Working with Layers in Photoshop 7: Part 6

By Gary David Bouton

Dateline: January 22, 2004
Volume 2, Number 11
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This marks the last installment in a series of columns on adapted from my latest book, Inside Adobe Photoshop 7. You can actively participate using Photoshop, and the image files I've supplied, by clicking on the links throughout. This installment won't make much sense unless you've worked through the first five installments. I hope you'll like this series enough to consider buying the book. :)

This month we'll start with a model of a glass stein I rendered, complete with partial transparency, using Caligari trueSpace. This modeling program has two features (besides the rendering quality) that make it an assignment-saver for Photoshop work. First, trueSpace enables me to render the stein (in this example) to any dimension (any reasonable dimension!), so I could render the somewhat diminutive stein practically swallowed by a large background – specifically, the same dimensions as the picnic picture you've been working on in previous installments.

The other feature? It renders alpha channels. An alpha channel can describe the shape and opacity of any object in the scene – and Photoshop can load channels as selections. So let's see how a stein is added to the table in the scene, and then how to tonally balance the stein.

Using the Shift Modifier when Copying Layers

  1. Download and open the Stein.tif image.
  2. Choose the Move tool, and then Ctrl([@Cmd])+click on the Alpha channel on the Channels palette that describes the form of the stein. Switch back to the Layers palette, and sure enough, the outline of the stein has a selection marquee going around it, as shown in the illustration below.

    Load the selection of the stein in the Channels palette, and a selection marquee will appear around the object in the Layers palette view.

  3. While holding Shift, drag the stein using the Move tool into the picnic.psd image (which you downloaded back in the first installment and have been working on ever since, right?). Surprise (once again)! The stein lands perfectly on the table the alien is hogging. Why? Because the Shift key sends Photoshop a message to copy the stein to the relative center of the other image. In other words, I knew in advance where the stein should go, so I rendered it so both images were the same size. I'm sure this is a better trick than it sounds! If you understand this centering thing, you can copy and paste internally (from within Photoshop, from window to window) with perfect accuracy. In your Photoshop work, you might need to duplicate layers to different image windows, and the Move tool and the Shift key are your... well, your key. See below.

    The stein is copied to its relative position in the stein image to the picnic image. Holding Shift is the trick.

  4. Press Ctrl([@Cmd])+S; keep the file open.

    Got a minute to balance the tones in the stein? It looks washed out in the picture. And perhaps you want to add a shadow to the stein that falls on the table (the shadow; not the stein)?

    The Levels Command and More Shadow Work

    All you need to know at this point is that the Levels command is like a super Brightness/Contrast control on your TV. You can tune the highlights, the shadows, and the midtones (very useful for bringing out image detail. Did you know most visual content in an image is in the midtones?). You're going to use the Levels command with confidence and gusto, because we have steps for doing what's needed. Further, we think you can "wing" a shadow on the table from the stein – you've learned a headful in this chapter, and we need to cram in two more things, okay?

  5. With the Stein as the current editing layer on the Layers palette, press Ctrl([@Cmd])+L. Doing this takes you to the Levels command and it's a terrific keyboard shortcut to a much-used feature.
  6. Drag the far-left, black triangle under Input Levels to about 61. Doing this makes the stein take on some blacks, where it used to be washed out. Now we need some light areas.
  7. Drag the white slider on the far right to the left until the Input field for this slider reads 216, as shown in the next illustration. As you can see in the figure, this is now a visually interesting stein, with good contrast and motion of tones across its face.

    Use the Levels command to sort out tonal "blahs" in an image area.

  8. Press Enter to make the Levels changes and return to the picnic.
  9. Click on the Sunshine layer title on the Layers palette, and then click on the Create a new layer icon. The new layer is beneath the stein.
  10. Zoom in on the stein, and with the Lasso tool try really hard to draw the simple shape shown in the next illustration. Give it another try if the shadow looks wrong on your first attempt.
  11. Click on the Eyedropper tool and click a sample point on the wooden table. This sets the foreground color in Photoshop.
  12. Press Alt(Opt)+Delete (Backspace). On the Layers palette, drag the Fill down to about 62%, and change the mode to Multiply. See figure 1.32, and you can press Ctrl([@Cmd])+D at any time.

    Create a shadow for the stein. You can do it with only a tug or two on the Lasso tool.

    I've taken you through this series of tutorials without explaining how Photoshop's sliders work. It might be in Adobe Systems documentation, but there's no point taking chances. Slider boxes are actually a two-in-one affair. For example, the Opacity box on the Layers palette can be typed into to arrive at the desired opacity. Just type and hit Enter (Return). But you can also reveal a hidden slider if you click and hold on the triangle to the right of the number-entry field.

  13. Press Ctrl([@Cmd])+S; keep the file open. There's one more command I can show you that will conclude our "gooshing" of Photoshop and it's features, like so much clay. Check out the final illustration – you don't have to do anything but look at the bumbler. Now, of course you know how it was resized (answer: the Free Transform Scale mode command), but how come it's looking to the left now? By the way, the way the bumble is pointing now is wrong, because the light is striking its left, instead of the scene's emanation of light from the right. But it was fun to:
    1. Click on the Layer Set folder
    2. Press Ctrl([@Cmd])+T to put the folder in Free Transform.
    3. Right-click(Macintosh: hold Ctrl and click) and then choose Flip Horizontal from the Context menu.

    You can put a Layer Set into Free Transform, and come up with time-saving steps for editing.


    This was a light-hearted romp through some of Photoshop's really cool features, but ask yourself: how much did I learn and how can I apply it to an idea of my own? That's the true key to learning Photoshop – you can learn commands at your own speed, but you can't put a time value on what the tools are good for and how creative thought forms a sort of Ying-Yang with Photoshop. That is, you bring a working knowledge of tools and a concept to Photoshop, and Photoshop will help you. Conversely, you can explore and discover what features can do, and this might influence the direction you take with a photo or piece of art. And as far as exploring and uncovering, this series has barely exposed the surface to the standard for image editing. I hope you've found this valuable enough to consider buying the book.

    My Best,
    Gary David Bouton

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    Gary David Bouton is an author and artist who is largely responsible for the book "Inside Adobe Photoshop 7" and wouldn't mind at all if you bought a copy . Gary hosts a thread on the Photoshop Gurus site and is the moderator of a 3D modeling forum. His guide to Caligari's free trueSpace 3D app is available online. Besides being an educator/artist/all-around-nice-guy, Gary refuses to use hip words such as "paradigm", "challenged", and "hip" in his writing.