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Lesson 4: Make Your Selection Please

Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics


You learned about tools, menus, and palettes in the last lesson. In this lesson, we'll get a little more specific -- and you'll get the chance to use Photoshop.

Although there will be times when you want to work on an image as a whole, more often than not, the changes you need to make affect only a portion of the image you're working on. Photoshop gives you a range of ways to isolate areas of your image for closer scrutiny and manipulation. In this lesson, we'll learn all about them. I'll describe the selection process and your options. So let's get started.

You use marquees to make uncomplicated geometrical selections within an image -- such as a rectangle, an oval, an ellipse or curve, or a single horizontal or vertical line of pixels (Figure 4-1). Now let's see how it works:

Figure 4-1: There are four marquee tools.

Now comes the moment you've all been waiting for: the opportunity to work with an image (Figure 4-2). You can copy this image below (it's OK, it's not a copyrighted image) to your computer by right-clicking (Windows) or Ctrl-clicking (Mac) on the image, and then choosing Download Image, or the equivalent menu command, from the contextual menu. When you have downloaded the image, open it with Photoshop. If you prefer, you can use an image of your own for this exercise.

Figure 4-2: An example image for you to work with.

Click on the Rectangular Marquee tool and make a selection. To do this:

Move your mouse over the canvas. As you do this, you will see the cursor change to crosshairs.

  1. Position the crosshairs over the boy's head and drag down and to the right to create a small rectangle. Then let go of the mouse. The rectangle is the selected area.
  2. Now you can manipulate the selected area. You can use the zoom tool to take a closer look at the selected area, or cut that area and discard it. You can even open a new window and paste the selected area into a new Photoshop document.

Now try the same with the Oval Marquee. You can also combine straight and round selections with the Elliptical and Single Line marquees for more complex, but geometrically standard shapes (Figure 4-3). To see all of your marquee options, click and hold a marquee tool. Move your cursor over to the marquee you want and click to choose it. Then make a selection on your image.

Figure 4-3: You can use different types of marquees to make selections with different shapes.

The Lasso Family

Photoshop isn't all about straight lines. The program includes several different Lasso tools that allow you to make odd-shaped selections. But unlike the marquees we just discussed, you're going to need a steady hand to get this just right.

Let's go back to the image from Figure 4-2 (the one you downloaded to your computer) and select just the boy's head:

  1. Click on the Lasso tool (Figure 4-4 shows the Lasso tools that are available).
  2. Click and carefully drag from one side of the boy's head to the other. Make sure you don't release the mouse button until you've completed your selection.
  3. When you release the mouse, the two ends of the selection will join automatically.

Figure 4-4: You can use the Lasso tools to select irregular shapes.

Figure 4-5: Here, the lasso was used to select the boy's face.

The Polygon Lasso Tool

The Polygon Lasso tool works in a different way than the first Lasso tool. The Polygon Lasso tool creates selections from a series of points that are joined together by a straight line Marquee. This is a useful tool if you want to make a detailed selection, as you can place as many points as you wish, allowing you to create geometric precision in your selection.

To use the Polygon Lasso tool:

  1. Click on the Lasso tool and drag to select the Polygon Lasso tool (Figure 4-6).

    Figure 4-6: The Polygon Lasso tool.

  2. Click once on your image. Move your mouse and notice that a straight line follows your Polygon lasso.
  3. Click, and notice that the line you've drawn ends where you've clicked.
  4. Move your mouse again and click again. You'll see a second line that begins where the first ended.
  5. Continue drawing connected lines until you have selected the area you want. Click on the location where you began your selection to complete it. Figure 4-7 shows a completed polygon.

The Magnetic Lasso Tool

This is the coolest of the Lasso tools because it's a really smart tool. You use the Magnetic Lasso tool pretty much as you use the Polygon Lasso tool, but when you drag the Magnetic Lasso tool around a well-defined shape, it hugs the edge of the shape. This is especially useful for irregular shapes that stand out from the background. Try it with the image of the boy in the field from Figure 4-2, and you'll see how effective it is.

The Magic Wand

Until now, all the tools that we've looked at are similar in one sense: each tool allows you to select pixels according to their location in your image. The Magic Wand (Figure 4-7), on the other hand, allows you to select pixels based upon their similarity in color. This means you'll be able to cut people or things in the foreground of the image from the background. Now we are getting into the really good effects! And just like the marquee tools, you'll be able to make multiple selections using the Magic Wand: just hold down the Shift key as you select the different areas.

Figure 4-7: The Magic Wand.

Like most Photoshop tools, the Magic Wand has its own Options palette that lets you tinker with the tool. In the Magic Wand options, Tolerance refers to the number of similar colors that are selected when you click on an area. The default is 32, meaning that 32 tones lighter than the color and 32 darker will be selected. The higher the tolerance (up to 255), the more shades will be selected.

In Photoshop, the default setting in the Magic Wand Options palette is to select Contiguous or adjacent pixels for selection. If you uncheck the Contiguous box, then the Magic Wand will select all similarly colored pixels regardless of where they are in the image.


The Feather option is a very useful one because it allows you to select an area with hazy, feathered edges instead of clear, well-defined ones. This can be a huge advantage when you want to take part of an image from one photo and put it into another. Blurring with the feather tool makes it easier for the object to blend in. It's also useful if you need to work on part of an image and then reintegrate it into the original.

You'll need to pick the pixel width of feathering to apply from the dialog box shown in Figure 4-8. Take some time fooling around with this amount until you think it looks good.

Figure 4-8: The Feather dialog box.

To use Feather:

  1. Pick one of the Selection tools we've talked about in this lesson, and use it to select part of the boy in the field (from Figure 4-2).
  2. Choose Select > Feather.
  3. In the dialog box that opens, enter a Feather Radius amount. The scale goes from 1 to 250 and represents the pixel amount inside and outside of the selection border.

The Select Menu

Once you've made a selection, you can modify it using the items from the Select menu. Choose Select > Modify and then choose one of the four options from the submenu.

Let's talk about the options available to you:

  • Border allows you to select a border around the image you've selected.
  • Smooth can be a really useful tool if you've made a Lasso selection that's a little off. Smooth will rectify any anomalies in the selection by as many pixels as you specify.
  • Contract and Expand, as their names suggest, alter the size of the selection.

All of these tools have dialog boxes that allow you to specify the pixel amount of modification you want to impose. As you work more with Photoshop, you'll find it's really useful to be able to specify the modifications you want to make pixel-by-pixel, because it gives you an amazing level of control over your images.

Moving On

We've covered a lot of ground in this lesson. We covered several different groups of selection tools. These tools allow you to pick parts of your images to work with. Now you can really make each part of your image special. We discussed Marquees, which can make uncomplicated geometrical selections within an image such as rectangles, ovals, ellipses or curves, and single horizontal and vertical rows of pixels. Then there are the several different Lasso tools to take care of the odd shapes. The Magic Wand allows you to pick pixels by color for blending, and Feather allows you to blur edges for a more complete look. The Select Menu has additional options to work with. Now that all that is covered, we are ready to pick up speed. First you've got a quiz and an assignment to take care of, which should keep you busy for a while.

In the next lesson, we'll learn about more ways to alter your images. We also will begin to look at the creative process that will help you to turn your photos into art.

Next Lesson: Adobe Photoshop 6 Basics Lesson 5: Tinkering With Images and Canvases

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