Photoshop Q&A

by | 2 years ago

Q: I heard someone make reference to a “channel-based selection.” What does that mean, and when would I use it?

A: Making a channel-based selection means starting with the existing channels in a document to create a new channel that can be used to make a selection. Think of it this way: Rather than making a selection with the selection tools and then saving that as an alpha channel; in effect, you’d be creating an alpha channel that you’d then load as a selection. Typically, this is used to make complex selections such as the sky amongst the branches and leaves of a tree. Here’s the process using the image shown here as an example: 

Go to the Channels panel (Window>Channels), look at the Red, Green, and Blue channels (assuming it’s an RGB image), and find the channel that gives you the best “start” toward a white sky and black silhouette of the branches and leaves. Often it’s the Blue channel, but not always. Click on that channel to make it the active channel, Right-click on it, choose Duplicate Channel, and click OK. This step is crucial because if you don’t duplicate the channel, in the next steps you’ll ruin your photo (as you’d be editing the Blue channel itself, not a copy). Make sure the duplicate channel is the only visible and active channel. 

On the copied channel, we want to make it look like an alpha channel (white representing our selection and black showing the non-selected areas), so use tools, such as Levels and painting with black and white, to fine-tune this channel. Once you’re happy, Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on it to load it as a selection. 

Q: I just noticed a command called Fade (in the Edit menu). What’s that used for?

A: The Fade command becomes available immediately after you’ve used any tool or function. For example, if you use the Brush tool (B) to paint a brushstroke, the command would display as Fade Brush Tool. When you choose the Fade command in the Edit menu, you’ll see a dialog that lets you adjust the Opacity and blend Mode of whatever you just did. It’s important that you choose Fade right away, as it only applies to the very last operation you did. x

Assuming that you work with layers, smart filters, adjustment layers, and other nondestructive methods, there’s probably less reason to use the Fade command these days. Here’s an example of how you can use the Fade command when working with channels. When starting with a channel to make a selection (see previous question), we need to make the duplicated channel into a black and while mask. One way to do that is to paint in Overlay mode but that can be time-consuming. Instead, press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to Select All, Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to Copy, and Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) Paste. Then go to Edit>Fade, change the mode to Overlay, and click OK. That will change the blend mode of the pasted photo to Overlay, which should help achieve the goal of whiter light-gray areas and darker dark-gray areas. 

Q: Is it possible to place/import several photos into a document (rather than importing them one at a time)? 

A: There’s a way to do it but it’s not obvious. If you’ve tried using File>Place Linked or Embedded you’ll know that doesn’t work, as it asks you to choose a single file. In order to place several files, you have to drag-and-drop those files into your document either from Bridge or your operating system. When you do, you’ll see the first image appear with transformation handles. Drag on a corner handle to resize the placed image (if necessary), and when you press Enter, the next image will appear (also with transformation handles). Repeat that operation (scale and press Enter) until all the dragged images have been placed, and you’ll see separate smart object layers for each image that was dragged into the document. 

Q: I need to prepare a photo in Photoshop to place into InDesign, and the photo needs to have a transparent background. What’s the best way to do that? 

A: One of the big advantages of using Photoshop with InDesign is that InDesign recognizes and works with Photoshop documents. That means if you create transparency in Photoshop (using a layer mask, for example) and save it as a PSD file, you can place that file into InDesign, and the transparency will be preserved. And the link is live, so if you need to edit the original in Photoshop, just hold down Command-Option (PC: Ctrl-Alt) and double-click on the placed file to jump back to Photoshop. Edit the file in Photoshop and save it, and it will automatically update in InDesign. (In the example shown here, a Black & White adjustment layer was added to the Photoshop document and saved, and the InDesign document automatically updated.) 

Q: Someone told me that I shouldn’t add type in Photoshop because it’s pixel-based, and that I should use something like Illustrator instead. Is that true? 

A: It might have been true many years ago, but not any more. The Type tool (T) in Photoshop creates vector-based text that’s very high quality, crisp, and re-sizeable. The type remains vector quality in a PSD or PDF document. When you save in a format such as JPEG, in theory the text is rasterized; however, as long as the file was created in the correct size and resolution, it can be used for printing without any noticeable loss in quality. (To be fair, applications such as Illustrator and InDesign have more control over how text is edited, but from a pure quality standpoint, there’s no problem with creating text in Photoshop.) 

Q: I need to extend the sky in my photo to fill the top few inches of my canvas. What’s the best way to do this? 

A: Typically, Content-Aware Scale will give you a good result, assuming that there isn’t too much fine detail in the sky. Make a selection of as much of the existing sky as possible; then from the Edit menu, choose Content-Aware Scale, and drag the top handle up to fill the sky. Depending on your version of Photoshop, you may or may not have to hold down the Shift key.