There will come a time when editing in Photoshop will be unavoidable. Lightroom only gets you so far. If you want to erase parts of an image, changing colour or even repeating parts of the image, Photoshop selection tools are necessary.
But you will need to know how to use it effectively. Today, we are looking at 12 different ways you can select parts of your image.
Perhaps a colour is too strong and takes the focus away from the main concept. Or perhaps you would like to use image stacking, so knowing how to select and erase areas becomes very handy.
The possibilities are endless, but first you need to know how to separate and select these areas first.
To make the best use of selecting areas in Photoshop, you need to know a few things. Marching Ants, zooming in and out and a few keyboard shortcuts will help immensely.
Marching Ants. This is the term we use for selected areas in our images. The areas you select will be surrounded by these black and white lines that seem to move.
It can be confusing when you select small areas, or when you use the ‘inverse tool’. It will come with practice.
Zooming in/out. By getting closer to parts of an image, you can select them easier. You will be able to see what you are doing. Zooming out will let you see the completed image.
It is better to hold Alt while you move the wheel in the middle of the mouse. Otherwise, you have to de-select your tool to select the ‘zoom’ in the side panel.
Keyboard Shortcuts. These are really handy. Zoom in/out by using Alt and the mouse wheel. When you have selected an area, but made a mistake, use Alt + ‘Z’ to go back one step.
Use Alt + Ctrl + ‘Z’ to go back further than one step. Also, you can add and erase areas to your selection. Hold Shift to add areas (you will see a + symbol) and then click. To erase, hold Alt (you will see a – symbol).
Brightness. Sometimes, you may find the selection tools are having a hard time following an outline or path. This may be down to the lack of contrast or colour.
I find that by increasing or decreasing the brightness slider, it separates the layers, colours and contrasts much more easily. Just don’t forget to add or subtract it again afterwards, to affect the image.
Marquee is the first on our list, and it is at the top of the toolbar. This is the most basic selection tool available in Photoshop. To use it, you select the tool and draw around the area you want. It comes in two forms, rectangular or elliptical.
If you have an earlier edition of Photoshop, you may also have single line row or single column row marquee options.
You would use this for things that are circular or rectangle, obviously, but they have to be perfect shapes. You can use this to get a general shape selection, then use other Photoshop selection tools for curved corners.
These are limited by frames, circles and lines.
The lasso tool offers you more freedom in selections. It works in the same way as the marquee tool, yet allows you to move much more freely and without restriction.
Click and drag around an area you want to select. The problem here is that you really rely on your free hand abilities. It works well for big objects that aren’t exactly square or circular.
The Polygon Lasso tool is a variation of the lasso. It works as a freehand selection tool, but more similarly to using the pen tool (see point 9). The selection is restricted to polygonal shapes.
It is easier to use than the lasso tool, as you click to create points for the outline to follow.
10. Magnetic Lasso
The magnetic lasso tool is a godsend compared to the lasso tool. It is useful and more precise than the few we have already mentioned. This tool follows lines and outlines, sticking to the edges like a magnet sticks to your keys.
Using this, you can easily select contours such as curved corners. Click on the first point, and move the pointer along the path you wish to follow. The slower, the better. Finish the selection by connecting it to the last point, shown by a tiny symbol of an ‘o’ appearing next to the pointer.
9. Pen Tool
The pen tool lets you create a selection by dropping points that connect together. This is a really finicky way of creating a selection, and definitely my least favourite of the 12 presented here.
This method is very finicky to get right. You plot points to create lines, which then need to be pulled and stretched to create curves.
Once you finish the path, you need to convert it to a selection. You can do this by right-clicking on the image, and then select Make Selection.
8. Magic Wand Tool
The Magic Wand is going to be the most used tool in this article. It works like a dream, in the way it uses colour and contrast to separate complex items from each other.
This tool is best used on signs, for example, where the sign has a different colour than the text. One click and most of it becomes selected. The only problem is, the areas need to touch to add themselves. If not, then you only have one area selected.
Similar to the Quick Selection tool, it is easy to use. For tweaking, use the commands Alt + Click to add, Shift + Click to erase.
7. Quick Selection Tool
The Quick Selection tool may be more than enough for most of us to select an area. This tool selects an object within its own outline. This is really handy for quick selections, hence the name.
