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Sally Jane Photographic Art

Adobe Photoshop Tutorial


Adobe Photoshop Tools - Magic Wand

The magic wand tool is a selection tool because it allows you to select all pixels that match a given specification.  You use the magic wand by clicking on an area you want to select.  The tool reads the value of the pixels you have clicked on and will select all pixels that match them either immediately adjacent or across the whole image depending on what options you have selected in the menu bar. 

magic wand options

There are 5 different options to modify the way this tool works on the menu bar.  The first is a series of symbols made of intersecting squares.  You can ignore these as the keyboard works better for this but basically it allows you to make multiple or subtractive selection.  I prefer to use the shift key or alt key for this.

Next is tolerance.  This tells the program how different you will accept the pixels being from the original one you clicked on.  If the tolerance is set to ‘0’ than only pixels that match exactly the colour and tonal value of the pixels you first clicked on will be selected.  In a photograph this is not likely to be much use.  I usually start with a value of about 5 or 10 and adjust it as necessary.  If you are trying to select sky and it is very noisy as sky often can be you will need a higher setting than you would if there is no noise in the sky. 

Next box is Anti-alias.  I always leave this checked.  It gives a slightly smoother selection than having it unchecked.

The next selection is contiguous (I think they misspelled continuous).  This is one you will toggle frequently.  It makes the difference between the wand just selecting pixels in one continuous area or any that match right across the image.  For sky, if there are no branches cutting across it or power lines you might have continuous checked.  If, however, you are trying to select the sky through the branches of a tree you would want this box unchecked.sky selection

The last is ‘Use all Layers’.  If you have several layers in your image that have not been flattened you might want to just select pixels from one layer.  In which case leave this box unchecked.  I leave it unchecked by default.  If, however you want to make the selection based on all the layers together then check this box.

OK, so you start to try and select your sky in a photo but having set a tolerance of 10 and continuous in checked you see it only selects part of the sky.  You up the tolerance to 15 but now it selects some of the foreground as well.  What do you do?  Clear your selection and put the tolerance back to 10 or what ever you had originally.  Click on you sky again.  Now holding the shift key down, you will see a little plus sign next to your wand, make further clicks on your sky in areas that fall outside the current selection.  If you still find it is encroaching into the foreground reduce the tolerance a little more, hold the alt key down and you will now see a little minus sign next to your wand.  Click on the areas that you want to remove from your selection.  

quickmask togglesOnce you have finished selecting the sky, of whatever it is you were selecting, you can further modify it by clicking on the ‘Quick mask’ tool.  This will show the areas that fall outside your selection shaded in red, unless you have changed it to a different colour.  You can now use the paint brush or the eraser to modify the area of this shading.  Once done, click on the exit quick mask button and you selection is ready.

Tip - Sometimes it is easier to select what you don't want and then reverse. If for arguments sake you wanted to select everything in this image of Anne Hathaway's cottage but the sky it would be difficult to use the magic wand by clicking of the roof, the bushes, path, house etc. That would take you forever. a better way would be to select the sky then go to 'Select' on the top menu bar and then 'Inverse'.

Tip - You can save selections in case you want to reuse them later on this image only.  Go to the menu bar and click on Select.  At the bottom of the drop down list you will see ‘Save Selection’. It will prompt you to give it a name.  Once named just save it.  To reload it click on select again and then ‘Load Selection’  There will be a small box with a down arrow so you can scroll down to the selection you named and click OK.  You selection will re-appear.  These selections will only be saved with the image while it is open or if you save the image as a Tiff or PSD file.


Recommended Further Reading for Photoshop

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