Defringing hair

Selecting fine strands of hair is one of the trickiest jobs - and it's so hard to find bald models! Here Justin Maller shows you some clever techniques for making accurate selections of complex subjects.

Accurately extracting models and their hair from a background is one of the most irritating and time-consuming tasks a digital imager can be faced with - trying to make a smooth and detailed selection can leave you thumping the desk in frustration.

Making selections with the Pen tool can occasionally give you an adequate result, but it is virtually impossible to capture all of the fine strands and flyaway hairs using this technique. Both the Magic Wand and the Magnetic Lasso selection tools are similarly ineffective, since most images do not have a universal selection tolerance that will enable you to wand out unwanted backdrops, and even if you do manage to walk the incredibly frustrating magnetic tightrope, the background will still be present in between hair strands, leaving you with annoying halos.

Fear not; lateral thinking reveals a relatively straightforward solution. The crux of this process lies in using channels to make a detailed alpha mask for your image (which will facilitate a similarly detailed selection), as well as in harnessing the Layer Matting features to refine your final extraction. In this tutorial, we'll guide you through this process, as well as show you some pre- and postproduction tips to maximise the potential of your photos.

We'll also explore the use of channels in post-production image retouching, and have a bit of fun balancing out our image with adjustment layers.

Click here to download the support files (3.1MB)

Click here to download the tutorial for free