Fear of Photoshop - Layers and Selections

Jan 18, 2019 ~ Layers. Layers. Layers. Everyone has anxiety about using layers in Photoshop. It is a huge subject and confusing because there are so many types of layers and ways to use them. From Photoshop Layer Basics

Photoshop layers are like sheets of stacked acetate. You can see through transparent areas of a layer to the layers below. You move a layer to position the content on the layer, like sliding a sheet of acetate in a stack. You can also change the opacity of a layer to make content partially transparent.

Layers are multi-purposed and probably the heart of Photoshop. I remember when I first started I would save my work each time I added a layer because I was so scared I was going to mess something up. Before we get too deep in the weeds with layers let’s just look at the panel and some of the commands. You know how to turn your Layers panel on, right? Open an image first. From the menu bar choose Window > Layer. Just make sure there is a check mark beside Layer. I stack my Layer panel with the History panel and keep both open when I am working. The History panel is very valuable and helps you keep your place with complex actions. You know you can highlight an action on the History panel and click the trash can at the very bottom right and it deletes that action and everything you did after that point? Like a giant Un-do feature.

OK. Back to the Layer panel. When you first open a photo in Photoshop the Layer panel looks like the image below. It shows your image as Background with a little lock on the right and an eyeball on the left. Everything else is grayed out.

Layer panel is active, the History panel is behind

Layer panel is active, the History panel is behind

You can’t do anything because you have only ONE layer and it is called Background and it is locked. Double-click on the lock to unlock it. I think the default is locked so you don’t accidentally lose it.

The eyeball makes the layer visible or not.

I don’t even know what some of those other things are for. But I do know a few a few things you can do with birds. A lot of you said you wanted to learn layers so you could “change the background”. Like I said last week, there are about TEN ways to do anything in Photoshop.

This is ONE way. I am writing it up using mostly menu commands; there are keyboard short-cuts for all of these actions. And there are other ways to access the features which you can look up after you get the process down. And of course other ways to change the background, but this one will work.

Flying Osprey on almost white boring background

Let’s say you have this nice Osprey flying by giving you the Stink Eye. But you don’t like the milky sky and would rather have some drama in the background. Not a bright blue-sky because this was taken on an overcast day and you want the change to be subtle and believable. Maybe some dramatic clouds? Find an example with a blank background for this tutorial. If there are wires or poles in the image, you learned how to get those out in last week’s introductory post Overcoming the Fear of Photoshop.

Open your preferred image in Photoshop.

From the menu bar Select > Subject. The spiny thing spins, and it does its $9.99 a month Majik. I am telling you, this alone is worth the money…

Click to embiggen and look at the marching ants around your selection

Can you see all the marching ants around the bird? Photoshop has selected the bird for you. And if you zoom in, you can see it did a pretty good job. You are going to have to clean up around the edges and a few other places where it missed. Since this is a practically blank background already, here is a fast way to try.

After Select > Similar… see how it got in between the feathers?

From the menu bar Select > Inverse. Now, our selection is the blank background instead of the bird. Look carefully and you will see the marching ants around the top and bottom edges of the image. Now, back at the menu bar Select > Similar. Photoshop will find all the white spaces that are “similar” to the selected background… and that means the tiny little spots between the feathers. I just learned that this morning from you-know-who and it can save you a LOT of time and effort.

Now, switch it back (Select > Inverse) and verify you have the bird selected by checking the top and bottom edges have NO marching ants. I am giving you these double-check tips because I learned the hard way.

Then Zoom in close to see what you need to refine for your selection.

Zoomed in shows the Select > Similar also got some similar toned areas ON the bird. We have to fix that.

OK. Our bird is selected; we need to clean it up. This part is more mental and takes a bit of practice.

The Quick Selection tool is the 4th icon down the tool bar, just above the Crop tool. Got it? When you select the tool, the Options bar will look like this:

selection options.JPG

In fact, the first part of the Options bar looks similar for any selection tool you choose: Lasso, Polygon Lasso, Magnetic Lasso or Quick Selection, Magic Wand because they all can be used to add and subtract from a selection. You can read about all the Selection tools here.

New, Add, Subtract, Brush Size

New, Add, Subtract, Brush Size

We are going to concentrate on this first part of the Options bar because it is basic to our task.

The first one is New Selection, then Add to Selection, Subtract from Selection and Brush size. Click Add and your cursor will change to the outline of a round brush with a plus sign. Click Subtract and you see a minus sign next to the brush. You can change the brush size by clicking the tiny arrow and using the slider, or just use the square brackets [ ] on your keyboard to increase and decrease the brush size.

The light areas need to be ADDED to the selection with Add selection option

The light areas need to be ADDED to the selection with Add selection option

We are going to use the Quick Selection tool to paint out the missed selections INSIDE the outline of our bird (ADDING to the selection) and remove unwanted background from our bird (SUBTRACTING from the selection).

Told you it was more mental. Think about that for a bit.

Since you will be working with both the Add and Subtract options, first one, then the other, you have to concentrate. It is easy to get mixed up. Start with the Add selection option to ADD the outlined light areas below his eye as shown in the image to the left. Hold down the mouse and … paint them away. Then, just kinda … nudge the brush out toward the top of the bird’s head to include the part missed by the automatic process.

Light areas between his talons need to be SUBTRACTED from the selection with Subtract selection option

Light areas between his talons need to be SUBTRACTED from the selection with Subtract selection option

On this example at the right of this text, you will need to remove some of the background from the selection around his talons. Instead of the Quick Selection tool, try the Polygon Lasso tool for this. It makes straight lines. Just make sure you are on the Subtract option and click click click on those inside parts, closing the loop. Or double-click to end the selection. If you remove too much, then change to Add and add it back in.

