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Refining Selection Edges

  • Refine Edge lets you modify your selection by controlling the feather, softness, and/or the expansion or contraction of the selection edge.
  • The Edge Detection feature allows you to select very fine detail such as hair, or sky through the leaves and branches of a tree, and so on - an AMAZING feature!

Refining Selection Edges

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • Demonstration 1: Scenery 1:42
    • Recapping The Use of Feather
    • Refine Edge
  • Demonstration 2: Flower 10:00
    • Selection of The Flower
    • Preparing The Selection for Cutting Out an Image for Composition
  • Demonstration 3: Scenery 19:02
    • Selection: Grow and Similar
    • Edge Detection and Refine Radius Tool
  • Lesson Summary 29:52

Transcription: Refining Selection Edges

Hi everybody, Michael Brown with you here again.0000

Welcome back to's Adobe Photoshop CS6 course.0002

In this lesson, we're going to be talking more about modifying and perfecting selections and making them flawless.0007

In the last few lessons we've looked at the tools, how to make, add and subtract, modify, paint selections in the last lesson.0016

We looked at feather, how to adjust the softness and thickness of the edge.0024

In this lesson, we're going to go further into refining the edge of the selection.0029

First of all, we're going to do a little recap on the use of feather, we're going to go into the refine edge dialog box.0035

If you look at your Toolbar, and every one of the selection tools over here--it's grayed out right now because we don't--I'll just make an active selection, and now you see that the refine edge button is highlighted.0045

Also with the Lasso tools--there it is here...with the Magic Wand tool--there it is there, and with the Quick Selection tool, it's even there.0063

Now the Pen tool does not have it, but once you get a selection with any tool that does not have the easy access to the refine edge, you can always go to the Select menu and right above the Modify dropdown menu you will see refine edge there!0073

So as long as you have an active selection--doesn't matter what tool you're in--you can get to the refine edge dialog box through the Select menu.0092

OK, alright, so let's go and take a look at this shot that we did before and I want to do a little bit of recap and we'll move forward at the same time.0101

Remember we selected the sky in this particular shot, and we found that the Quick Selection tool did not necessarily do the best job because as it looked for the edges, you can see it right there, it dropped down because it was unable to detect that specific edge, and it dropped down to find a harder point of contrast and texture.0114

So we tried the Magic Wand tool, and remember you can adjust your tolerance--the wider the tolerance, the wider the range of color--if I run this up to like 65 and I click it's probably going to go crazy, look what happened.0139

It pulled all the way down past the mountains, almost down to the greenery.0157

If we drop back to about 35, it's still too much, but if we drop down around let's say 11, we don't get it all--there's the band of similar color to correspond to a tolerance of 11...0162

Then we hold our Shift key to get the plus sign or you can go directly to the add icon, click and expand it...I didn't add, I just did that so it took a new one...Shift to add, there's that--Shift one more time, and you can now see that.0180

Let's zoom up with Command on a Mac, Control on a PC and the spacebar, we'll scrubby zoom on up...and here we are--you see we got a really nice tight edge to the mountain line between the mountains and the sky.0197

We're going to take a look with Quick Mask at the edge of that selection--let's zoom it up, Command or Control plus a few times, and look what happens with the Magic Wand, and the Quick Selection does have anti-alias in, it smooths slightly but not necessarily enough.0216

In this case, you can tell we have no feather--you can see that by the jaggies, so that's going to be a little prohibitive to make a smooth blend, so how do we deal with that?0234

Remember in the past, we could have gone Select, Modify, feather and picked a number, but you don't necessarily see immediately what the number's doing until you type it in, then you back to Quick Mask and you go "gee, that's a little too soft", so we're just going to go ahead and back that out to where we've got the hard one.0246

Well, there's another way, and that, as I pointed out, was the refine edge dialog box--it's a very powerful little tool, so in this case we're going to click refine edge.0270

Before we go into modifying, let's just take a look at the overall box and how it's laid out--the dialog box.0286

Up on the top you have a choice of view mode, when you click on this little arrow we get a dropdown menu.0294

Now we are highlighted on the overlay mode which is the same as the Quick Mask--I particularly like this view because we're used to seeing it anyway.0303

If you want to just see the crawling ants without Quick Mask--there you have it, you can also make the masked area black with transparency for the selected area.0313

