Digital Darkroom; Basic Selections in Photoshop

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction, Creating Presets and Actions, Basic Masks and this week looking at making selections.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

Last week we looked at adding masks to layers to make adjustments selective. I mainly covered how we can use brushes and gradients to create the layer mask. Sometimes thought the area you want to adjust can be a little bit tricky to get a brush or gradient to blend well. This is where selections can become really useful.

Basic Selections

Basic-SelectionsThe most basic selections are shapes; Elliptical and Rectangular. Once chosen, a section can be made by clicking on the image and pulling the mouse away. Selections always start from the top left not the centre. If you want a selection to move out from the centre you press alt as you click and if you want the selection to be regular press shift click. Shift Alt and click will create a regular selection moving out from the centre.

Lasso Selections

For more irregular shapes or more accurate selections around objects there are; the Lasso Tool, Polygonal Lasso Tool and the Magnetic Lasso tool.

Click on Thumbnails to see in a higher resolution.

The Lasso tool, works by clicking drawing the selection with the selection being complete as you bring the selection back to the start.

The Polygonal Lasso Tool, creates a selection with straight lines only. It works by clicking and the moving the mouse and the clicking again to create one line of the selection. As with the Lasso tool the selection is complete once the selection comes back to the start.

Magnetic Selection Tool, this tool will follow the contour of shapes. Clicking where the selection begins and moving the mouse along the edge of a shape, the magnetic selection tool will follow the edge. Click every now and then especially as the contrast and colours change to let the tool know what edge you are following. As with the other lasso tools the selection is complete when it comes back to the start. The magnetic selection tool is a very good tool but can take some time to master.


All selections can be feathered. The feather of a selection is the amount of transition or how soft the edge of the selection is. A 0 pixel feather will be a hard edge, 10px feather will be softer and 100px feather will be extremely soft. How much of a feather you use will be up to your image. Personally I use a feather between 1 and 5 when I am selecting around a hard edge.  General selections I will use a feather of about 10 and if I want to create a very smooth adjustment with the selection I will use 100.

Combining Selections

With the basic and Lasso tools you can combine selection together to either modify a selection or help created a more complicated selection.
New Selection – with new selection each time you use the tool it creates a new selection.
Add to Selection – allows you to combine two selections together to create a larger selection.
Subtract from Selection – Allows you to remove an area from a selection. This can be because you made a mistake or there is an area inside the selection that you don’t want selected.
Intersect with Selection – This one is the most interesting as a selection is created by over lapping two selections.


Green is the selected area and red the outline of the selection tool.


I rarely use Intersect selections, I do however use add and subtract selections I use all the time.

Selecting Large Areas

For larger areas there are three options; the Magic Wand Tool, Quick Selection Tool as well as Colour range and Focus area.

The Magic Wand Tool, by clicking on the picture the Magic Wand Tool will select tones that are with the same or similar to the tone you clicked on, depending on the tolerance you set. The basic tolerance is set at 35 by lowering the tolerance tones that are more similar will be selected and by raising the tolerance tones that are less similar will be selected as well. By pressing alt as you click will remove the selected tones from the selection.

The Quick Selection Tool, does what it says, you can make selections of large areas with similar tones quite quickly by moving the selection brush over the area you want to select. The quick section tool uses a brush that you can adjust to be bigger or smaller as well as hard and soft. The bigger the brush the larger area will be selected as you move the brush around. The softer the brush the softer the edge of the selection will be. At the top under the menu you can add to or subtract from the selection.

Color Range, can be found under the selection menu. With colour range you can select a colour using the eye dropper or one use of the preset colours or tonal range. If you use the eye dropper you can adjust the fuzziness; meaning how wide a range of tone you want to select. The lower the fuzziness only tones like the one chose will be selected, the higher the fuzziness the more tones will be selected. You can also add to and remove from this selection as well using the option on the side.
With colour range you can also select skin tones by choosing the skin tone option from the drop down menu. If you wish to make the selection more accurate you can choose the detect faces and adjust the fuzziness. You can also click save to save to create a skin tone selection preset.

Focus Area (CC), allows you to select pixels that are in focus. Setting the in focus range to 0 the whole image is selected; as you increase this slider the pixels that are most in focus are selected. Using the +/- brush you can refine the selection, zooming in by pressing alt and using the mouse wheel. You can also have the selection outputted as a selection or even as a layer mask; as well as a New Layer, a New Layer with layer mask, a New Document and a New document with layer mask.

Quick Mask


Quick mask is a simple way to create selections with gradients and brushes. In quick mask mode you can paint onto the image a selection and when you leave quick mask mode the selection is active. When using the brush with a high opacity the selection is solid, using a lower opacity brush the softer the selection is.
Now there is the quick selection tool I use quick mask less and less but it is useful to edit a selection if you need to.

Putting a Selection to Work 


Once you have a selection you can put it to work for you. With the image above the best selecting method for the sky was color range. I used the +/- eye dropper to get the selection as precise as I could as well as using fuzziness. Once I had created my selection I used it as part of several masks. You can add a selection to a mask in two ways; the first having the selection active and then adding a layer mask and secondly filling a selection with the paint bucket tool on an active mask.
With this image the selection as a mask has been used to hide adjustments like the black and white adjustment layer and sharpening.

With a selection what you are also able to do is use the gradient tool to create a mask with a graduated effect within a specific area, similar to creating a faux ND effect that is only applied to the sky and not the buildings.


With basic selections and masks covered, next week I will look at refining masks and selections.

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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6 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; Basic Selections in Photoshop

    • Yep small steps is exactly it. I tend to mix and match when creating selections. Usually use something like colour range to get a large selection and then clean the selection with quick mask or or one of the basic tools.

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