Zoom in on all the parts to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is exactly why Bill and I got graphic tablets, it is so much easier to do these selections with a pen than the mouse. It feels more natural to draw around a selection than click with a mouse.

The next step might be useful if your bird and the background is high contrast. You can refine the edge of your selection several ways. One way is to choose from the menu Select > Modify > Feather and enter a value of 2 pixels. It will graduate the colors along the edge instead of a harsh sharp line.

OK. All selected? Best you can do? Then from the menu bar Edit > Cut. The selection is going to disappear. Then choose Edit > Paste. The pasting action creates a new layer.

Bird pasted on as a new layer. I accidentally moved my mouse so it is crooked and doesn’t fit right back in the hole but that is not a problem - In fact it illustrates the two layers very well!

Click on the Eyeballs to see what is on each layer in the Layer panel. Just to be sure, you know, but Layer 0 has the old background and Layer 1 is your bird on a transparent background. Which you can put on anything.

Go ahead and delete Layer 0. Click on it to make it active and right-click and choose Delete Layer.

After you delete the old background, you can save this layer for later. From the menu bar File > Save as and choose .psd as the format. It will stay open in Photoshop after you save it.

Tip. You can save the actual selection (marching ants) you made by choosing from the menu bar Select > Save Selection. Give it a name you can recognize and It will save it in a Channel. You can retrieve the selection for the image at a later date by Select > Load Selection and choose the correct one.

Old dramatic sky image I saved for a special occasion

Now he is all cleaned up and ready. I have a folder I call Working Assets. And I stick things in there that might be useful… like backgrounds and textures. So, find a background that might work. Like some clouds. It does not have to be the same size or even same resolution as the original but shouldn’t be smaller.

So, I found this HDR image that might have been taken around Surfside. It looks good but a bit blue for the Osprey so… I am going to open it in ACR and fiddle with the sliders a bit. Warm it up and make it lighter. You just learn by experimenting; try the Temperature slider or even White Balance. Once you get used to doing things with ACR, you will understand all those YouTube videos.

Now. This is what we are going to do. Open your bird with the transparent background in Photoshop AND open the dramatic sky image. Until you get the hang of this, just have those two images open, nothing else. You will see one of them, the other will be on a tab behind it.

From the menu bar select Window > Arrange > Two up vertical. It will look like this:

Dramatic sky image and Osprey on transparent background side-by-side on different tabs. Don’t freak out if the bird is on the left instead of the right, it will be OK

Make sure you select the Move tool. It is the very first one on the Tool bar. Click in the middle of the bird image (to make it active), hold down on the left mouse button and drag the bird over on top of the sky image.

Bird on its own layer on top of dramatic sky; original bird image unaltered. Look at the percentages for each image, dramatic sky is a much bigger image than the bird.

You essentially moved a copy of the bird over onto the new background. The one on the transparent background is saved and available to use again. If you saved it earlier, you can close it now. But do remember save all your hard work!

Renamed Layer 1 to Bird Layer

Renamed Layer 1 to Bird Layer

Look at your Layer panel and you should have two layers, the Background and Layer 1. Tip: Did you know you can rename your layers? We are only working with two layers here but sometimes things can get complicated. Just use the menu Layer > Rename Layer and type in a new name in the Layer panel. Or double-click the layer name and type in another.

Since the bird is on a transparent layer you can move him all around. Highlight the Bird layer in your Layer panel, make sure you select the Move tool (it is the funny cross at the top of the Tool bar) and move him anywhere on the Background layer.

You can even save it right now as a .psd with two layers and play around with it at a different time. Maybe even add another bird.. or an airplane ….or a blimp or hot air balloon!

Checking the actual size of the background layer . Just cancel the dialog when you are done.

That could be the end of it but… remember when I told you above the two images did not have to be the same size? The background in this example is YUGE… Highlight the Background layer in your Layer panel and from the menu bar choose Image > Image Size to see the actual pixel size. You can do this with any layer or image; pixels or inches or other units are available.

We have plenty of room to crop out the marsh and just have the Osprey against the clouds.

Osprey against the dramatic sky

Which is what I did. After you crop the image and are happy with the position of the bird, don’t forget to flatten the two layers. Layer > Flatten Image from the menu bar. Changing the background when you have mostly sky is easy to do. Really, after you have made selections a few times you will get the hang of it.

Image > Image Size is used to change sizes, too. Enter ONE new value and make sure the lock is active keep the reduction relative. Choose Bicubic Sharper (Reduction) to reduce the size

And then to save for posting on Facebook you can use Image > Image Size at 1000 pixels on the long side. Then from the menu bar Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. The defaults at 50% are fine. You want sharpening to be your very last step before saving as a jpg. I can’t emphasize that enough. Sharpen ONE time before saving. And be aware some presets you buy can have hidden sharpening.

Last, save your finished work as a jpg and share it on Facebook. Now… you can tell everyone you replaced the background if you want… or not. Up to you.

Are you learning anything? Can you follow my instructions? I am writing these for beginners that need a lot of hand-holding and reassurance, but experienced users might pick up a trick or two. Next time, we will build on these skills and change out a messy background full of sticks and weird, blotchy lighting. So, what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

South to Surfside

South to Surfside

Ordinary Birds at the Park

Ordinary Birds at the Park