You can also go white for the mask plus transparency, or remember the channels which we're going to talk about in the next lesson, there's basically viewing it as a channel--white and black, you can view it on a layer or you can reveal--that's if we had transparency on a layer, that's what the checkerboard is.0325

Let's just go ahead and leave it at the overlay--to me this is the best way to look at it--I can see what's going on, I recognize it, I'm used to using the Quick Mask, so why get used to something else--have it the same.0350

Alright, now there's a couple of other check boxes back here.0363

This is called Edge Detection which we're going to talk about in the next example.0369

Down here below that we have a box--adjust edge; smooth, feather, contrast and shift.0375

I'm going to cancel for a moment, remember the modify?0383

Smooth, expand and contract which is the expand...I forgot what it said down here--shift edge is the same as expand and contract, the border is the same as right here.0387

In other words we have the same tools except now this has been here--the modify, all the way along with Photoshop, but now it's incorporated into this dialog box refine edge so you can actually watch what's going on!0408

What a wonderful feature--you don't have to do something, go out see if it works, if it worked fine, if it didn't you have to undo it, go back and do it again and so on.0425

So, in this case we're just going to punch in let's try one pixel of feather, and right off the bat it shows you what's going on...look.0433

If we just scrubby zoom it (I think we can scrubby) we'll just take it down to zero, we up it to let's say two or three--you can see it's getting real soft, but one pixel, remember when we were talking about feather and I showed you the example?0446

To take a hard edge and just make a nice, clean, smooth edge, one pixel of feather.0463

You never want to leave it at zero, so now you can see already that we have a really nice, smooth edge (we'll zoom out just a little bit) see how wonderfully smooth that is--just perfect for what we wanted to do.0469

So that shows you how we'd use just the feather right here, I'll give you a preliminary example of what shift edge is.0485

We have a selection of the sky, if we saw some edge you could either go expand (that is widen that selection) notice how it pushed down and you can see the mountain top, so we took the whole selection and made it go outward, or you can pull it inward and let's go to zero first...0494

You can see that's the zero point--watch what happens...notice it jumped inside--hard to see here because it's just a solid color, so you can shift that edge--that was the same as you saw under the Modify, expand and contract.0516

The contrast increases the contrast on the edge, and the higher the contrast the sharper it gets, so contrast effectively sharpens up and hardens the edge a little bit, smoothing does exactly the opposite, just tends to--look at that, see it tends to take the little corners out, it really smooths off the edges a lot.0530

Let's just back that off a little bit and you can see what it did--it actually on the mountain top, when we got the full smooth--you can see just a little bit of white where it was zero smoothing, see how it follows the contours better?0553

So you have a choice of smoothing, feather which softens, contrast which actually sharpens the edge, and shifting the edge--all four of these options are right here, and then there's this decontaminate colors which has to do with the edge detection--we'll deal with that down the line.0567

So all we had to do here was put in the one pixel of feather--we see we have a nice, smooth edge line--we click OK, we can just double check it if you want and there it is.0583

Now we've done that--that's how we adjust the feather the easy way, so you can see exactly what you're doing.0593

Alright, let's go over to...this flower right here, and we're going to deal with...0600

In a future lesson we'll be using this flower in another image to make a photo composite, but right now we're going to talk about the selection of the flower.0611

Now I think we did this in selections--we also used this flower and showed that the Magic Wand tool having to click around even with (let's run that up to like 55 and click)...what did it do?0621

Ah, there we notice that it didn't get all of the areas of color and then if we Shift click, it's going to take some time--it'll eventually get there, but we're having to spend time.0645

Time is the critical factor when you're making selections and we've done a pretty decent job here with this multiple clicking, it's OK, but we could've done in faster.0661

In this case, we use the Quick Selection tool; drop our brush size down just a little bit, and remember you don't go all the way out to the edge, let the tool find the edge--it's looking for edges, and notice as I just drag here and stay away from the edges it finds them, it's going out to look.0672

And we just keep coming around...and it missed a little bit down there with some greenery but that's OK and I'll drag across here, and notice how much more quickly we made that selection using the Quick Selection tool.0693

