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Making Selections in Adobe Photoshop

Lesson 4 of 6

Using Automated Selection Tools

Ben Willmore

Making Selections in Adobe Photoshop

Ben Willmore

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Lesson Info

4. Using Automated Selection Tools


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:06:03
2 Selection Tools Duration:05:55
3 Combining Selection Tools Duration:07:37
5 Quick Mask Mode Duration:05:07
6 Select Menu Essentials Duration:21:27

Lesson Info

Using Automated Selection Tools

All right, let's work with some other images. Now, I don't feel like using those basic selection tools quite so much to select areas. I'd like to have Photoshop do more of the work for me. So let's figure out how we could do that. Well, if I go to the Select menu, there is a choice called Select Subject. It'll just try to figure out the subject of this photograph and make a selection around it. So let's do that. Cool, it did a pretty good job on most of it except for the lower right. So now I can end up modifying that. So far, the only tool we know about is the marquee tool because that's the only one we've used. I might be able to use that to get rid of this area down in here, 'cause there's this relatively straight line here, but I think this letter P is rotated the littlest bit, so it wouldn't be quite what I need. Let's try another tool. I'm going to go one tool down and that's the lasso tool. The lasso tool allows me to create a freeform selection of any shape I want. It's just li...

ke grabbing a pencil and drawing. So if I want to take away from my selection, I use those keyboard shortcuts I mentioned, or I use these icons. Remember this, adds to, that takes away, this gives you the intersection. So I'll say take away. I come down here and I can draw a freeform shape. Let's say I'm just going to draw like this, and I just removed that area. I could trace along manually this edge, and then trace along it this way, and then loop around that way to the beginning again, and get rid of it. I was getting rid of it 'cause I chose the icon in my options bar to remove, but I usually have that on the far left. I want to get rid of the orange area here in the middle. I changed my icon on the options bar back to its default, so in this case if I want to remove, I have to hold down a key, that's the Option key, Alt in Windows, and now I'm going to draw and just try to trace that shape. All right, I got it selected. So now, what might I do with that. Well, there are some things I can do to modify my selection, one of which is to tell it to give me the opposite of what I currently have. I currently have the letter P selected and I would rather have its background selected. If I go to the Select menu, there's a choice called the Inverse, which will give me the opposite. But I should mention that inverse sounds similar to this, Invert, and a lot of people confuse those two. Invert means make my picture look like a photographic negative. Give me the opposite of what I have, brightness-wise. So if I tell it to invert the picture, it means give me the opposite of orange and give me the opposite brightness. So I'll do that. That's not what I wanted. That was Image Adjustments Invert. So many people confuse that command for the one I'm using, which is Select Inverse. Inverse means give me the opposite of a selection. So here, if I have the outer edge, if I inversed, we would have the letter P, but I like the outer. So in this case, what I might do is go to the Edit menu and just choose Fill and say I want to fill this with white, because I want the letter P on a white background. All right, got it. If I no longer need to work on that area, I can then Deselect just to get rid of the marching ants. I don't know about you but I didn't enjoy tracing around that with the lasso tool. The lasso tool's the tool I want to use the least, but it's one I have to use on occasion when other more automated tools mess up. Let's look at some more automated tools that might save us a lot of time. I'm going to get this image back to the way it originally looked by going to the File menu and choosing Revert. Let's try selecting this using other tools. The marquee tool and the lasso tool have been in Photoshop for the most part, forever. I'm pretty sure they were both in Photoshop version 1.0. Therefore, they've been there since the 80s. That's when you had to do work yourself. If you go one more tool down, then there's a slot here that actually has three tools hidden within it. If I click and hold down, all three of these tools try to automate selections to make them easier. The magic wand tool has been in Photoshop for decades. It is useful but just not on too many photographic images. If we had text that you had scanned in, it could be very useful, but let's just look at it so you're aware of what it does. With the magic wand tool, you can move your mouse on top of the image, and if you just click and let go, it will look at the color that's underneath your mouse and it will select things that are similar to that color. So, I'm going to click right here, and you see how it's selected things that were orange in that area. But it did not extend the selection all the way to the upper left and that's because the upper left is brighter than down here. There's a setting called Tolerance, which is right up here in my options bar, which means how much can it deviate from the exact color I clicked on and still consider it to be similar in color. With a setting of 32, that means go 32 shades brighter or darker than what I clicked on and select them. Well, I could take that tolerance setting and increase it. Right now it's 32, let's bring it up to around 70, close to twice that, and then I'll get rid of my selection with Command d and I'll try again. Well there, it made it all the way up there to the top, all I needed to do was to increase my