Digital Darkroom; Refine Selections and Masks 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, Making Selections and this week looking at refining edges.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

For last few weeks the digital darkroom has been looking at creating selections and masking. When you have made a selection or a mask has been added to an image you may want to tweak it a bit. You can tweak a mask and a selection with the refine Mask and Selection tool, if you have used the quick selection tool or the magic wand tool you can also use refine edge to clean up the selections as well.
In this post I will start with the refining sections and then move on to masks.

Refine Edge

When making a selection with any of the selection tools you may need to adjust the edge to make it smoother and to make sure what you have selected is selected without anything extra. The refine edge tool allows you to clean up the edge.

With the picture of this daisy daisy the quick section tool did an ok job removing the background. There are still some issues as the edge is not perfect.


The refine edge tool can be found in the selection menu or if you are using either the magic wand or quick selection tool it is below the main menu. The refine edge tool can be used on any selection.
The tool has quite a few options;

View mode- this lets you choose how you want to view the selection while making adjustments, reveal layer, as a mask (black and white) or marching ants around the area or with a colour overlay. I like the marching ants but sometimes the colour overlay works if the marching ants are getting lost in the detail

Edge Detection– allows you to modify the edge of a selection.
Smart Radius adjusts the radius of your selection when there are hard and soft edges close to the selection. If your selected area has only hard or soft edges it can be a good idea to turn this off.
Radius lets you set how much you want to refine the edge in areas with a lot of detail or soft transitions.

refine-edge-2The best part of the refine edge tool is the Refine Radius Brush, which you can brush around the edge of the selection to adjust the area you are refining. To make the brush bigger and smaller use the right and left bracket keys. The brush is set to add areas to a selection but by pressing alt as you click you can minus from areas as well.
Zoom– unsurprisingly lets you zoom in.
The hand –  tool allows you to pan around the image.

Smooth – smooths out the edge of the selection, removing jagged edges.

Feather – lets you soften the edge of the selection and increase the transition from the selected area to the unselected area.

Contrast – removes artefacts form edges and also bringing the selection on soft edges

Shift Edge – moves the edge of the selection uniformly in or out. This can be good remove haloing from a selection edge as well as removing defining which may also be present on the edge.

Output– this allows to control what happens when you have finished refining the edge of your selection.
Decontaminate Colors -replaces fringe colours on the edge of your selection with colours from the selected element. It is a good idea to change the view mode to reveal layer when using Decontaminate colours as you can then see what effect it is having.
Amount- adjusts the strength of decontaminate colours.
Output to lets you decide what happens to the selected area, you can keep it as a selection or apply it to a layer mask, as well as adding to a new layer or document with or without a layer mask.

Modify Selection

If you do not want to refine an edge but just make some global adjustments to a selection, Select- Modify could be what you need. In this menu you have 5 options; Border, Smooth Expand Contract and Feather.


Border– creates a border of a specified amount around a selected area. It is rarely used but could be helpful from time to time.
Smooth– works well with colour based selections. Once set how much you want to smooth a selection, Photoshop searches for pixels with a similar colour within the specified range and adds them to the selection.
Expand/Contract– really says what it does, these options allow you to expand or contract the edge of a selection.
Feather– our good friend feather allows you to soften the edge of a selection.

Refining Masks

refine-maskClick on a Layer mask and select the properties tab and there are many options for your mask. The first two are Density and Feather.

Density– this is like opacity and sets how much you can see through the mask is. Set at 100% anything black on the mask is not visible to the layer below, lowering the density however will make this more visible.
Feather– is the same as in selections, lets you soften he edge of a mask.

Mask Edge– brings the same dialogue as Refine edge for selections but uses the mask as the basis for the refinement.
Color Range – lets you refine a mask based on colours in the layer. This is similar to select color range which we looked at last week.
Invert- will reverse the mask.



Using the selection of the daisy I was able to isolate it and then use it it in two ways in the composite above. If I had used a rougher selection the image I feel wouldn’t be as strong.

Next week we will look at using the pen tool to get more precise 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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