Now, we're going to modify that a little bit because we missed a spot down here, we're already on the add icon so I'm just going to add a little bit more right there--it cooked and found that edge, and I want to subtract here so I'll just use the icon this time, and come around fairly close to the flower but I don't want to touch the pink because if I touch the pink it'll just move on inside.0708

I think we've done a pretty good job--let it cook, just a little bit right there on the corner, OK.0736

Now we'll check it again with our Quick Mask, but in this case the Quick Mask is red, doesn't work really well--I can see already we missed a couple of spots.0743

Now, the way we're going to deal with that and an edge right here, we'll just go ahead and paint more mask, remember?0752

So we'll just go over where it's only a small percentage with 100%, clean up that little edging right there, make the brush a little smaller, and we'll paint up around the edge--now we can't do a tremendously accurate job, otherwise we'd spend an enormous amount of time, but we'll take care of that right now.0759

You can see we're just a little...I hope you can see this, see how it's a little outside the edge of the flower?0783

It went slightly past--you can see that in every aspect--see the little dark edge, so we got a little too far, not bad--oh yes there's a good spot to look at it right there.0792

See we got just past the edge of the flower?0805

OK, no problem.0809

The first thing I want to do is change the color to blue so we can see this more accurately...and we'll go back in and now I can show you that on the edge.0810

See we're just a little out from the edge--the Quick Selection found that, and you do notice though (let's go up to the top here) that the edge is not really, really harsh like it was with the Magic Wand, it's got an amount of harshness--you can see edging...see right here you can see pixels but it's not as bad--that's that smoothing slightly.0821

But we need to take care of that, so OK, out of Quick Mask, back to the refine edge dialog box.0846

Now we're in the Move tool, I'm not even going to go back--Select, refine edge, there's my dialog box and there's our normal view again--back.0853

The first thing I want to do is we look at the edge, I want to feather it just a little bit but instead of just feathering let's try see what that did, it actually softened the edge too much--I'm sorry, I was using the wrong tool.0863

Smoothing just did a pretty decent job, look at that.0880

I'm going to zoom that--let me find a brighter spot on the flower so you can see it better...yes, here we are.0884

Let's go back to zero...and let's smooth it and see what happens here, it's hard to see but it's taken out those corners--remember that's what it does, we want to get all of the shape, so let's feather it again.0892

Let's feather one pixel...and it's hard to see what happened...let's go around to this side right here and back that off--there you can see it a little bit--I'm actually going to feather two pixels.0906

We got a little softer, you see that?0921

Watch right on the edge, now it's at zero pixels, now it's at two and there's a reason I did this--I'll show you in a minute.0924

OK so I've feathered it which means it went outward a little bit, and when we're getting past that edge again so it's going to have an excess edge--the reason we're doing this is to cut out--let me show you, let's stop right with this, and we're going to cut the flower out...0931

Command or Control+C to copy, Command or Control+N for a new file, what it does--if you've got something in the clipboard that you've copied and you go Command or Control+N to make a new file, it will make a new file that is just large enough to contain the object in the clipboard.0950

So now if we paste--Command on a Mac, Control on a PC, the letter V--there's the flower, but see what happened, by feathering the two we softened it and we got too far out on the edge, so if we're compositing this item it's going to have a distinct line around it that gives away the fact that it wasn't real, so I'm going to undo that, go back to our flower...0976

And so what we're going to do is we're going to go back into the refine edge box again.1001

Now we've feathered it, we've already feathered it so it has that soft edge, but now what we're going to do, we're going to shift the edge.1006

I want to get back inside the flower so we get away from that dark edge so I'm going to move it to the minus side--watch, see how it pulled in?1015

I'm going to pull it in as far as I can go, I'm going to click OK and you can actually see it, there's your crawling ants--notice how the crawling ants have moved inside the flower, and if we go to Quick Mask you can actually see the edge of the flower is inside the mask.1023

So now when we copy (Command on a Mac, Control on a PC, the letter C) we'll go back to our blank document and go Command or Control+V to paste, and let's take a look at the edge of that flower.1043

Look at that, see how nice and clean the edge is now?1058

And it's also feathered soft but not too soft so you can see detailing all the way around the edge work of the flower, so what have we learned from that?1062

Let's go back to the flower, zoom out a little bit, go into the refine edge dialog box, so originally what we did is we made the selection with a Quick Selection which was a little harsh, we did a two pixel feather this time, just a little more to push it softer.1075

