Pretty much all of what I write on this blog is meant to give you ideas. While I may offer an example or two to show you how something works, my intent is to merely ignite a spark that might turn into something much larger. In this post, I may explain how to transform a selection one way, but my hope is that you’ll consider what I’ve done and you’ll run with it your own way. This describes much of the Photoshop learning process. You’re going to learn an endless amount of tricks and tips, but it’s really up to you to see what you can make out of them.
If you ever watch someone who knows what they’re doing in Adobe Photoshop, you’ll quickly come to realize that selections are critical to so many different types of workflows. I can remember standing behind a colleague as they were attempting to show me something regarding this topic and I was amazed at how fast their hands moved and how fast selections were created and manipulated. It was at that moment that I realized I would never dismiss and try to work around selection again. Sure, they’re oftentimes not the simplest things to understand and get down pat, but they can sure help make some wonderful creations.
In today’s post, I’d like to explore two of the most important areas of selections in Photoshop there is; transformation and alteration. I’ll work with one tiny sliver of the entire pie, but with this sliver, you should begin to get ideas. Basically, I want you to see something you might not have thought possible.
To kick things off, I’ll select the top area of a cup of coffee. Then, I’ll use an adjustment layer to add a tad of contrast to the inside of that selection. Then, I’ll reselect the area, invert the selection, transform the selection and use another adjustment layer to darken everything but the originally selected area. I’ll repeat that process twice more and hopefully, I’ll end up with a neat effect that puts focus on the originally selected area. This one’s going to be weird, but it’s also going to be fun.
The Original Photo
As I mentioned above, I’ll be working with a photo of a cup of coffee. This is a top down photo, so it should make it very easy to get the selection that I need. Essentially, it’ll be a circle.
Making the Initial Selection
Okay, to get going and to acquire the most accurate selection possible, I’m going to drag two guides into my workspace.
I’ll pull one in from the left ruler and one in from the top ruler. Take a look.
The reason I added the guides to the edge of the mug is because they give me a great starting point. When I’m ready to select, which I am now, I can place my mouse pointer right on top of the guide intersection. Then, I can hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and drag down and to the right, until the selection encompasses the entire top of the coffee cup. For more information on this technique, please click through to the post I linked to above.
Let’s take a look at my selection. I’ll use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to make it.
Here’s the selection. You can see the marching ants around the rim of the mug.
Adding an Adjustment Layer
Now that I have my selection, I can go ahead and add some contrast via the Curves adjustment. To do this, I’ll head up to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves icon. Then, once the Properties panel for this adjustment opens up, I’ll click on the Preset drop-down and inside of that, I’ll select the Increase Contrast option. Doing this will add the adjustment to anything inside of the selected area.
Reselecting & Inverting
Okay, I now have the first step finished. From here, I’d like to reselect the same area as I did earlier. To accomplish this, I’ll simply hold down the Ctrl key on my keyboard and click on the mask of the adjustment layer in the Layers panel. This is a quick and easy method for reselecting something you’ve already selected in the past. Here’s a screenshot of the adjustment layer in the Layers panel.
From this point on, my goal is to darken the areas around the coffee cup. So, since the cup is selected, I’d like to invert that selection so everything but the cup is selected. To invert a current selection, I’ll head up to the Select > Inverse menu item and click.
At this point, I should see the same selection around the top of the cup as I did earlier, but also a selection around the outer edge of the image. These two selections will indicate that the area outside the cup is currently selected.
Next, I’ll use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+T to free transform the selection. I’ll hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and then I’ll click and drag one of the corners out. Then, I’ll click and drag the opposite corner outward as well. I’ll use the arrow keys on my keyboard to nudge the transformation so the circle area is equidistant around the center of the cup. When I’m finished, I’ll press the Enter key on my keyboard to apply the transformation.
Now I can go back up to the Adjustments panel, but this time, I’ll click on the Brightness/Contrast icon and once I’m inside of the Properties panel for this adjustment, I’ll reduce the Brightness to -55.
And if I take a look at the Layers panel now, I’ll see the first adjustment layer as well as the second. Remember, the white parts of the masks in these layers are revealing the adjustments and the black parts are concealing them.
Repeating the Steps
Since I’d like a stepped effect, I’m going to repeat the steps I just took two more times. Each time, I’ll click on the original selection adjustment layer to reselect it, invert the selection, transform the selection and then apply an adjustment layer to that selection. I’ll transform each one of these next selections so they’re slightly larger than the one before it. Let’s see how that looks.
Here’s the final inverse selection I’ll make.
And this is the final image, after I applied the reduced brightness adjustment layer.
That looks pretty cool. If I was really adventurous, I would have feathered the edges of the following selections so the darkness blurred into itself, but I’ll leave that for another day. What I wanted to show you today was merely a process for working with selections and adjustment layers. Again, take the concept I just showed you and apply it to your own projects. It doesn’t have to be anything near what I just did, so feel free to be creative.
I hope I clearly explained how to create a selection, invert a selection, transform a selection and apply an adjustment layer to a selection inside of Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!
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