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Working with selections

Some changes, like cropping or adjusting the image resolution, apply to an entire photo. But others are best applied to only a portion of the image. For example, you might want to change the color of a specific object, or lighten just the background. To modify only part of a photo, you need to make a selection. You can make selections in Full Edit and Quick Fix modes, but not in Guided Edit mode.

Selections appear on the screen with an active border that is sometimes referred to as "marching ants." You can hide the selection border by choosing View > Selection. But don't forget it's there!

Selection tools

In Quick Fix mode, you're limited to the Quick Selection tool. But in Full Edit mode, there's a full range of selection tools available to you. Which tool you use depends on what you're trying to select and how complex the image is.

The Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee tools draw rectangular or elliptical selections.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 The Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee tools.

The Lasso tool draws freehand selections. It has two variants: The Polygonal Lasso tool draws straight segments as you click a selection. The Magnetic Lasso tool guesses the area you're attempting to select and automatically snaps to the edges as you drag the cursor over them.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 The Lasso tools.

The Magic Wand tool really does seem magical sometimes. With it, you can select all the pixels of a similar color with a single click.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 The Magic Wand tool.

The Quick Selection tool makes a selection based on both color and texture when you click or keep the mouse down as you drag over an area. It can be a little sloppy, so you might have to refine the selection—but it is quick, as advertised.

The Selection Brush tool selects the area you paint. If you're in Mask mode, it deselects that area, leaving the rest of the photo selected.

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 The Quick Selection and Selection Brush tools.

Making selections

To make a selection, use one of the tools to create a selection border around the area you want to select.

Figure 4.13

Figure 4.13 Selection borders appear as moving dotted lines.

To deselect a selection, choose Select > Deselect.

To delete a selection, choose Edit > Delete, press the Backspace or Delete key, or choose Edit > Cut. (If you choose Edit > Cut, the selection is copied to the clipboard and you can paste it someplace else.)

If you delete a selection on the Background layer, that area is replaced by the background color. To make the area transparent, you must first convert the Background layer to a regular layer by renaming it. Photoshop Elements indicates transparency with a checkerboard pattern.

If you want to select all the pixels on a layer, select the layer in the Layers panel and choose Select > All.

Fine-tuning selection borders

Your first shot at a selection may not do the trick. You can add to or subtract from a selection using the same tool—or a different selection tool. Just select the appropriate option in the selection bar before you use the selection tool. The options look different depending on the tool you're using. Most show rectangles adding to or being removed from a selection. The Quick Selection tool displays with a plus sign or minus sign next to them.

Figures 4.14-4.15

Figures 4.14-4.15 Select an icon from the options bar to add to or subtract from a selection as you use a selection tool.

  • To expand or contract a selection by a specific number of pixels, choose Select > Modify > Expand or Contract. Then specify by how many pixels you want to expand or contract the selection, and click OK.
  • To select only the outline of the selection, choose Select > Modify > Border. Then enter a value between 1 and 200 pixels for the width of the border, and click OK. Photoshop Elements modifies the selection to include only the pixels in the soft-edged border you've created.
  • To select stray bits of color, such as hair, when you've used the Magic Wand tool or another color-based selection method, choose Select > Modify > Smooth. Then enter a sample radius between 1 and 100 (depending on how far outside the selection you want Photoshop Elements to look for matching pixels), and click OK.
  • To smooth the edges of a selection, select Anti-Aliased in the options bar before you make the selection. Anti-aliasing softens the transition between pixels on the edge of the selection and background pixels. Only the edge pixels change, so you don't lose any detail.

Defringing a selection

If there are extra pixels around a selection, creating a halo effect, defringe the selection. To defringe a selection:

  1. Copy and paste the selection into a new or existing layer.
  2. Choose Enhance > Adjust Color > Defringe Layer.
  3. Specify how many pixels you want to replace around the selection. Typically 1 or 2 is fine.
  4. Click OK.

When you defringe a layer, Photoshop Elements replaces the color of fringe pixels with the colors of nearby pixels that don't contain any background color.

Inverting a selection

You can swap the selected area with the nonselected areas, inverting the selection. This can be very handy if the area you want to select is complex, but it's on a simple background. Select the background first, and then invert the selection.

To invert a selection, choose Select > Inverse.

Figures 4.16-4.17

Figures 4.16-4.17 Sometimes it's easiest to select what you don't want, and then invert the selection.

Moving a selection

You can move a selection elsewhere in the image or to a different photo.

  1. With a selection tool active, select the Move tool.
  2. Drag the selection to a new position. You can also nudge it a pixel at a time using the arrow keys on your keyboard. (Press Shift as you use the arrow keys to move the selection 10 pixels at a time.)
Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 When you move a selection, the content within the selection moves with it, leaving behind transparency or the background color.

Copying selections

You can also copy a selection without moving it. Probably the easiest way is just to choose Edit > Copy, and then go where you want to copy the selection and choose Edit > Paste. When you cut or copy a selection, it's stored in the clipboard; only one selection can be in the clipboard at a time.

Selections keep their original pixel dimensions when you copy. If you paste a selection into a photo that has a different resolution, the pasted area may appear out of proportion with the rest of the image. To avoid headaches, make sure the source and destination photos have the same resolution before copying and pasting. (Choose Image > Resize > Image Size, and then change the image resolution if necessary.)

Saving a selection

For more complicated procedures, you may want to save a selection to use again later. To save a selection, choose Select > Save Selection. Then choose New from the pop-up menu, name the selection, and click OK.

To load a selection you've saved, choose Select > Load Selection, select the one you want to use, and then click OK.

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