Then we contracted the flower selection inward until it came inside the actual boundary, and with the softer edge, and inside the flower when we copied it and pasted it, it actually removed that hard edge because we come inside, so now you see one usage for the (let's go back over to the flower) for the refine edge dialog box.1095

In addition to feather, you can control the edge smoothness and you can shift it--make the entire selection expand or contract, really cool and this is a real key in compositing is to get those smooth, clean edges, a wonderful one.1124

Alright, you understand that, let's take a look at a third example here, and we'll look at the rest of the refine edge dialog box.1140

You're going to love this one...let me see where I'm at...I want to open up 37...oh I did two untitled, there it is...untitled one, there we go.1149

So here's a scene that we're going to deal with more in compositing, but we want to select the sky in this.1165

We already did this one time but we're going to do it a little differently this time.1172

What we want to do here, is--and I'm not going to concern myself with these right now, we'll be taking these out in retouch--I want to make sure I have a selection that's nice and smooth, gets my edges, but I also want to get the trees.1177

When we tried to get a normal selection by using let's say either the Quick Selection tool or the Magic Wand--Magic Wand ought to work actually pretty well here, let's knock that tolerance down to about 24 and see what happens.1192

Click, got most of it--Shift, click, and that really brought it down in there--let's take a good look at it right on the edge.1206

But you notice, because the Magic Wand looks for areas of similar or contiguous color, when it hits a boundary, it gets stopped.1215

Now, there is a way to expand the Magic Wand a little further...we go to the Select menu, let's go down to Grow--Grow will push it a little further...didn't really do it because it still has the boundary.1228

Now we're going to try one more--Select, similar--it's going to look through the entire image and pick similar color to the sky (and it cooks) and now if you look--let's do the Quick's blue now, we need to change it back to red so we can see it clearly...1245

We're back to red and then the color is indicating masked areas.1265

You notice it did a reasonable job of getting inside and picking up all of the colored sky, but it missed some of it--you notice it pushed a little too hard, some of the indistinct edges are now gone away.1270

Let's look at the rest of the image, there was no blue down in the rest of the image so we should be just fine.1287

OK, look at it--it even got down into here, but we need to feather and really refine that, so let's get out of the Quick Mask and let's go to our refine edge dialog box.1294

Now, a couple of things that we can do here...I'll tell you, I'm going to do something that shows this even better--we're going to de-select that and go back and we're going to do this with the Quick Selection tool because it's more dramatic to show you how that refine edge box works.1310

Let's just go ahead and let her find the edges, and you notice in this case we can't expand inward, and it's got down inside the trees but that's OK.1328

We'll go to refine edge, there's all that area where blue should be, so what we're going to do is we're going to deal with what's called Edge Detection, and this is entirely new for Photoshop CS6--it had it in CS5--it's better here.1338

This is a mind blower, I got to tell you, this totally drives me crazy every time I do it and I've been working with it ever since they came out with it.1360

It will find the edges--notice here it missed on the trees and it didn't pick up the sky, what you want to do is you adjust your radius.1369

The radius at this time is zero--if we move the radius up, you'll begin to see it pop.1379

That's the width of the area where the Edge Detection tool is working right now.1386

You can go much larger if you want, it gets way out of control, I have found that the most efficient and the best usage is somewhere around one third of the width of the bar right in here.1393

Then we click smart radius, that means it's going to look by itself and then we have these two tools; refine radius and erase.1409

In other words if we use the refine tool and it goes too far and gets something it doesn't we can use the other tool to erase it but watch, here's all you got to do, don't blink, don't sneeze and be sure you're sitting down because you're going to fall down when you see this.1419

What we want to do is try get the selection to seal the edges of the tree branches, we're just going to take the radius and go away...leave it, and we want to pick those back up and we want to find the blue in the trees.1434

All you have to do, is you paint with the brush and you paint to connect the selected area which is the sky down into what you're looking for--you have to have it connect, so we'll just start painting, and we'll move our way down in the trees...and just make sure that we've covered that entire area.1449

Now I'm going to release, it's going to cook and don't blink...look, that's absolutely unbelievable.1471

Look at the quality of the edging around--I'm going to even clean it up just a little bit more to see if it picks it a second time--it might get it a little better...1480

