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Making Selections

Lesson 27 from: Foundations of Adobe Photoshop CC

Dave Cross

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Lesson Info

27. Making Selections

Lesson Info

Making Selections

Now we're gonna talk about a couple of very important functions in Photoshop. Up until now I've been doing things, a couple of times I've made a selection and filled it with something. We're gonna talk a little bit more about this aspect of selecting things in Photoshop. Because, by nature, when you open a photograph in Photoshop it assumes whatever you do next you want to do it to the entire photo, every pixel in that photo. And many times that is the case if you want to brighten the whole photo or darken the whole photo or whatever that is, that's fine. However, sometimes say, but I just want to change this part. I just want to work on this area. As soon as you think that, that means you have to tell Photoshop somehow where that area is, and we do that by selecting the pixels. And there's a set of tools that work on this, and they all have different ways of working, but they work very closely together. And this is one of those cases where I would particularly remind you about that ph...

rase of "end up with." When I'm thinking of selecting, instead of saying I want to select that ping pong, those ping pong paddles, or whatever they're called, paddles, instead I would say I want to end up with a good selection. Cause sometimes it might be easier to select everything else except them, and then switch it around. So as long as you're always thinking as long as I end up with. That also suggests that there's probably three or four or five selection tools, and it's very rare that I'll use just one. Usually I'll start with one, if it's not a great selection, I'll switch to a different selection tool to try and improve upon it so ultimately I end up with a really good selection. Now just so you know, this is a topic which I would say could easily, we could do a whole course just on selection. So my goal here is to sort of set the basis for you. And one of the things that's a little odd, I would say, at first glance is currently I haven't got any pixels selected. I didn't go and make any selection of any kind, but technically every pixel is selected. So it's kind of counter-intuitive because a lot of people say, oh I need to affect the entire photo, so they'll go select all. We don't actually have to do that because by nature every pixel is actively selected in a sense. It's when you make some other kind of selection that you're narrowing that down, say but I only want to work on this area. So for example, if I take my marquee selection tool and make a small selection, now only the pixels inside that area where those flashing lines, or some people call them marching ants, not a term that I'm a big, great fan of, but anyway, some people call it that. That means only the pixels inside there are the active ones. So for example, if I took my paintbrush, I'll make it nice and big so you can see, and I attempt to paint over here, nothing is happening because those pixels aren't active. Whereas if I come inside this area, then I'm painting in there. So that's a sort of simplified example, but that's why we worry about this, it's because we want to identify a particular area. So, there are tools like the marquee ones that do rectangular and elliptical tools, and as you see a number of times when I want to just say add a semi see-through white box, I add a layer. I use my marquee selection tool to make a selection and then fill that with a color. So sometimes selection can be as simple as that where you just really want a shape, like a rectangle or a circle. But more often than not, we want to select an area. For example, maybe I want to select all the green area behind, in fact the ping pong table to adjust that somehow, to change the color. So an important thing to remember here is you never make a selection and stop cause to make a selection is always step one of something else. You don't just make a selection and go okay, phew, I'm done, cause that didn't serve any purpose, it just means that now you have some pixels that are active. There's always something else you then do like fill with a color, adjust, darken, lighten, whatever it might be. So selection is always step one of some other step, and that's important to remember. So whenever I look at something that I want to end up selecting, I look at, one of the first things I do, is see are there definite edges between the object I'm trying to select and everything else. And when I look at this I could say yeah, pretty much. I can see pretty clear edges between the ping pong, what are they called, paddles, bats, I don't know what you call 'em. Paddles. Paddles and the table. So I'm gonna look at that and say, therefore that tells me I can use a tool that will automatically do this for me. Cause there are tools we'll talk about like the lasso tools, but those are very manual, you have to drag around. If you're not very accurate, it's just very time consuming. So the first place I always start is this tool called the quick selection tool. I petitioned Adobe, they should call it the awesome edge detection selection tool, and they said no, we're gonna just call it the quick selection tool. I was like, well okay, cause that's really a much better name for it because edge detection it what it does. I don't have to worry about where I position my mouse, I have to trace along this. All I have to do is, I'll just pick a size a little bigger so you can see, is just like a little circle. Well, I'll make it a little bigger now I suppose. And all I do is I wanna select over here, I just click and drag a little bit like this. Oops, I'm on the wrong layer, sorry. I was going why isn't it so awesome having said that. Okay that's why. So if start to click, oh look at that. See it just snapped and went I'll just find the next edge I can. So it went to the edge of the paddle, it went to the white line, done. So I didn't have to do anything else, you see, I hardly moved my mouse at all, and that's one of the benefits. Now, if this was a photograph of a girl with long hair blowing in the wind all wispy, the quick selection would go I have