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Adobe Photoshop CC 2017: Select and Mask technique tutorial

12.16.2016

Photographers with the Creative Cloud subscription for Adobe Photoshop anticipate, and sometimes dread, the big new-name version releases that Adobe engineers have prepared. With the Photoshop CC 2017 release, both camps seem to have found something to discuss.

Only two additions in the new release are truly important for photographers familiar with Photoshop. And one of these, Select and Mask, discussed in detail in the tutorial below, has become the subject of considerable controversy. (Don’t worry, I have a solution for you.) The other addition, which can be quite useful, is the ability to adjust each eye independently when using Liquify > Face-Aware Liquify > Eyes. Other changes in the 2017 release, such as the new search panel (cmd/ctrl+F), the design and Adobe Stock templates, support for SVG Open Type fonts, and new Creative Cloud Libraries capabilities seem more aimed for new users and designers.

The major new feature, Select and Mask, is introduced as the replacement for the Refine Edge panel. Select and Mask is designed to provide “the same functionality as Refine Edge in a streamlined way,” according to Adobe. With each new tool or set of tools that Adobe introduces, particularly if we lose a tool with which we are familiar, there are bound to be issues. So let’s take a look at how we should be using Select and Mask before forming any conclusions.

While there are a number of ways to open Select and Mask, whenever a selection tool is selected, the Select and Mask button is available in the toolbar.
© STAN SHOLIK
While there are a number of ways to open Select and Mask, whenever a selection tool is selected, the Select and Mask button is available in the toolbar.

 

There are a number of ways to open the Select and Mask taskspace: choose Select > Select and Mask…; select any selection tool and click the Select and Mask… button in the Options bar; if there is a layer mask on the layer, click Select and Mask… in the Properties panel of the layer mask; or, press cmd+opt+R (Mac) or ctrl+alt+R (Windows).  

Within the Select and Mask taskspace there are several familiar Photoshop selection tools available: Quick Selection (the topmost icon) as well as the Lasso and Polygonal Lasso tools nested together in the fourth icon down. One of the advantages of the Select and Mask taskspace is having these tools readily available together. Use the appropriate selection tool to make a selection. I used the Quick Selection to roughly outline the dogs. Pressing the opt/alt key with Quick Selection active switches from adding to the selection to subtracting from the selection. 

The Quick Selection tool in the Select and Mask toolspace is the easiest selection tool to use for most selections, but the Lasso and Polygonal Lasso tools are also available.
© STAN SHOLIK
The Quick Selection tool in the Select and Mask toolspace is the easiest selection tool to use for most selections, but the Lasso and Polygonal Lasso tools are also available.

 

When you’ve made a rough selection, it’s time to go to the Properties panel to adjust the mask. Use one of the view modes to see the result of the rough mask and adjust the mask opacity with the Opacity slider. You can press the X key to disable all of the view modes and see the original image. 

Select an appropriate view mode from the drop down list.
© STAN SHOLIK
Select an appropriate view mode from the drop down list.

 

Adjust the opacity of the view mode to your liking.
© STAN SHOLIK
Adjust the opacity of the view mode to your liking.

 

Now use the Radius slider in the Edge Detection subpanel to choose a selection border radius to use for the Refine Edge brush, the second icon down in the Tool panel. A small radius is best for sharp edges, like the edge of clothing, and a wider radius for soft edges, like hair. If your image has both sharp and soft edges, select Smart Radius, and Select and Mask will use the appropriate setting for each. Using the Refine Edge brush to brush around the edges. I used a radius of 30 around the dogs with Smart Edges off. Use the J key or click Show Edge to see the refined edge. 

By clicking the Show Edge checkbox you can see the edge you have created.
© STAN SHOLIK
By clicking the Show Edge checkbox you can see the edge you have created.

 

When you've completed brushing the edges, select a different view mode and zoom into the image using the Zoom tool or Zoom In shortcut (cmd/ctrl++). I put the dogs on white and found some areas that needed some touchup. The Brush tool, the third icon down in the toolbar, is the tool to use. It acts the same way as brushing black or white onto a layer mask. You can navigate quickly around the window by pressing the H + left mouse button to activate Birds Eye View.

Using the Brush tool in Select and Mask you clean up any other problems you see when you place the image on another background, zoom in, and navigate around.
© STAN SHOLIK
Using the Brush tool in Select and Mask you clean up any other problems you see when you place the image on another background, zoom in, and navigate around.

 

Once your mask edge is looking good, it’s time to make refinements to the edge. The Global Refinements subpanel includes sliders for smoothing, feathering, contrast, and shifting the edge in or out. I used a low setting for all of these in hopes of preserving as much of the dogs’ fur as possible.  

Finally, use the Output Settings subpanel as you did in Refine Edge. The Decontaminate Colors checkbox replaces any color fringing with the color of fully selected nearby pixels. And then decide how you want the final image output. I almost always use New Layer with Layer Mask. Click the OK button, and you’re done.

Back in Photoshop, add a new layer filled with color, or composite the image into your background. As with any masking in Photoshop, you're likely to need to perform some additional work on the layer mask to clean things up a bit. 

Back in Photoshop, add a background layer and paint onto the layer mask as you normally would if you see any additional things you missed.
© STAN SHOLIK
Back in Photoshop, add a background layer and paint onto the layer mask as you normally would if you see any additional things you missed.

 

As you can see from the before and after, Select and Mask does a reasonable job of masking. Is it as good as the Refine Edge tool that it replaces? I have included the same image masked using Refine Edge for you to judge for yourself.

The original image capture before masking
© STAN SHOLIK
The original image capture before masking

 

The end result using Refine Edge
© STAN SHOLIK
The end result using Refine Edge

 

The end result using Select and Mask
© STAN SHOLIK
The end result using Select and Mask

 

Here’s one final trick. Frustrated with Select and Mask and sure that Refine Edge would have done a better job? Then make your initial selection in Photoshop and click the layer mask icon to change the selection to a layer mask. Then go to the Select menu. Hold down the Shift key, scroll down the menu and click on Select and Mask. The Refine Edge window opens. There’s no guarantee on how long this undocumented technique will be included in Photoshop, but hopefully long enough for the Adobe engineers to improve Select and Mask to clean up some shortcomings. 

Stan Sholik is a commercial and advertising photographer in Santa Ana, California. His latest book, “Shoot Macro” (Amherst Media), is now available.

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