Monday, March 10, 2008

Cutting out people and objects in Photoshop

I'm writing this for Candy in the hopes that art can help her find some catharsis in self expression and because I didn't do a very good job of helping her when she was at my house.
One of the coolest techniques I've found for photo manipulation in photo shop is the pen tool. The pen tool allows me to accurately, isolate, outline, and cut objects out of photos.

Getting Started With The Pen Tool

There are two types of pen tools, the ordinary and the free form . The ordinary Pen Tool allows you to place points to create lines and curves, the Freeform allows you to just draw you lines and curves. The Freeform is more natural but unless you have a Wacom tablet and are proficient, the ordinary Pen Tool is far more precise. You can find these tools on the Tool Palette (pictured at right). You can switch between the different pen tools by holding down the left mouse button on the Pen Tool on the Tool Palette to bring up a Tool Flyout (pictured at left) or you can type Shift + P to switch between the tools.

First, lets open a picture. Go to the File menu and select Open (or hit Ctrl+O), then select a picture you would like to cut a person/ thing out of. Once your picture is open, select the ordinary Pen Tool. At the top of the Photoshop window, you will see these symbols For isolating objects in a photo, we want to create a Path, rather than a Shape Layer or Fill Pixels. Select Paths.

Creating Lines And Curves

Now we will trace the object we want to cut out by placing points with the pen tool. Place a point on the boundry of the object you want to cut out. You can continue to place points and straight lines will "connect the dots." However, if your object is curvy, straight lines wont do much good. You can create curves by holding down the left mouse button and dragging when you place another point. Don't worry about matching the contours of your object perfectly at this point. I'll cover precision next.

After you have gotten at least three points down we can start to attempt to perfect the curves. You can do this selecting the Direct Selection tool (get this from the Tool Palette or by holding down Ctrl), clicking on one of your points and
then manipulating the grabber lines that pop up (these are the lines sticking out of the point in the image above, they have a grabber point on each end). As you try this, note that the handles are attached to each other like a seesaw, move one side up and the other moves down. This can be corrected by grabbing the grabber point with the Convert Point Tool (get this from the Tool Palette or by holding down Alt while hovering over a grabber point) - see the example at right. The Convert Point tool can also be used to convert straight lines to curves. Just click and drag a point with the Convert Point tool. To get back to placing points, use the Direct Selection tool to click your last point (it will go from an empty circle to a filled in one).

When working with these points, it may be helpful to zoom in. Do this with the Zoom Tool (get it from the Tool Palette or type Z). Also it may be nice to move around the image quickly while placing points. Use the Hand Tool (get it from the Tool Palette or hold down the Space Bar while left clicking). If you need to add points in the middle of a line, use the Add Anchor Point tool

When you are ready to complete you path by connecting your first and last points, you can hover over the first point and the pen tool will display a circle symbol. My result is below:

Convert The Path Into A Selection

First open the Paths Palette by clicking on the Paths tab on the Layers Palette (see right - squared in red). At the bottom of the Paths Palette, there is a bar with six symbols on it Select Load Path As Selection (circled in red). Your object should now be selected.
Once selected, the object can be cut out and pasted somewhere else, or the background can be cut out. To cut out the background, the selection needs to be inverted. Go to the menu Select -> Inverse or type Shift+Ctrl+I. Next delete the background by hitting the delete button. The end result is shown below:

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