no idea what you're talking about cause those aren't definite edges. So that's the key thing to remember is, even though it's called quick selection tool, I don't really like the name because it implies, well it's quick, which implies it's not accurate, but it is if the edges are clean. The problem is I didn't get all of what I wanted cause the quick selection tool that's where it stopped. So most selection tools, if you want to add more to the selection, you have to remember to hold down some key, which we'll talk about. But one of the main reasons I like the quick selection tool is you don't have to. It automatically assumes, unless you tell it otherwise, that we'll keep adding to the same selection. So if I now take the quick selection tool and drag down here, and over here, and move over here, and drag a bit more, there we go. Oh, there's a bit in here in the middle, done. I didn't have to change any settings. This is one of the greatest tools in Photoshop cause you don't have to go to the options bar and pick any setting. It's really just the size of the brush, is the only thing that has an influence. There's also a setting, which I'm surprised I have it off, I must have demonstrated previously, auto enhance. This is a setting which I look at and I say why would one not want to auto enhance? Wouldn't that always be a good thing? So I always have that turned on. The only reason I'd ever turn that off is if you had a really big file, and you went to use the quick selection tool, and you saw like wait, wait, I'm still working cause that can slow it down a little bit, but most typical files, auto enhance is good to have on because it just says not only will I find the edge, but it's almost like you don't even see it, it kinda goes and I'll make it a little better. Question? What determines a brush size selection? So all I do was I went up here and changed it. But it's really, it's almost more of a visual thing because it'll work the same way, you might just have to drag it a little more if your brush is smaller. But it still, as you start to drag, it's constantly going there's an edge, there's an edge. So it's just, for example if I had a brush that was this big I couldn't get that little area down here, so it's too big, so it's more that factor that's how you determine the size is where you're dragging. Once you have a selection like this, then you would typically do something else to it, and I'm not going to necessarily, for now, cause I just want to show you the process, but as we talked about briefly earlier, once you have a selection, it stays selected until you tell it otherwise. So if I forgot that and thought I'll just work on this yellow part, I'm not going to be able to because that part is not selected, only the outer areas are selected. Now, let's think about that for a second. What if ultimately I did actually want to work on the paddles not the table. Right now I selected all the table except for the white line and the paddles. So if I want to end up with a really good selection of the two paddles and the ball, the easiest way to do it would be to add in this little white line that I missed before just by dragging over it. So now I have everything except the paddles selected. Then I go to the select menu, which is our home for everything to do with selections and choose inverse, now I have a selection I want. And in the long run, even though I had to narrate it so it took longer, but if you're doing it without narrating it would be even quicker because you would just select all the green, go inverse, done. As opposed to, let me drag over all these different shades of red and yellow. I mean eventually you'd get there, but very often that's the way you have to kinda look at it. To say what's going to be the easiest thing for me slash the quick selection tool to see, and even quite often is the opposite. Then once you've made that selection, you do that inverse, and you still end up with what you want selected. So, again, once we've made the selection, then we do something. We drag it to a different photograph, we use a thing called a mask we'll talk about, or we make an adjustment, whatever that might be. For now I'm not going to worry too much about doing that extra step, I just want to show you this is the kind of process you go through. Now sometimes you have a situation like this where you've made a selection, it's pretty good, but for some reason it didn't detect, and there's just a little piece that's like not quite right. I don't want that selected. So as I mentioned the quick selection tool automatically keeps adding to the selection all the time. But in this case, I don't want to add to the selection, cause remember I have now selected the paddle, I want to take it away. So if I try and drag over it, it's not going to do anything, it's gonna keep adding to it. So there are keys you hold down whenever you want to modify your existing selection. The shift key is the one that you use to add to the selection, and as I mentioned the quick selection tool is the only tool that does that automatically. I want to remove from the selection, so I have to hold down a different key, which I think you might know already what that key might be. Option or alt, now look and see really closely it had a little plus sign before, now it has a minus sign. And I just drag over that and say I really don't want that as part of my selection, it's almost like you're painting. And then it says there you go. So anytime you have a little too much selected or not enough, you just have to think about adding or subtracting from the existing selection. Sometimes if the edges are harder to detect, the quick selection tool is only so good, in other words if you keep going over it, it keeps not detecting where you want to go to. So let's pretend for a moment that was the case. It wasn't working. Then I might have to switch to a more manual tool like the lasso tool. The lasso tool is a click and drag, you're in complete control of it. There's no detection of edges, so if you're not, don't have a very steady hand, it's gonna be a challenge for you because it's completely up to you. But in this case what I would do is I'd have to think about the next step. Remember the quick selection tool is the only one that automatically