Saturday, May 1, 2010

Photoshop CS5’s great new complex selection feature


By Scott Koegler

Adobe's Photoshop is one of those applications that has so many features, it's difficult -- no, make that impossible -- to learn them all unless you use the program every day, and for a range of tasks that goes beyond what any one person would normally do. That said, Photoshop users are always enthusiastic to see new features added to the already amazingly feature-rich application.

Photoshop Extended CS5 is the current next step in photo manipulation, and the verb "to Photoshop" has been taken to the next level with this release. Be warned -- as you see what kind of changes are possible with this program, you're likely to never believe what you see in a photograph again.

One of the overall themes I see in this release is the incorporation of previously external plug-ins as part of the core Photoshop program. Some operations that were either difficult or impossible to accomplish using Photoshop alone were eased by plug-ins supplied by third party software developers.

Adobe has incorporated functions including the ability to more easily select objects, create HDR (high dynamic range) images, correct lens aberrations, and apply special texture effects to simulate painting.

This is good news for the Photoshop user who will now not need to spend the additional, sometimes hundreds of dollars, on plug-ins. But it may make life difficult for the companies that have made a living by creating plug-in applications.

Over the next five weeks, I'll look at five great new features you'll love in Photoshop CS5. Here's the first one: how to make complex selections easily.

Great feature #1: complex selections

One of the classic Photoshop effects is that of combining one part of a photo in another photo, as in pasting someone's head on another person's body, or showing someone standing next to a celebrity.

Of course Photoshop can do this, but selecting the object to be copied has always been tedious. It's been all but impossible to copy the details of very fine edges like hair. For those instances, plug-ins have come to be used as the standard method. Photoshop's new Complex Selection function makes the process not only easy, but easy to adjust. That said, I'm not certain that it does all the things some of the plug-ins like onOne Software's great Mask Pro plugin.

Separating wispy areas like hair like that shown in FIgure A from a complex background has always been tough. In my experiments with PS CS5's complex selection feature, I found that I could do a pretty decent job, certainly much better than I could do with Photoshop alone.


Puppy has a lot of hair. (click for larger image)

There is a combination of steps, none of them too hard, that involves making your normal selection with the lasso tool, then clicking the Select menu item Refine Edge. Through a combination of adjustments in the Refine Edge tool I was able to essentially paint out the background.