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Selective editing with the Smart Brush

Sometimes the best way to enhance a photo is to modify just part of the image, or to treat separate areas—such as background and foreground elements—differently, rather than applying an adjustment to the photo overall.

The quickest and easiest way to do this is to paint your adjustments directly onto the image with the Smart Brush tool.

The Smart Brush is both a selection tool and an image adjustment tool—as you paint, it creates a selection based on similarities in color and texture, through which your choice of editing preset is applied.

  1. In the Organizer, make sure that the Lesson 4 images are isolated in the Media Browser. Select the image DSC_5680.jpg, making sure not to confuse it with its edited copies; then, click the Editor button (editor-button.jpg)—not the arrow beside it—in the Task bar.
  2. In the Editor, click Expert in the mode picker at the top of the workspace to switch to Expert edit mode. Choose Window > Reset Panels. Hide the Photo Bin by clicking the Photo Bin button (photobin_button.jpg) at the left of the Task bar; then, choose View > Fit On Screen.
  3. Select the Smart Brush (brush.jpg) from the toolbox. If the tool options pane doesn’t open automatically at the bottom of the workspace, click the Tool Options button (tool-option.jpg) in the Task bar.
  4. In the tool options pane, use the slider to set a brush size of 25 px (pixels); then, click the colored thumbnail to open the Smart Brush presets picker.

    If necessary, choose the Nature category from the Presets menu at the top of the picker, and then select the Blue Skies preset.

  5. Press the Esc key on your keyboard to close the preset picker. Starting just above the horizon at the left of the photo, drag across the sky. Don’t worry if your selection expands a little too far; to subtract areas from the selection, just hold down the Alt / Option key and paint carefully back over them.

  6. Click the arrow beside the More button (more-button.jpg) at the right of the Task bar and choose Custom Workspace. Drag the Layers panel out of the Panel Bin by its name tab, to float it beside the photo in the Edit pane. Hide the Panel bin by un-checking its name from the Window menu.

    A new layer has been created for the Blue Skies adjustment; the layer displays a colored icon representing the gradient used for the Blue Skies effect and a black and white thumbnail representing the layer mask through which the adjustment has been applied. A colored marker—a Smart Brush adjustment pin—appears at the point where you started dragging with the Smart Brush.

    The Smart Brush edit occupies its own layer, where it remains active and separate from the image itself—so you can add to or subtract from the selection, tweak the effect, or even change which preset is applied, without permanently affecting your original photo. The adjustment pin will be visible whenever the Smart Brush is active.

  7. Deselect the Blue Skies adjustment by clicking the Background layer in the Layers panel. Open the Smart Brush presets picker by clicking the Blue Skies thumbnail in the tool options pane. Select the Greenery (Intensify Foliage) preset from the Nature category. Press Esc to close the Smart Brush presets picker.

  8. Drag across the vegetation on the sand dunes and beside the trail, including the fence posts in the selection. Don’t be concerned if your selection expands to include hair or sand; hold down the Alt / Option key and simply paint out the unwanted areas. You won’t see much of an effect in the selected areas yet; you’ll tweak the adjustment a little later.

    A new Smart Brush adjustment pin appears on the image, and a new adjustment layer is added for the Greenery effect. The new adjustment layer displays a different icon from the Blue Skies effect—indicating that the Greenery preset applies a different type of adjustment—and a layer mask thumbnail. The effect is applied through the white areas in the mask.

  9. Click the Background layer to deselect the effect. Choose the Details preset (Bring Out Details) from the Portrait category in the Smart Brush presets picker.
  10. Paint the Details effect onto the people in the foreground, the sandy trail, and the grass and shrubs growing on the near side of the fence at both sides.

Tweaking Smart Brush adjustments

Each Smart Brush adjustment has its own set of controls that let you customize the effect—even in a later editing session, as long you’ve saved the file with its layers.

  1. In the Layers panel, double-click the gradient icon (gradient.jpg) on the Blue Skies 1 layer. In the Gradient Fill dialog box, you can modify the attributes of the gradient, including the colors, angle, and fade rate. For now, choose Reflected from the gradient Style menu, and then click OK.
  2. Use the Opacity slider at the top of the Layers panel to reduce the adjustment layer’s opacity from 75% to 50%. You can use the adjacent menu to change a layer’s blending mode, but for now, you can leave it set to Color Burn.
  3. Double-click the slider controls icon (controls-icon.jpg) on the layer Greenery 1 to open the Adjustments panel in Hue/Saturation mode. Set a value of +10 for both Hue and Saturation. Change the layer’s blending mode from Normal to Overlay, and then reduce its opacity from 100% to 40%.
  4. Click the Hand tool to disable the Smart Brush and hide the pins. In the Layers panel, toggle the eye icon (eye-icon.jpg, eye-icon-a.jpg) beside each adjustment layer’s name to show and hide its effect so that you can assess just how the image has changed.

  5. Choose File > Save As. Name the file DSC_5680_SmartBrush and set up the usual save options. This time, choose the Photoshop file format and activate the Layers option so that you can edit your adjustment layers later. Close the file.
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