Here, you don’t need to work around epic contours. Just one click is all it takes. This tool works from the contrast between the object and the surrounding background. Photoshop uses this to know where to draw the line.
All you need to do is select the tool, and click on the area. For tweaking, use the commands Alt + Click to add, Shift + Click to erase.
This method is best used for blocks of colours and contrasts that are easily distinguishable from the background.
6. Colour Range
Selecting an area of your image based on colour may be the best way to go. If an image has an array of different colours spread out, it would be time-consuming to select them all using the Magic Wand or any other tool.
This is where Colour Range selection comes into play. Here, you can select all areas of ‘red’ in an image, for example.
Go to Select>Colour Range to bring up the Colour Range options box. Use the eyedropper tool to click on the colour in the image you want to select and separate.
The preview box will show you what areas are selected, and the ‘fuzziness’ slider will increase or decrease the area. Press Ok to finalise.
Inverse is a tool I use often. You will see in some scenes, it is easier and less time-consuming to select the areas you don’t want, rather than the ones you do.
Here, you need to use Magic Wand or the Magnetic Lasso to select the area, opposite to the one you want.
Go to Select>Inverse to swap to selecting the area you do want.
You can see from the marching ants that the areas have flipped. Use this to your advantage, as it can save you time.
Grow is a great way to ensure what you want selected is completely selected. You will need to use a tool to select the area you want to work on first. Magic wand works for me, nine times out of ten.
Here, I selected the red paint. As you can see, it didn’t pick up the slight variations in colour or light. It missed the bottom part, which is darker, and a few areas at the top.
Go to Select>Grow.
You will see that those unselected areas have disappeared. Use this tool for block areas, where changes in contrast, light or colour are affected.
3. Similar Tool
Similar is a great tool to help you select more of your image. First, you will need to use a different tool to create the initial selection.
The Similar option helps to broaden our selected range, just like the Grow option.
Here, I want to select the blue umbrella. The parasol has an array of different tones of blue. This is because of the light. The magic wand tool will only select the blue of the same tone.
By clicking on Similar, it will broaden its idea of the tones of blue. Instead of looking at just one, it will pick up on slight variations. You can repeat this as much as you need to.
Similar can be found under the Select menu at the top of Photoshop.
2. Refine Edges
When you have created a selection, you may find you want to edit and change the edges. This tool is a great way to do that. However, it will take some practice, and can take some getting used to.
First, select an area using one of the other tools we have mentioned. Using the below image, I decided the magic wand was going to get me on the best route.
In Photoshop CC 2018, it isn’t easy to find. You need to go to the Select menu at the top, hold down shift and click on Select and Mask. This will bring up the Refine Edges option box.
Once there, you have many options that will help your edges become more refined. This is best for really finicky contours and areas, not easily selected when using masks or the pen tool.
Using masks is a great way to make a selection, although, it is a little more complicated than some of the other Photoshop selection tools.
The idea here is that you paint a part of your image in a layer mask, then convert it to a selection. This works best for complicated areas, especially those where there is no easily defined path or outline.
First, start by duplicating the image/background layer. You do this by dragging the layer to the Create A New Layer option at the bottom of the Layers area.
This helps by giving you a non-destructive area to work from. Any mistakes, and you can delete the new layer and start again with the original.
Drag the copy layer to Add Layer Mask. This, surprisingly, gives us a layer mask to work from.
Next, unselect the original layer. This allows us to see where we are creating the mask. Next, select the paintbrush tool and select black as our colour. Paint over the areas you want as a selection.
If you make a mistake, undo is Alt + ‘Z’. Alternatively, if you change the colour to white, you can paint back in the areas you accidentally painted out.
Make sure it is all painted out of the image.
As a piece of advice when painting anything in Photoshop, stop periodically. And by stop, I mean take your finger off the mouse now and again.
If you keep your finger down the entire time you come to paint or erase something, and you make a mistake, you remove all of it.
If you paint a line, remove and re-place your finger to paint more, the undo action will take you back to that moment in time, not the beginning.
When it is all selected, turn on the bottom layer. Click on the Layer Mask icon in the top layer while holding Ctrl. This will create a selection.
And there you have it, 12 ways to use Photoshop selection tools!
If you’re interested in trying out some Photoshop projects, check out our articles on creating multiplicity photography, cool composites or making a chain link cut out photo.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:
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