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Speed Up Editng With Function Keys
When there's too much to clone
Create a Mask with a Channel

Straightening Horizons
Cloning Layers
Realtime Feathering
Dodge/Burn Layer
Controlling Shadows/Highlights
When Cloning Isn't Enough


Create a Mask with a Channel

There are many ways to create a complex mask. Sometimes it's the case that one method is better than another given the information being selected and sometimes it's just that you are used to one way or another of doing it. Often mask creation is a multi step process - an initial mask is created and then refined using various strategies. It always helps, of course, to start with the best mask possible so that subsequent steps are faster.

One method of creating masks, especially when a sky needs to be isolated from a complicated horizon, is to use one of the RGB channels as a starting point for a selection. These channels are grayscale renderings that can be used as an alpha channel to create a selection. The trick is to examine each of the channels in turn and find the one that has the most contrast between the area where your selection will be and its adjacent areas. When using the alpha channel to make a selection, where the channel is white the pixels will be selected and where it is black they will be excluded.

Look at the following image as an example in which we want to create a mask for the sky:

See the difference between the red channel and the blus channel:

Red Channel

Blue Channel

Notice how the blus channel has much greater contrast between the sky and the land and the tree. In particular, the difference with the tree is critical because it would be painstaking to have to distinguish these sections from each other.

Our strategy will be to duplicate the blue channel, thereby creating a new alpha channel. Then we will make an adjustment to it to further differentiate the contrast - ideally we'd like the sky to be white and the rest of the image to be black. Here is the channel after an adjustment:

While there is likely going to need to be some further work to remove the white building from the selection. In this case, that will be fairly trivial, especially compared to attempting to remove an element like the tree from the selection.

Once the alpha channel has been adjusted (you can do this with curves and then refine it further by painting with a white or black brush on the image), you can cmd/cntl-click the channel to activate it as a selection to be used while making adjustments to the image itself.