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Photoshop Tutorials For Beginners | Lesson 8: Photoshop Selection Techniques

Having looked at masking in our previous tutorial, we're now ready to explore Photoshop selection techniques. There are lots of selection tools available in Photoshop, and it's often worth using them in combination to get the best results.

Most edits we make in Photoshop are dependent on accurate selections. So it's a really important area, but it's also good to know how to make quick selections and not spend any longer than we need to on them. Let's get started...


Introducing Photoshop selection tools

The first stage in making any selection in Photoshop involves using one of the tools. These are really useful, but, in themselves, tend not to be hugely precise (unless you've got all day to work really carefully!). I will run you through the main options:

Rectangular / Elliptical / Single Row / Single Column Marquee Tools:

The second option down on the toolbar is the Rectangular Marquee tool. Click and hold on it to reveal the sub-menu with each of the above options. All of these tools enable you to drag out a selection of a pre-set shape.

The Rectangular and Elliptical tools are self-explanatory. The Single Row/Column tools create either vertical/horizontal selection (the full height/width of the image) that is just 1 pixel wide. This is really useful for trimming images, or indeed other selections.

Lassoo /Polygonal Lassoo / Magnetic Lassoo Tools:

The lassoo tool is the default option and the others appear in its sub-menu. It is completely manual selection tool that allows you to draw a line around an object to select it.

The Polygonal Lassoo tool allows you to select shapes by stringing together a series of straight lines, so it is more stable, but offers less precise control around curves.The Magnetic Lassoo tool is a cool option that automatically clings to edges in images as you trace around them (it's best used where the edges are very clear, otherwise it tends to go wrong).

Quick Selection and Magic Wand tools:

The Magic Wand is the default, but I use Quick Selection a lot more. They both work in the same way, by automatically judging where edges are in an image, and filling the spaces in between.

The Quick Selection requires you to move the cursor over the area you wish to be selected, and it works out where the edges are. Meanwhile the Magic Wand tool only requires you to click once somewhere inside the intended selection area, and Photoshop attempts to automatically select the whole thing. Both tools require objects with very clear edges to work well.


Making a Quick Selection

Let's say we have a portrait photo and would like to make the eyes brighter. We could do so just using masking, but it's a good example to illustrate selections. So open the image and choose the Quick Selection tool. The whole idea of this stage is that it's quick, if not very accurate. Sometimes I will use the lassoo tool here.

Create a selection around the eyes. If you go wrong, simply hold down alt and select the area where you went over the edges to remove it from the selection. The result should be a basic selection of the eye area.


Refining selections in Quick Mask Mode

Now we need to refine our selection to make it more accurate, before we apply the adjustments. So, select Quick Mask Mode, which is the very bottom icon on the toolbar. A pink overlay will appear, covering all but your selected area.

This is basically a mask, so the rule that black hides and white shows applies. Select the brush tool and choose black as your foreground colour. Paint over any areas of your selection where you went over the lines. You can also paint in white any areas that you missed. This should give you a much more accurate selection.

Click the Quick Mask Tool again to return to Standard Mode. We now have a really good selection.


Refining selections in the mask panel

Now, we want to increase the brightness and contrast in the eyes, so open a new Curves adjustment layer. The selection will automatically be part of the mask for this layer.

Before we go ahead and apply the adjustment, let's make the selection even better. Click on the Masks panel, with the layer mask of the Curves layer selected, and choose Mask Edge.

Select an option from the View drop-down menu. These options relate to the colour of the area outside your selection. It's personal preference, but I find a black background gives me the clearest view of the selection.

Now use the Shift Edge slider to reduce any remaining faults around the edge of the selection (move it to the left). Next, tick the Decontaminate Colors box at the bottom, and use the slider to refine the edge further still.

So, we now have a really precise selection and can apply whatever changes we wish. Increase the brightness and contrast in the Curves layer.

If you overdo it, just use the opacity slider, or paint white back into areas of the mask where you don't want the adjustment to show.



Using the same method for other things

The above selection process can really be applied for anything you want to do that requires an accurate selection, not just with adjustment layers.

Say you have a picture and would like to replace the background:

Just start with a tool like the Quick Selection Tool to outline the part of the photo you want to keep, then use Quick Mask to refine it with the brush.

Add a mask to the layer and drag your replacement background image on top of it as a new layer. Now move the replacement background below the masked layer in the layers panel. Finally, reposition the background image until it looks right.

Alternatively, you could use it for blending 2 photos together. Open the 2 images and select the part of one that you want to be replaced with the other image (using Quick Select and Quick Mask), the sky in this case. Then add a layer mask and drag your other image on to the masked image. Move the second image below the masked image. Done.



So that brings to end lesson 8 on Photoshop selection techniques and tools. I hope you now realize that there are lots of different ways for selecting, but the basic process is to start quick/simple and to refine it down. I hope this was helpful. If you need a re-cap on masking, visit my previous lesson: Using Photoshop Masks For Non-Destructive Edits

For a beginner-friendly book with step-by-step Photoshop tutorials, I recommend "Photo Nuts and Post" by Neil Creek.

Photoshop Tutorials For Beginners

Lesson 1: Getting Started In Photoshop

Lesson 2: Introducing Photoshop Layers

Lesson 3: Organizing Photos In Adobe Bridge

Lesson 4: How To Read A Histogram In Photoshop

Lesson 5: Photoshop Blending Modes and Techniques

Lesson 6: Having Fun With Adjustment Layers

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