tolerance, to say go for things brighter and darker then what I'd clicked on. But it didn't get into the really dark orange area, so I could choose Undo with Command z and I'm going to bring it from 70 up to 80, and then click on the orange area. And still it didn't quite get up into that dark orange area. Well first, we don't need it to be precise like that because we can add to and take away from a selection. Do you remember I could hold down shift to add. Well why not just hold down shift right now and click in the dark area. It just added it to my selection. Therefore, it doesn't have to be that precise. I can come in here to the middle now if I hold shift and click there, because this has a setting up here that's called Contiguous. Contiguous means only select one unbroken chunk. If you turn that off, it means discontiguous, and that means it could select independent areas that don't touch each other. But because that was turned on, that's why we didn't get the center of the letter P to begin with. Instead I had to hold shift and go and click on it. So anyway, the magic wand tool's not terrible here. Oftentimes, I'll make selections similar to what I have now and then switch from the magic wand to the lasso to clean it up. I'm going to clean it up by just adding other areas that I wanted to include. Right now, I'm attempting to select everything except for the letter P, so I'll hold down the shift key to add to my selection and I'm just going to circle around the upper left corner. I'll circle around this little gray object, and I'll go around this little part up here. These are all really easy to draw across using the lasso tool, so I can easily get to what I needed. If I really wanted the letter P selected instead of the background, then of course I go to the Select menu and choose Inverse. Now I have it. So that was using the magic wand tool. Now the magic wand tool, you have to be careful when you're changing the settings that are here. We can look at the other settings that are here in general. So first, here are those same icons. Do you want to add to or take away from the existing selection. Next to that, we have sample size and that means when I click on my picture, how large of an area should it analyze when it figures out what color I'm clicking on. Point sample means look at one speck, the smallest pixel that makes up the image. The problem with that is if your image has noise where it has little speckles of colors that don't really represent the image data, it's just noise, then you might want to bring this up to three by three average or five by five average. Then it would take an area, five pixels wide, five pixels tall, and average it. That would be a better indicator of what color was truly there, ignoring any noise that might be there. I'm just putting it back to the default. Tolerance is how much can it vary from the exact color that's underneath your mouse. The default is 32. You should be aware that affects other tools. There are other commands in Photoshop. There's one called Grow and there's one called Similar. They both look at tolerance to figure out how much should it grow and and how similar should things need to be. When you change that, just be aware it will affect a few other tools. Then we have some other choices that are here. I already mentioned Contiguous, means unbroken chunk. If you happen to have layers, if this is turned off which is the default, it will only look at the active layer and will ignore all others. If this is turned on, it will look at the entire document, just whatever it looks like regardless of how many layers it's made out of. It'll look at the image as a whole. Most of the time I have that on but it depends. Anti-alias makes the edge of your selection just the littlest bit smoother than usual by softening the edge by half a pixel, you could say. That's useful. If you don't have that turned on, your end result will look jaggy, it'll be obvious when you fill it with white. The edge won't look smooth. So I almost always have that turned on. Over here, Select Subject is exactly the same as the command I got when I went to the Select menu and I chose Subject, so it's just a short-cut. And then Select and Mask is something we'll get into later. That does the same thing as going to the Select menu and choosing Select and Mask. It's just a short-cut. All right, that's our magic wand tool. I will use the magic wand tool. A lot of people don't and they call it the tragic wand tool because they, I don't know, like things that rhyme or something. But in here, oftentimes the magic wand tool's great. I just grab it, I might hold shift and say I missed this part down here. Well, with shift held down it's going to add to my selection so I might be able to come in here and very quickly attempt to add some areas that were needed. I find all of the tools in Photoshop to be useful. It's just a matter of figuring out which one would be fastest and most effective. Let's look at the other tools that are found under that same slot along with the magic wand tool. There is the quick selection tool, which is what I have selected now. I'm going to get rid of the selection to start over. With that tool, you have a brush and you can change the size of your brush. Up here in the options bar at the top of your screen, you see a little white circle with a number under it. If you were to click here, there's the size of your brush. Or if you happen to know keyboard short-cuts for changing brush size, like with normal painting brushes, they work here. And that would be the square bracket keys right above the return or enter key. It looks like little half squares and you could use those to change your brush size, which is what I was doing when you saw it changing. With that tool, I can click within my image, and if I do, it's going to spread out after I click, and try to select things in the same area that are similar in brightness