Transcript for Refine Edge Video

Narration by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS4 Used in this Tutorial

Welcome to the Ron Bigelow Photography Refine Edge tutorial. Today we are going to look at a tool that allows us to refine selections. Anyone that has been around Photoshop for any length of time knows that masks are extremely useful. However, in most cases, before one creates a mask, a selection must be created. The bad news is that it is often difficult to get a perfect selection on the first try. Frequently, we have to edit a selection before it is usable. Sometimes, this editing can be laborious.

This is where the Refine Edge tool comes in. The Refine Edge tool can assist in fine tuning selections. So, let’s take a closer look.

This image was taken when I was out on some desert trails. Notice the rock outlined against the sky. As you can see, the top of the rock forms an irregular edge. For the editing that I plan for this image, I need a selection that isolates the sky. In fact, I have already made a first attempt to select the sky using the Quick Selection tool. We can call up this selection by choosing Select/Load Selection. We want the Sky selection.

At first glance, the selection might not look too bad. However, let’s zoom in to 100% by pressing Control+Alt+0 on a PC or Command+Option+0 on a Mac and move to the rock with the Navigator. We can now move into the Quick Mask Mode by clicking the Quick Mask Mode button. Here the red shows the selected area. We can see that, in some areas at least, the selection is a bit crude where the rock meets the sky. The transitions are rather abrupt and do not always closely follow the edge of the rock. If we used the selection as is to create a mask, the use of the mask would likely be noticeable in a print. Now, under normal circumstances, this selection would be totally unacceptable. I would delete the selection and start over. However, to demonstrate the power of the Refine Edge tool, I am going to keep this selection. Luckily for us, we can use the Refine Edge tool to improve the selection. So, let’s move out of the Quick Mask Mode and get started with the Refine Edge tool.

We can launch the Refine Edge tool by pressing Control+Alt+R on a PC or Command+Option+R on a Mac.

First, let’s look at the Select View icons. Clicking on the first icon, which is the Standard Selection icon, shows the image as we would normally see it. Now, pressing the F key moves us through the options. The next view is the Quick Mask view. Next, is the Black Background view. We then have the White Background view. Last, we have the Mask view. This view shows what the selection would look like once it is changed into a mask. You can choose whichever view works best for you. For this image, I think that I like the Quick Mask view, so that is what we will use.

The Refine Edge tool has five adjustments: radius, contrast, smooth, feather, and contract/expand. Let’s take them one at a time.

The radius adjustment determines the region near the edge of the selection that the tool refines. Increasing the radius creates a better selection in areas where there is an irregular edge, fine detail, or gentle transitions. Right now, the radius is set at zero. In other words, no refinement of the selection is being performed. Before we start to refine, we need to make sure that the preview option is checked. Let us now increase the radius to its maximum setting and see what happens. As we can see, instead of a hard edge, we now have an edge that is being refined over a much broader area. This is great, but I think that we have gone too far. We need to back off to get a better selection.

A selection of about 150 seems to work well here. So, I simply type in 150. Notice how much the selection is improved from the original selection.

However, we are not done yet. Next, we will use the contrast adjustment. This adjustment increases the sharpness of the selection. This is very useful for selections that use a large radius, like this one. As you can see, as we increase the contrast, the edge becomes sharper. In fact, we have gone too far and made the selection too harsh. So, let’s back off to about 35.

Before we move on, I would like to emphasize that we need to work the radius and contrast adjustments together. We can increase the radius to better select the detail. However, a large radius can create a rather soft edge. So, we then use the contrast adjustment to increase the sharpness of the edge for an even better selection.

The next thing that I would like to do with this selection is to soften up the edges a bit. For this, we will use the Feather adjustment. As we move the slider to the right, the edges soften up. Now, I have gone way too far again. I think that a feather setting of about two pixels will do the job. So, let’s back off to that setting.

At this point, the selection is looking pretty good. However, if I look close, I can see that there is still a thin halo on the sky side of the selection edge. This can be seen as a narrow sliver of blue between the red that shows the selection of the sky and the mountains. The Contract/Expand adjustment can help us here. If I move the adjustment to -100, we can see that the selection contracts. Moving the adjustment to +100 causes the selection to expand. For this selection, I think that a setting of about +10 will work just fine.

Now, we do not necessarily want to use all five of these adjustments on every selection. Instead, we want to use the adjustments that serve our purposes for each selection. For this selection, the radius, contrast, feather, and Contract/Expand adjustments are all that we need. So, we are done with this selection.

Before we leave this image, I would like to show you the results of the work that we have just completed on this selection.

I have added a Curves adjustment to darken the sky somewhat and have used the selection to create a mask on the Curves layer. That way, the edit is applied only to the sky. Now, I have actually created two versions of the image. Here we see the two versions side by side at 100%.The first version uses the original selection to create the mask. In other words, it uses the selection before we applied the Refine Edge tool adjustments. The second image uses the selection after we applied the edits.

In the version that used the original selection, you can definitely see that the mask leaves something to be desired. On the other hand, in the version that used the edited selection, you can see the much improved results.

However, we are not done with the Refine Edge tool yet. Let’s move on to another image to look at the last Refine Edge tool adjustment.

Here, we have an image of old west ruins. I have selected inside one of the windows. Let’s zoom in to the 100% view and move in to see our selection. At first, everything looks okay. However, launching the Refine Edge tool will give us a closer look. Let's view the selection in Mask view.

We now can see that the selection is a bit jagged. This would produce a rather harsh edged mask. No problem, the Smooth adjustment will reduce the roughness of the selection. As we move the smooth adjustment, we can see that the edge smoothes out. Okay, as usual, I have gone way too far. So, let’s back off the Smooth adjustment to something a bit more reasonable. I think that a setting of 6 works well on this image. We are now done with this selection, so let’s close the Refine Edge tool.

That brings us to the end of this tutorial. However, before I sign off, I would like to take this opportunity to let you know that you can download the transcript for this video, view several other photography videos, and access over 100 photography articles on my website.