Help Wanted: Mac Photo Editing Software for Feathering Objects

HelpmeOkay, computer graphics gurus … Uncle Mark needs help!

I do a lot of digital collage work that involves taking several elements from several different images and pasting them into a target image. For example: I might mask out and copy a person from Photo A, a flower from Photo B, and a statue from Photo C and paste all of these into Photo D.

HelpmeOkay, computer graphics gurus … Uncle Mark needs help!

I do a lot of digital collage work that involves taking several elements from several different images and pasting them into a target image. For example: I might mask out and copy a person from Photo A, a flower from Photo B, and a statue from Photo C and paste all of these into Photo D.

Of course, I want all of these stolen objects to look as realistic as possible in their new home. Generally, that involves feathering — fading out the hard or rough edges of the copied elements so that they look less “pasted in.”

When I worked on the Windows platform, I preferred Corel PhotoPaint over Photoshop for this kind of work for one big reason: in Corel PhotoPaint, I could interactively apply feathering to an object after pasting it into the target image. In other words, after pasting in the sharp-edged version of the object, I could then use a slider control to adjust feathering until the object looked completely natural.

PhotoShop supports feathering … but you have to set the amount of feathering at the mask level — before you copy the element you plan to paste into the target document. That’s a pain, because:

a) while I can type in a number to change the number of pixels’ worth of feathering that will be applied around the mask, I can’t see the impact of that number on the screen

b) I can’t tell whether I have the right amount of feathering until I paste the object into the target image.

As a result, I’m constantly masking, copying, switching to the target image, pasting, hating it, returning to the original document, adjusting the feathering amount, copying, switching to the target image, pasting, hating it, returning to the original document … you get the drill.

I’m looking for a Mac-based photo editor that allows interactive adjustment of feathering after I’ve pasted an object (or “layer,” if you want to be all PhotoShoppy) into the target image. Can anyone out there help?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

3 comments

Leave a Reply to Martin Spernau Cancel reply

  • Mark, Photoshop does not support what you want (interactive feathering), that’s true. As a longtime photomaipulator in PS I have never once even thought if such a tool. That’s because I use “layer masks.” You can think of layer masks very much as non-destructive masking as you can edit the mask at any time.True it’s not as simple and straightforward as what you are looking for, on the other side is by ways more powerful as you can control the blending of an object at any point completly, and not simply for it’s boundary with one global setting.Maybe layer masks are too much for your quick application (there is a learning curve involved), but I would very much recommend you take a look at some tutorials if you are serious about collage etc.

  • Mark, check out this link for some good extraction methods using Photoshop. If the link doesn’t make it through, email me and I’ll send your way.

    http://www.sitepoint.com/print/masking-techniques-photoshop

    There are several ways to do what you want. Layer masks, as Martin mentions, are a really good way to go, but there are several other methods for extracting an image. You’ll find different methods work better for different images.

    I really like the Extract tool. It’s genius for wispy and detailed images like a tree or hair. Of course, it works amazingly well when there is a distinct background. Also, Quick Mask is another genius option. I use these two religiously but also use Layer Masks as needed.

    Also, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the History Brush. It’s a pretty good tool to use if you’re dealing with rasterized crops rather than vector masks…

Who Wrote This?

Mark McElroy

I'm a husband, mystic, writer, media producer, creative director, tinkerer, blogger, reader, gadget lover, and pizza fiend.

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