and color and similar in texture. In general, it's going to spread out until it sees a noticeable difference in one of those qualities. It's going to spread out until the brightness changes or the color changes or the texture changes dramatically. I'm going to click right here. You see I've selected a small area. I haven't let go yet. I'm just going to start dragging up this way. I'm going to make sure that whatever I paint over is what I wanted to have selected, and I don't get any overspray whatsoever on the orange area that I don't want selected. I'm not going to let this circle touch it at all. There's an area down near the bottom it didn't select, the darker kind of silvery black area, so I'll make sure it overlaps that. It didn't get the little black that's beyond the letter P but still kind of part of it, so I'll go over there and work my way up. I'm just letting that circle touch whatever needs to be selected and isn't yet. Now this tool usually defaults in the options bar up here, to adding to a selection. That's the default setting. Therefore, it doesn't matter if I let go of the mouse button and click again, it's going to automatically add unless you've changed that setting. So if I need the little black part in the middle of the letter P, I'll try to click there. Unfortunately, when I did, it thought I wanted the whole area in the middle of the letter P including what was orange. So now I'm going to take away from the selection. I'll get a brush small enough where I won't get overspray beyond the orange. I'm either going to click on the icon on my options bar that has the minus sign. That would mean take away. Or I'll just hold the same key I used earlier when I wanted to take away, which is the option key, Alt in Windows. Then I'll click in the middle there to say take away. That didn't do too bad of a job selecting the letter P. And that is the quick selection tool. I very much like using it in general. If you look in the options bar for it, this just means make a brand-new selection when I click instead of adding to. Otherwise add or take away. That's how big of a circle I'm getting. If when I'm going to be painting in here, I need to get into a tight area, I'll need a smaller brush just so I don't get overspray on things that I didn't want. It's kind of odd that it has an angle but that's your brush angle. If you had an odd-shaped brush, then you could change its angle, but a round brush, changing its angle doesn't do anything. Sample all layers is just like the magic wand tool, it means look at all layers instead of just one. Auto-enhance I almost always have turned on. It will make the edge look better. It'll give you a more refined edge. It will slow down the process a little bit, where Photoshop has to think a little bit after you paint, so if you find that slows things down too much, you can turn auto-enhance off and then only when you think you're done with your selection, turn it on and then click anywhere within your selection, and that'll cause it to look at the entire selection and apply auto-enhance to it. So you could do it just at the end. Then these two buttons did the same thing as the ones in the magic wand. They're just short-cuts. All right, now, let's try to select this using another tool. Let's use a tool that's relatively new in Photoshop. It's called the Object Selection tool. I'm going to get rid of this selection by typing Command d for deselect. This tool has two modes. One is rectangle mode and the other is lasso mode. Rectangle mode is just where you click and drag and you're making a rectangle that all you need to do is get it to contain what it is you're trying to select and then let go. That's primarily if there's more than one object. Let's say there's five cars, you're looking down at a parking lot at 'em and you want to select one of the five cars. Well, if you went to the Select menu and chose Select Subject, it wouldn't know which of the five cars in a parking lot was the true subject of your photo. But if you grabbed this tool, which is known as the object selection tool, you could make a box around just one of the cars and therefore, it would know what you wanted to do. Or if you have multiple odd-shaped objects, then you might change this instead to lasso, which is what I usually use, and then you can draw a freeform shape. It doesn't need to be overly precise. It could partially overlap or not be exact. It will look overall and try to figure out where is the edge of an object within there. It's not always perfect. You see how it didn't get the black area down here. Well, all you need to do is if you need to add that, hold shift. Shift means add just like it did with the other tools, and then just draw around that, make a big loop so it knows where that edge is. If you need it to take away, like I didn't want this center portion, I'll hold down the key that takes away, which is option, or use the icon on the options bar that does it. Just circle around the edge so that the edge is contained within what I drew. Because I had the option key held down when I drew this, it knew take away here. It should shrink and kind of conform to that. It's a great tool, I love using it. With all of these tools, you usually need to modify the results because there will be some area where it's not precise.

Class Description


  • Choose the correct selection tool
  • Use automated features to save time
  • Optimize your workflow using keyboard shortcuts
  • Combine Multiple selection tools to create complex results
  • Use Inverse, Reselect, Grow, Similar, and Transform Selection to refine images


  • Beginner, intermediate, and advanced users of Adobe Photoshop.
  • Those who want to gain confidence in Adobe Photoshop and learn new features to help edit photos.
  • Students who’d like to take ordinary images and make them look extraordinary with some image editing or Photoshop fixes.


Adobe Photoshop 2020 (V21)