adds to the selection. So if I didn't do anything now, if I forgot to hold down a key, watch what would happen. I start to make, and it would say, oh so you don't want that other selection at all. Cause the lasso tool by nature always wants to make a new selection, ignoring what's already there. So if I undo that, I have to make sure that I hold down one or other key, shift to add, option alt to remove from. If I don't do that, it's automatically gonna deselect the existing selection and make a new one, which you might want sometimes. Any time you're modifying, you always have to have one key or the other held down. And if you look at the cursor, if I hold down the shift key, there's a little plus sign beside the laso tool. If I hold down option or alt, there's a little minus sign. So that's kind of your reminder, now I'm going to be modifying the existing one. And the way that it works is this is the little blip that I'm trying to get rid of, so because everything out here is not selected anyway what I do out here doesn't do anything. It's as soon as I cross over right here, so I drag along that line, surround it, now it's gone. So anytime you have something you want to get rid of you have to think of kind of surrounding it, so I start option alt, I move out here somewhere, give myself a bit of a run at it, and then drag along. Go around, and if you didn't quite get it the first time you can still come back in and kind of fine tune it. Takes a bit of practice, but compared to the alternative in the good ol' days of Photoshop we had to like master the lasso tool, and you'd watch people zoom into 400%, and with the lasso going like tiny, really really slowly trying to somehow keep their hand steady, and go right along the edge of something, and now you just don't have to. So the quick selection tool is my number one selection tool. I always start with it. Usually, most of the time, if it doesn't do a perfect job, it gives me a great start. Certainly better than the alternative of me manually doing it myself. The other option from a automatic selection standpoint is a color based selection tool instead of an edge based. So for example in this case again because there's all this green, I could say maybe I could automatically just get a selection based on everything that's green. And one of the simplest ways to do that cause it's very visual is under the select menu there's a command called color range. So it's not a tool in the tool box, it's a command under the selection menu called color range. It brings up this dialogue box, and at first it would typically look like this. And then there's all these things that just say like fuzziness and sample colors, what does that all mean? So you basically have to tell Photoshop this is the color I'd like you to try and select. So you move your mouse over, you see a little eye dropper, you click on the green, and it's going to attempt to select it all. And it's going to show you a preview that's black and white. And this is a function we're going to have to get used to in Photoshop cause there's lots of times where something you're doing in Photoshop is demonstrated by either white pixels or black pixels. And it's gonna be a recurring theme when we talk about things like layer masks in a bit. So white represents your selection. Gray, sorry, black represents area that are not selected. Gray means you've got areas that are kinda selected, kinda not, and you typically want one or the other. You don't want it to be sorta selected. So one of the ways that I use this is this little preview in here is sometimes a little hard to see, so down at the bottom it says selection preview. If you choose gray scale for example, then on the photograph itself, you're kinda getting a bigger version of the same thing. So in an ideal world, everything except the paddles would be white, and they would be black. But see how there's like little bits of gray here, there's some gray down there, that's telling me I'm not quite there yet. So there's a couple of choices. One is to use the fuzziness command, which obviously you can tell what that's for with a name like fuzziness, why wouldn't you know what it's for. If you drag this, it's like I want a bit more. So why it's called fuzziness, engineers know, but everyone else goes oh I see it's more. So as I drag it see how it's getting more and more, but if I go too far, see how that gray is starting to sneak in there, now that's too much. So this is kinda the game you play is trying to find that happy medium. And you won't always get it perfect because there'll be times where like there's a shadow underneath the paddle, which before the quick selection tool will seem to get it, but this isn't. So it's one of those things where you have to look at the particular circumstance. The bottom line though is once I click okay to this function it will still make a selection that I can still edit. So that means I could still use this to begin with, and then switch to the quick selection tool or the lasso tool or something else. If you had a photograph where you said all the brightest parts of this photograph like the sky is way too bright, I want to just select that, then in the color range you can also choose not just by clicking on a color, by saying give me all the highlights or the midtones or the shadows. There's even a thing for skin tones, which is okay, but we're not gonna talk about that right now. These are the more typical things you would do is sample color. If you find that this fuzziness slider is not working, I'm gonna put it back a little bit so you can see, see all these areas down here in the corner that are too gray, what I could do is in effect add to the selection the same way as we taught before, the shift key. I still have this eye dropper while I hold down the shift key, I can click in this area, and it adds that, and I can keep doing that to say I also want this and maybe this part down here, so it's kind of a more manual way, but sometimes you can get closer to what you want. You'll notice that for whatever reason, it completely missed that little bit of green between the ball and the paddles because it's just, it was enough of a different shade of green, it just didn't get it, and that's one of the things with you have to be prepared for