layer for better results…

  9. Robbie

    Absolutely amazing. I have looked all over for a great tutorial on this technique and no one seems to go into such detail as you on this technique. Great work and thanks!

  10. Vladimir

    Bravo ! You are great man !

  11. Jitmett

    nice tutorial! really thanks. :D

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