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Forget selections--use Blend If to isolate an object

Added on Monday 20th of December 2010 08:52 am EST

At A Glance:
Making complex selections is a necessary task when compositing images, but it isn’t the only way to isolate a complex subject. Instead, try Photoshop’s Blend If options as an alternative to your tricky selection needs.
To isolate a complex subject from its background with advanced blending, we’ll:

• Explain what the Blend If options do and how they work.
• Use Blend If to isolate fire from a black background.
• Fine-tune the Blend If options for a smoother transition.


Sure, there are times when you’ll need to spend a lot of time on an intricate selection, but Photoshop has a hidden gem that will ease that burden for some of your image-isolating needs. Take for instance the fireworks shown in Figure A. No need to spend hours selecting the sparks; we isolated them with the Blend If options.

Figure A:

Article figure image


Article figure image

Blend If, what?

With an obscure name, Blend If is as mysterious as it sounds. Tucked away in the Layer Style dialog box, Blend If is a powerful tool that gives you a lot of control over mixing colors between two layers.


But let’s not just talk about it; let’s explore! To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article, extract the file fire.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in Figure B. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)

Figure B:

Article figure image


Article figure image

Explore the options

As you can see in Figure B, our example has two layers. Blend If works by allowing you to control which pixels will blend on two layers: the active layer and the layer beneath it. For our example, we’ll blend the Fire layer with the Background layer.


To access the Blend If options you’ll need to open the Layer Styles dialog box. To do this, either:

bullet Double-click on the Fire layer.

bullet Click on the Add A Layer Style button at the base of the Layers panel and choose Blending Options from the pop-up menu.

bullet Choose Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options.


The Layer Style dialog box opens to the default panel, Blending Options, and the Blend If options are located at the bottom of the dialog box, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C:

Article figure image


Click on the Blend If pop-up menu and you’ll find four options to choose from, as shown in Figure D: Gray, Red, Green, and Blue. These settings are actually dynamic, in that they change depending on your image’s color mode. Our sample image is RGB, so each channel displays in this pop-up up menu, along...