Best method for selecting complex, low-contrast area of an image?


Watch the Birdy!
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Jul 8, 2005
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Victoria, BC
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So, due to some space challenges, I'm faced with the task of selecting the subject from an image and pasting her onto a black background. Relatively easy, EXCEPT for the hair. I'm having a lot of trouble getting a selection which results in a finished product with hair that doesn't look like it was cut out by a child in a dark room with safety-scissors.

So... what method(s) do you use/recommend for these sorts of selections? I know there are a million tutorials on-line and I am reading through them, but any help you can offer would be appreciated.

I mentioned it in your other thread, but I've found that I really love Topaz Remask.
I believe they have a free trial and some videos/webinars that are work checking out.

There are, of course, many techniques for just doing it yourself in Photoshop. One simple tip that used often, was to add an adjustment layer (levels, curves etc) and adjust it so that I got the maximum contrast between the subject and background (making the photo look terrible). After completing my selection, I just delete the adjustment layer.

A very popular technique is to view the channels (red, green & blue). Choose the one that gives you the most contrast, then create a selection out of that channel.

Either way, there is going to be some cleaning up to do, but it's usually a good start.
Depending on the tonal difference between the hair and background, sometimes you can use a layer mask. After you've gotten your child-with-safety-scissors crop, duplicate the layer, convert it to black and white, and then mess with curves until you've got a decent representation of the transparency at the edge of the hair. You can then use this layer as a transparency mask for the actual subject layer... Only works with sufficient hair-to-background contrast though.
Thanks all! It's proving a challenge, but with the info here, I'm making headway!

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