You're looking at where it picked up the red--that's the mask--so it masked out all those very fine edges and it found the blue in the trees.1493

Let's move down a little further--you can see just a little edging here--we'll just go over that...and it picked back up all that fine detail--here's some blue down can see that--some more blue in the trees here, just come on down in...and look--you can see the blue and all of the fine edges are now picked--this is just an amazing tool, I don't know how it works.1501

Somebody was pretty sharp...and there you have it again, once again it got the detail...but one of the things now I'm going to tell you--we'll just move on down here very quickly--I'm going to back out a little bit because you don't need to see all of it--here we go again, there's a big swath of blue in the trees right there, watch...1524

My gosh...I'm sorry, it just blows me away every time I do this tool.1545

Now it may not be able to extend down into this area here, we missed a little bit--it can't find everything.1552

Now the Grow feature probably would, we may even try that in a little bit to see what happens--I don't want to ruin our edges though...looking pretty good, let's see what we get in this tree...oh my gosh, oh my gosh, here's another big swath.1561

Now you notice every time I do this I paint from the selection down into and make sure that it's all connected, let it go, and there you have it, and if it doesn't get it the first time, paint it a second time and the algorithm will pick it back up, so there you have that one.1579

Now we've got a fantastic selection--now one of the things that you have to keep in mind here, when you have extremely fine detail like those little tiny leaves and branches there, we cannot feather this.1598

What we should've done, is with the edging there is the very first thing we did was put one pixel of feather, then you go back across with the Edge Detection painting tool, and even if it was one pixel where you paint, it will find all of the detail right out to the hard edges then you can have your clean edge along the grassy areas down here--nice at one pixel and everything else would be perfect.1612

We'll click OK, I'm going to save this selection as an alpha channel, we'll just call it Sky With Edge Detection, and click OK and let's take a look at it and see how it really did.1638

De-select, and let's zoom it up...look at that, just absolutely remarkable the amount of detail that was pulled out by this tool.1657

Now, here's another thing--we're going to get into alpha channels right now.1673

If you can see it on your monitors, right in this edge here below there it's a little gray looking, see down in here--let me get the brush small so I can use it as a pointer--right in there, and right down in there it's a little bit gray.1679

In other words it couldn't tell what's going on and in other words that's kind of a semi-transparent area, anything that's gray.1694

We'll talk about this more over in alpha channels...1701

OK, got you covered on that, so there you see this has done a pretty good job, and let's go back to RGB.1709

When we load that selection let's just play for a moment here, I'm going to load the selection and I'm going to go ahead and do a hue saturation and just do a weird color change on the sky to some purplish color...1718

And let's zoom up...and you can see, look at that.1734

You can see how it's just done a phenomenal job through there.1739

What that is (let's get the selection back) go back to the refine edge dialog box, that is the principal controls within the refine edge dialog box.1744

Output decontaminate colors--when you're selecting hairs, you can see with these fine edges this is beautiful for working with portraiture, and if you have kind of the thin area at the very outer part of someone's hair where it's almost a little blurry, it can be really hard to pick up and it's going to be light.1759

When you composite a background in you'll see that, and this output decontamination of colors helps to clean that up on the edges so it blends it in better.1778

We don't need that right here now so there we have that.1790

Let's go back to our title box, and put up a layer and let's see what we've done so far.1793

We have...done a little review of feather, delved a little bit further into it, we've gone through the refine edge dialog box and you see that it takes everything (let me just do a quickie again, there it is right there) all of these controls that were under the Modify are all in the refine edge dialog box.1800

Feather, sure you can feather it and actually watch it feather, so you don't have to have any guesswork and if for example that's feathered inward too much, you can always expand your selection or contract it, or increase the contrast to change that a little bit, or smooth it out to clean out the humps, all sorts of stuff.1827

Edge Detection feature we went over, which is phenomenal for selecting fine detail, and the output we haven't dealt with yet here but we will at another lesson, and I showed you how to prepare a selection for cutting out an image.1847

For compositing with the flower, what we did is we made the selection and then we contracted it with a little bit of feather so that we cleaned up the absolute edge so it's absolutely perfect when it is composited.1862

So that's a summary of everything we've learned in this particular lesson on the refine edge dialog box and refining an edge in Photoshop CS6.1878