that sometimes it's like oh that's close, but now, you see the difference, it still has that shadow so it's not, in this case, it was nowhere as good as the quick selection tool. So I always start with the quick selection tool because it really does a great job. But for things like a sky in amongst a whole bunch of leaves it won't do as good a job as perhaps the color range will just because it looks everywhere not just for specific edges. So we also have other options available to us. Open this photograph. Again, I'm gonna show you other tools, but honestly nine out of 10 times, if not 9.99 out of 10 times, I would go quick selection tool, at least try it. But, just so you know, when you see something oh look this has nice straight edges, you could also take this tool, which is the polygonal lasso tool, which does straight line selections. And the way it works is you click once every time you want you want to change direction. So you can see I'm doing a really poor job from far away cause normally I'd zoom in closer, but just show you the idea. And I'm gonna not even do the whole thing to show you cause this is really a pointless exercise because instead if I take the quick selection tool and drag like this, okay that was a little easier. Now see how it got a little too much down here? Kinda, let me zoom in a bit. Went down in this building that I didn't want, so I would probably make my selection tool a little smaller, hold down option or alt to remove from. Let's say I don't want this part selected. Now the trees are gonna be a challenge because it's gonna do its best effort, but it's gonna be a little tricky. So that will be something will happen more when we start doing things with masking, which we will talk about shortly. So the key things to remember here is whenever you are making a selection is to think about ending up with so that means start with one selection tool, use a different one to kind of fine tune it. And to remember that making a selection is always step one. You don't just make a selection and go okay, there I'm finished, it's to do something else, like fill with a color, make it darker, replace the sky, whatever that might be. Had a question from the internet. Joe asked Dave, what do you usually find works best for the feather of the selection tool on sharp images? Good question, so there is this thing called feather. I'm glad you asked that very good question because, remember before I talked about click on a tool, look in the options bar, and up here for the lasso tool, there's this thing called feather. And feather is a function that will soften the edges a little bit. So just to show you the difference, if I make a selection, and I fill it with a color. You'll see it has a very sharp, clean edge. If I were to increase the feather a fair bit, make a selection, do the same thing. See how it has a softer edge to it. There's a bit of a danger in this though. If you, and this happens to people quite often when they first start using the lasso tool, oh for this particular situation, I'm gonna increase the feather of my lasso tool. But remember any setting you change in the options bar becomes the default. So the worst thing could happen to you because it happened to me many years ago, and I swore I would never do it again, is I used the lasso tool to make a very intricate selection and when I did the next step I realized it had feathering on it, and there's no de-feather command. Once a selection is feathered, there's no going back except starting again. So what I would suggest is that if there are ever situations where you want to feather, and we'll talk in a minute about how much that actually is really an important function, is leave it at zero, leave it at zero. Apparently it's not voice activated cause I said leave it at zero, but it didn't. Make your selection, and then remember we talked about this little thing called context sensitive menus where you right click. If you right click, one of the options is feather. So I'm just feathering this selection, not making my tool default to always feather, and to me that's a better approach. If you do feel you want to feather a selection, do it after. Now, to his question specifically, if there are sharp edges, like this building, I wouldn't feather at all because there's not need to. Feathering is often to say I need this to blend in a little better like a cloud that needs to be very vague so that would be more feathering. But for anytime like, in a moment, we'll show you how you can replace the sky with a different sky, a sharp edge selection is perfect. A feathered edge selection would have a slightly blurry edge around the building, and it wouldn't look realistic. So feathering is a tough choice, but I would say the most important thing to remember is don't change the feather in the tool setting cause that's dangerous. If you do want to feather, there are better options including ones which I'll show you where you can do the equivalent of feathering after the fact in a way that's more non-destructive. One more thing about feathering cause it's important to note when you do choose feather, it comes up with this dialogue box, and here's the reality of this dialogue box. First of all, it has barely changed since the very first version of Photoshop that had feathering. But secondly, no one really knows what number to type in. There's no preview, so anytime I watch someone they go I'm gonna feather this, they always go I'm gonna feather this 34. I'm like really? 34? Not like 38? Like why is it 34? I don't know, I just feel like that's a good number cause no one actually knows. Even when you click okay, you still don't know until you do something else. So that's the danger of feathering. And also here's the other thing, now that I've added a feather of 34, if I think oh wait a minute, that's probably too much, let me go back and change the feather to 20, now I just added 20 more on top of the cause there's no downwards feathering. Once you've added feathering, you're done. So that's why this whole discussion of feathering this way is very dangerous because you could paint yourself into this really bad corner you can't get out of. So to do the equivalent of feathering, we'll talk about a way shortly where you can do it in a different manner.

