Friday, January 6, 2012

Getting Clean "Enough" Extractions With Photoshop CS5

Click on today's image, check it out in its larger size.  Look at the wisps of hair on his chin and the back of his head.  If that "ain't" good enough for you, you can stop reading now.  Adobe Photoshop CS5's Quick Selection Tool (W) and Refine Edge make it a piece of cake to take a piece of an image out of one shot and drop it in another shot.  If you're a frequent reader of the Gallery you might recognize the guy in the image for the December 19, 2011 post.  Same guy, same frame.  Just took him out of his original shot (of the 19th) and put him in a new location.  One thing that made the move easier was the fact that we were going from his head being surrounded by a contrasty background and being put on an equally contrasty background.  Had I tried to put him in a scene with a nice blue sky with fluffy clouds it may have been a different story and this post might have included weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Several friends have cried on my shoulder about how hard it is to get a good extraction out of any image that wasn't shot on a single color background.  It could be a white or gray background (black and green backgrounds have their own set of problems).  Today's image is an example of taking a person out of a complex background and moving said person to another complex background.  The edge is "good enough", but not perfect.  It doesn't have to be.  It has to be "good enough" to get the job done.  To find out how good is good enough, hit the "Read More".

The whole thing with "good enough" depends on what you're putting the cutout on.  One of the easiest ways to find out "when" an extraction is good enough is to view it on the background it'll be on when finished.  Once a rough selection is made with the Quick Selection Tool (W) you'd go directly to the Refine Edge dialog box.  You can read about memorizing the shortcuts the different modes the dialog box gives.  B for black, W for white, etc., but the easiest thing to remember is the F key.  It'll cycle you through each to the possible overlays.  One of the overlays is "on Layers".  If you don't have anything under the Layer you do the extraction from, you'll have a blank checkerboard pattern.  If you've copied the Layer (CTRL J) so as not to disturb the original you won't see any change.  If you put what will become the background Layer under the extraction Layer you be able to see what the cutout will look like on its intended target.  This is where the "good enough" cutout becomes important.  Just for jiggles I put the guy from today's image on a sky background.  His chin hair was good throughout.  If I positioned the wisps of hair at the back of his head on a part of the sky that was blue... no problem.  On an area that had grayer clouds, no problem.  When I moved it over part of a particularly bright part of the cloud it was a mess.  The fringing around each hair could be quickly seen.  In that spot it wasn't good enough. 
I could have gone in and played with the selection on a pixel level to get that perfect cutout, but the plan was to use the fellow on the background you see above.  It wasn't necessary to do any more than was already done.  The cutout was "good enough". 
Try not to beat yourself up with work that doesn't matter.  Today's image wasn't going to get any better by my fiddling around trying to get the perfect cutout.  Some work just isn't worth the time you'd have to put into it.