When you use a selection to make compilations of images, extract elements from their background, apply edits, or make tonal adjustments, feathering can help to blend the object being worked upon into the background by creating a soft edge around the selection edge. The soft edge is not unlike the anti-aliasing applied to elliptical and irregular selections. However, it differs in one respect. It extends inward and outward from the selection edge, whereas anti-aliasing creates a soft transitional zone only on the inside of the selection edge (Figure 9-6).
You can apply feathering before you create the selection by specifying it in the options bar or after the event by choosing Select ^ Feather, or Ctrl+Alt+D (Windows), ^+Opt+D (Mac OS).
One popular use of feathering involves the use of an elliptical, feathered selection to create a vignette (Figure 9-7). The following steps will create a vignette and add a new background and watermarks around the vignette.
1. Make sure that the image is on a normal layer and not a Background layer.
2. Select the Elliptical Marquee tool and enter a value in the Feather text box. The figure that you enter will, of course, depend on the pixel dimensions of the image and size of the soft edge you desire.
3. Make the selection and then choose Select ^ Inverse. Doing so masks the areas that you want to conserve and exposes the peripheral areas.
4. Press Backspace (Windows), Delete (Mac OS) to delete the peripheral areas.
5. Add a new layer below the image layer and fill it with a solid color of your choice.
6. Finally, to add strokes around the vignette, create a new layer above the image layer and apply strokes to rectangular or elliptical selections.
Figure 9-6: Left—Anti-aliased circular selection filled with black. Right—Selection feathered by 6 pixels and then filled with white.
Feathering, though essential, can be notoriously difficult to see, making it difficult to judge which parts of the image will be affected or, indeed, how much feathering you should apply in the first place. This is because the marquee shows only the parts of the mask that are 50% or more opaque. To have a more precise idea of how the feathering tapers off, take the following steps:
1. Create a selection and apply feathering (see preceding paragraphs).
You should be able to see how the selection tapers off. If you still cannot see it too well, doubleclick the Quick Mask icon below the color boxes in the Toolbox and then change the opacity to 100%.
Photoshop includes one other method for applying feathering. The end result differs slightly from the feathering applied via the Select menu or the options for the marquee tools. To take advantage of it, after creating the selection, enter Quick Mask mode and then apply Filter ^ Blur ^ Gaussian Blur. You can also apply the other blur filters to vary the effect or to create special effects. For example, if you are making compilations, rather than settle for just a soft edge, try a Shape Blur (Figure 9-8).
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