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Quick Notes Guide
Landscape Image for Practice Edit
Senior Portrait Missing Element for Practice Edit
Senior Portrait With Element for Practice Edit

Ratings and Reviews


I really like Dave's methodical teaching style. Step by step works best for my learning processes. He also has a lovely voice to listen to during his classes, that is important if you have to listen to someone talk for any length of time. I also like the "dance" he does by explaining what he is going to do, then does it, and then comes back to explaining the choices he made and why. Very, very easy to follow him in his straight forward explanations. He increased my understanding of so many tools I use and so many I have never used. Wow! Photoshop with Dave took away a lot of "fear"! (Wish I had a "happy face" to place here!) I bought this class today because I don't think I can get along without it!

Jim Bellomo

I was so lucky to get to attend this class in person here in Seattle. I have been a fan of Dave's for years and own a number of his courses from Creative Live. When this class was announced I almost decided to skip it since it was listed as a "beginners" class but decided that it "might" be worth it. One of the reasons I wanted to take it was that I am self-taught. I had started with Photoshop 5 (not CS5 but 5) about 15 years ago (at least). I figured it I took this class I might learn a little something that would help me in my work. Well, two days later I have 18 pages of handwritten notes, a whole new way to work and it has already paid off in a huge way in my daily workflow. I bill out my hours at around $100 an hour as a graphic designer and marketing person. That means in the two days that I spent 10 hours a day taking the class and commuting to it, it cost me about $2000 in working time. But it didn't. I can guarantee that I am way ahead on this one. I l learned so much. The real world things I learned will pay off for a very long time. Within one day after the class I had already started changing my workflow to be more non-destructive and faster. Dave is an awesome teacher and I can't say enough good things about this class. Even if you think you know Photoshop, you don't. I teach it in my small world but I learned so much.


A writer and an old person (over 60), I rarely use neat exaggerations like "great" or "fantastic," and never say "awesome" in the currently fashionable manner. However, I would call this class both great and excellently planned. Cross is well-spoken and a consummate teacher with a rarely non-irritating voice. It is information packed, clearly presented, well-organized, and extremely helpful. I wish I could afford his others.

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