Tuesday, March 23, 2010


No, this isn't a hair tutorial, which is too bad, really, because having rocked the whole feathered hair look back in the day, I could tell you a thing or two—as could my older sister, who was like the brunette Farrah Fawcett of Jefferson Junior High. Instead, I wanted to do a quick post about that often ignored "feather" setting that you see in the top menu bar when you use any marquee or lasso tool for selecting. It might say "0" it might say "1," but once you know what it does, you may even decide to put "100":

Here's a sample photo:
Let's pretend that I wanted to select the red door because I thought it would look better green to match the shirt of the biker (for the record, I don't). In this case, I decide to use the magnetic lasso to select the door:
To demonstrate the effect of the "feather" setting, I will select the "refine edge" button from that same menu bar:
A dialog box appears that allows you to adjust the feathering of your selection:
Right now, it is set to "0" which means that for better or for worse, the red door you see is exactly what I selected. Feathering softens the selection evenly on both sides. If I change it from "0" to "10" you see this:
You can see how feathering softens the selection. Rather than a hard edge, we now see a smooth transition. But before we pass any judgments, let's really push it. Here's "40" :
And here is "100":

If I stick with "0" feathering and then adjust the color of the door, I get this:

Clean, sharp edges. At least as clean and sharp as the original selection. But if I went wild and put "100" and then adjusted the color to green....
I would end up with a weird trippy red/green haze. Great, if that's what you're going for, but you can see why most people stick with a very low number or even no feathering at all. I should point out that the actual effect of a "10" or a "100" will change according to the size of your image, because the number indicates pixels not a percentage. To be precise, you can enter anything from "0" to "250." I know what you're thinking: No you di'int! 250? 250! What's wrong with you?

Which brings me to why I even wrote this post...

Like I said, most people either don't change the "feather" setting (out of ignorant bliss) or they keep it low. So when Amy Dresser (see my last post about the webinar) started evening out skin tone by lassoing patches of skin, clicking on the curves adjustment layer icon, and then adjusting that patch (she made about 26 such changes), all of us webinar participants watched happily from our various locations until OH THE HORROR!!!! Amy Dresser said that when she lassos patches of skin, she sets the feathering really high. High? How high? 5? 10? No! An insane 100!
Yes, you heard me—100 pixel feathering. The moment she said it, I swear that I heard a collective gasp echo from around the globe like all of the whos down in whoville screaming for dear life. I think I heard the moderator pop the lid off of his heart medication pill box.

But seriously, why the surprise? Well, people expect precision from a high end retoucher and they assume that any selection would be extremely precise (i.e. have hard edges). Au contraire, as Amy pointed out, when you're adjusting skin, you want gradual transitions—it's more natural. Just as the clean lines of the red door above demand a sharp selection, the smooth tones of a person's skin need gradual adjustments.

The moral of the story is that if you think about feathering, you can use it to your advantage. Some people more than others.


Alex said...

I love the way you write professor. :) it makes me laugh all the time. :)

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