Selections Part I: Make better selections with the Quick Selection tool
Making selections and extractions in Photoshop used to be an incredibly complex and potentially irksome experience
Making selections and extractions in Photoshop used to be an incredibly complex and potentially irksome experience. Depending on the subject that required selecting, the process could either be quick and simple or extremely time consuming and with a variable success rate. When selecting portraits for example, when it came to making selections of hair, a process of using the Channels command to locate and exploit contrasts of colour and tone from which to make a selection, were necessary. This could be very effective, but it was the only viable way to produce consistent results.
With the release of Photoshop CS5 came the quick selection tool – a game-changing, brush-based tool that allows rapid selections of complex edges. The most powerful part of the tool is the paired Refine Edge dialogue, which offers extensive options for customising selections to produce the most effective extraction.
With a portrait shot such as this, there is a classic challenge of selecting the finely detailed hair. If we want to change the background it will be necessary to accurately select each individual hair so that the new background can show through between them. Here is a quick overview of the process.
Quick Selection Tool (W)
Refine Edge Dialogue
Set your brush size
Open your image in photoshop and bring up the Quick Selection Tool from the tool palette or by hitting W on your keyboard. Then you can choose a brush size for the tool that is appropriate for the subject you want to select. For now you don’t have to worry about precise selections, simply choose a size that will allow rapid coverage of the subject.
Make a quick selection
With the tool, quickly and roughly brush over your subject to select their outline. We will refine and customise the areas that need to be included in the final selection later
Refine the selection
While the outer edge of the subject has been fairly successfully selected, we need to remove the areas of the background that fall within the subject’s outline – the spaces between her arms and legs. To do this, click on the Subtract from Selection tool in the upper tool bar or hold down the alt key to invert the active selection tool and brush over those areas. This will move the selection to the inner most edges of the arms and legs, allowing the new background to show through.
Bring up Refine Edge
Once you’re happy with the initial selection, head up to the top tool bar and click on Refine Edge to bring up additional tools for customising the selection boundary.
Refine edge tools
With this dialogue it is best to avoid using most of the sliders for complex selections such as hair. Here we will only use the upper panels.
Refine edge brush
Check the Smart Radius box and drag the slider to the right to apply the first round of Refine Edge. The more complex the selection the higher the Radius that is required. For the hair here 12.5 pixels was enough
Before completing the next step, try inverting your selection. Click OK in Refine Edge and then go Select > Inverse. Then re-enter the Refine Edge Dialogue and click on the Refine Radius Tool (E). Then choose a brush size and begin brushing over the complex areas of your subject – in this case the hair. You’ll see the selected areas turn white as you release the mouse button or pen pressure (when using a Graphics Tablet) which acts as a live guide.
You can optionally change the overlay that indicates your current selection. By visiting the View Mode Panel it is possible to choose from several overlays, each of which may be more visible on different images
When you are happy with your refined selection, head to the Output panel at the bottom of Refine Edge and check Decontaminate Colors. This may only be necessary when your subject has coloured light spilling onto them from the source background and it will remove this for a more natural blend with a new background. Then you can choose how you want to output your selection – in this case we required a New Layer, so this option was chosen from the menu.
Add a new background
Add a new Fill Layer between the background layer and the extracted subject layer. The colour of the Fill Layer will show through between the arms and through the extracted hair
Add a layer style
A Gradient Overlay layer style was used in the Radial mode to add some lighting effect behind the subject. A quick contrast adjustment was also made to the subject – since she is on her own layer this did not affect the background