When it comes to localized image editing, Photoshop is probably a photographer’s best choice among different post-processing software. The beauty and power of this platform lies within the gazillions of tools and editing options it offers. Yes, it can be overwhelming for certain people, but when it comes to versatility in manipulating images, Photoshop has a clear advantage.
Among these powerful tools is the ability to select areas of an image for more precise handling. If you've ever tried dodging or burning a part of an image only to see that you actually included an area you didn't want to include, then you know selective editing is important. It also works best if you wanted to change the brightness, contrast, and other characteristics of a certain area instead of the whole picture. This is where selection tools are most useful.
The good news is that Photoshop gives you more than a handful of options from quick and easy selection methods to more complex ones that can please even the most meticulous of pixel-peepers. If knowing just a couple can be helpful enough, how about getting acquainted with 10 different selection tools? So launch Photoshop now as you read this and follow along.
The most obvious selection tools in PS are found in the toolbar which is located together with your brushes, pens, and cloning tools.
The first one from the top of the toolbar is the Marquee tool. The Marquee tool is the most basic selection tool available in Photoshop. To use it, just click and drag around an area you want to select. You can choose between rectangular, circular, single line row or single column row marquee options by holding down the button and selecting your chosen marquee tool.
Since the marquee tool is limited by a frame, circle, or line, it’s unavoidable to select more that what you actually want to select. To solve this problem, you can use the lasso tool. It works like the marquee tool except that it gives you the ability to move around areas freely without restriction. This allows you to avoid areas that you don’t want to include. To do this, just click and drag the pointer around an area you want to select.
A variation of this is the polygonal lasso tool which is a freehand selection tool that works similar to the pen tool but for selection purposes. The selection is restricted to polygonal outlines but is easier to use than the lasso tool because you don’t have to drag the pointer around. Instead, just click on different points along a path that you want to select. It allows you to select freely based on the points.
3. Magnetic lasso tool
The Magnetic Lasso Tool is a very useful outlining tool as it is more precise than the other lasso tools. It follows lines and outlines like a magnet which makes it easier to select elements with contours. Just click on the first point and move the pointer along the path or outline you wish to follow and finish the selection by going back to the original point.
4. Magic Wand
The magic wand is used to select an area based on a specific color. It is best used when selecting areas where color is varied but you want to select a specific color area. This makes selection faster when dealing with contours and sharp edges that are normally difficult to reach and takes time to select using the freehand tools. This tool is used by simply clicking on a certain color in a desired area you want to select. Magic Wand and Quick Selection share the same button space. Click and hold the icon to reveal the two options.
5. Quick Selection
The quick selection tool works similarly to the magic wand. It selects areas based on color and tone. Just click on an area you want to include in the selection and Photoshop will automatically determine the area you want selected. But the beauty of this tool lies in its ability to extend to other areas that you choose to include. You can choose to include or remove certain areas using the add to selection and subtract a selection options in the tool options, respectively. It definitely makes selections quick and easy.
Aside from the selection options in the toolbar, there is a section in the Photoshop menu that is fully dedicated to selection – the Select sub-menu. Sadly, not too many take time to check the tools there. In fact, the selection tools in there are quite useful when combined with other selection tools. Here are some:
6. Color Range
Hidden under the Select sub-menu is one of the most useful selection tools available in Photoshop – Color Range. Color range works similarly with the magic wand too. But instead of a limited selection based on a specific area, Color Range universally includes areas in the selection given a specific scope of colors you choose from within the image. Multiple color selection and limitation is also available by using the add and subtract eye dropper options.
Accessible through the Select sub-menu, Inverse is used only with a pre-existing selection. It automatically selects the area that isn’t selected initially and deselects the pre-existing selection, therefore inversing the process. If selecting an area is more difficult than selecting the areas around it, you can use inverse by selecting those areas outside and choosing to inverse the selection later. This makes the process faster. Just look at the example below. Because the background has an even tone compared to the subject, you can choose to select the subject using another tool first and then simply use the Inverse tool to select the subject. Ctrl + I is a quick keyboard shortcut that you can use to invert selection.
Again, accessible through the Select sub-menu, Grow is a selection option also used with a pre-existing selection. Grow simply extends the selection based on the current selection, usually based on color and tone. The example below shows that the selection expanded to cover a wider area but still within the confines of its tone and color. It further expanded when you use to Grow tool one more time. You can repeat the process until your desired area is selected fully.
Similar is also accessible through the Select sub-menu, also works with a pre-existing selection and is much like color range where it extends the selection to the whole image given the specific color and tonal range of the existing selection. Let’s say you've selected a patch of clouds in the sky, you can extend the selection to include the other clouds which would probably have the same color and tonal range using Similar. Take note however that it will also include areas in your frame that are of similar color and tonal range even if they aren't clouds. Like Grow, this process can be repeated as desired.
10. Refine Edges
When you need to be meticulous about the edges of a selection, you can use this tool to manipulate or customize the contours of the selection given in the Refine Edges options. It takes a lot of practice and a little getting used to before being able to fully understand using this tool but it is indeed helpful in making your selection more precise. Accessible through the Select sub-menu.
These 10 tools are simply the most convenient selection tools available in Photoshop. There are also other techniques available in Photoshop where you can maximize your selections for more effective image manipulation. Each tool and technique has its edge in terms of speed or its ability to be precise. Knowing what to use given your specific need will definitely be an advantage.
Further resources on Photoshop selection tools