Softening the Edges of Photo Object Images
By Barbara McGunigal
Dateline: February 16, 2007
Version: Photoshop CS2
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Photos in the PhotoObjects.net stock photo collection all have a perfect, precise, clean path, separating the central object or person, from its background. The Photos.com, AbleStock.com and Clipart.com collections also contain some of these images, known as "photo objects." While they work fine as provided, in some situations you might require a softer edge around the imagery. For example, to better blend into the background or into an effect used on the background layer. In this tutorial I'll show you how to put those paths and your alpha channels to good use. Note that for this example I enlarged the canvas size to accommodate the background image I would be adding, once I was done.
Open your photo object image in Photoshop (or download and open the image I used) and click on the Path tab in your Layers palette. Highlight the Path layer and at the bottom of the palette click on Load Path As Selection. This will make the "marching ants" appear around your image.
Soften the selection by going to Select > Feather. I set this to a 7-pixel radius and clicked OK. Your value will depend on what you are blending your image into. Important: do not deselect the path—leave the marching ants.
Here’s where the alpha channels come in. Click on the Channels tab in your Layers palette. Now click on the Save Selection As Channel button at the bottom of the palette. It should now look like the illustration below.
Turning On the Eye icon next to Alpha 1 and turning Off the Eye icon next to the RGB layer reveals the knockout of your image.
Invert Alpha 1. Go to : Select > Inverse. Now click on the Save Selection As Channel button at the bottom of the palette.
Again: turning On the Eye icon next to Alpha 2 and turning Off the Eye icon next to the Alpha 1 layer reveals the Inverse of your image. It should now look like the illustration below.
To further add to the softening effect, add a Black to White Gradient to the Alpha 2 layer. Using a Radial Gradient, the results look like this.
With the Alpha 2 channel layer still highlighted, Deselect All (PC:Ctrl-D, Mac:Command-D). Now Click the Load Channel As Selection icon (the first one at the bottom of the pallete). You will need to save this so go to: Select > Save Selection. Give it a name (I used Alpha1a).
Turn On the Eye icon next to RGB and turn Off the Alpha 2 Eye icon. Click the Layers Tab. Drag onto a new layer the background image you intend to use. Make sure it is sized and positioned where you need it, and then move it under Layer 1.
Making sure that your Background image layer is selected go to: Select > Load Selection > Choose ALPHA1a, then go to: Filter > Blur > Radial Blur > Zoom > and set zoom to fit your image. Apply and deselect (this also works with other filters).
Now back to our PhotoObjects.net image. Select that layer, then go to: Select > Load Selection > Channel Alpha 1. Click OK. Go to: Select > Inverse, then press the Delete button. That’s it. Your final image will now blend softly into your background without a sharp, crisp edge, as shown below.
The steps taken for blurring the background can be omitted, since this procedure works just as well without an effect on the background image. In the example below, the next step would be to adjust the lighting for the photo object to better match its background, as well as add shadows. Both procedures are covered in detail in these two Graphics.com tutorials.
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Barbara McGunigal is the art director for The Industrial Projects Report magazine, She also heads up LeapFrog Type & Design Studios, where her main focus is on book cover design and promotional art. You can see her work at leapfrog-designs.com.