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Photoshop: Selecting Items with Focus Area
Iain Anderson on Thu, January 15th 0 comments
Adobe Photoshop has many ways and tools to help you select areas of an image. But the recent 2014 update introduces a new one which Iain Anderson puts to the test.

While there are many ways to select part of an image, there's a brand new one in Photoshop CC 2014. We talked about it in our round-up of the new features across all the Adobe design apps, but here we'll take a closer look. Along the way, we'll recap some of the other ways you can select objects in photos.

Here's the original image of an Australian $1 coin.

Here's the original image of an Australian $1 coin.

Selecting an object by drawing around its edge

There are a few ways to do this, but it's always time consuming and often inaccurate. The old-school way is to use the Pen Tool to draw a clipping path, but thankfully that method is less common these days. While it's fine for smooth object edges, too many people have suffered helmet hair at the hands of unwanted bézier paths.

Note the spots where the selection has dipped in.

Note the spots where the selection has dipped in.

The other way to trace around the edge of something is to use the Magnetic Lasso Tool, which personally I can't stand. It's too easy to mess up the edge due to a mouse slip, and the resulting selection has nasty looking edges. No thanks.

Selecting an object by clicking on it

The Magic Wand is probably the go-to tool here, but it suffers from the same malaise as the Magnetic Lasso'"rough edges. If you're looking for a truly accurate result, it could be OK as a starting point to be adjusted with Refine Edge, but alone it's not great.

Not the wand! Noooo!

Not the wand! Noooo!

Quick Select usually offers better results than Magic Wand, but it suffers from a lack of control. On some images, it can simply select the wrong areas, and all you can do is change the size of the brush, paint in, or paint out.

Quick Select actually did a good job here, needing minimal cleanup.

Quick Select actually did a good job here, needing minimal cleanup.

Select an object by painting a selection

Using Quick Mask with the Brush Tool is a manual, time-consuming way to select an object.

If you're in a hurry, an entirely manual Quick Mask often takes too long.

If you're in a hurry, an entirely manual Quick Mask often takes too long.

Mostly, Quick Masking is used as a way to clean up a slightly rough selection that one of the other methods has made. Not bad, but a lot of work to get right.

Select an object based on its color

Two methods here: Command-clicking on individual channels, or using Select > Color Range. Both can get good results, but both can fail if the colors of the object you're trying to select are too similar to the background you're trying to avoid.

Channels did nothing here, and Color Range was entirely unsuccessful.

Channels did nothing here, and Color Range was entirely unsuccessful.

Finally, then, what's new in Photoshop CC 2014?

Select an object based on how sharp it is

That's right, you can now select an object that's in focus, and not the background that's been blurred out. Choose Select > Color Range, then tweak the In-Focus Range slider and other settings to select what you're looking for. For this image in particular, the line between foreground-only and everything-suddenly-selected was very fine, so tweak with care.

Settings that worked for me, including a little painting in and out.

Settings that worked for me, including a little painting in and out.

Once you find roughly the right settings for the slider, tools on the left allow you to paint areas to define them as in focus or out of focus, which is a big help. You also have direct access to Refine Edge at the bottom of the dialog to help finesse the results.

Final results'

Final results'"not perfect, but not bad at all.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, this is another tool in your arsenal for the common task of background removal (also known as deep etching). Each image will often need unique treatment, and it's really good to see a truly novel method. Get out there with some fast lenses and give it a shot!

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