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2.1 How to Cut Out Hair in Photoshop Using Layer Modes and Channels

We are going to kick the Ultimate Guide to Hair in Photoshop off by looking at how you extract a subject's hair using just layer modes, no selections or fancy brushwork required. There is a catch, however. This method really only works on one type of image, one where the subject's hair is both dark and on a light to almost white background. Even with this limitation, it's still completely worth covering because when it works, it works really, really well. So we are going to start off with our subject's body already extracted, as today, it's all about the hair. If you want to know how I typically go about extracting my subject's body, I highly recommend you check out my Introduction to Photo Manipulation course, also here on Envato Tuts+. I tend to always want to extract and finalize a subject's body before moving on to the hair, or at the very least, convert them into a small object. Now, we are going to go ahead and duplicate the subject and set that duplicate to Multiply. Let's also hide the original subject for now. With our multiply layer active, let's go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White, to turn the image grayscale. Next, let's go to Image > Adjustments > Levels, and increase the contrast of the image. We want to darken the hair while lightning in the background. Just fiddle around with these sliders until a good 95% of the environment around the hair is gone. These settings will vary from image to image, so unfortunately, there's no secret number to give. And again, we're only focusing on the hair, so don't worry about any background behind the body. Of course, do be careful, however, not to push the contrast too hard, or else your hair strands will end up all crispy and crunchy and appear over-processed. It doesn't need to be perfect, because now we'll be adding a layer mask and messing out whatever is still visible from the background along with the subject's body. We really don't need anything but the hair here, and you don't want any of that multiply layer to be peeking through giving your subject an unwanted black outline. With all that done, let's go ahead and unhide the original subject. Let's add a layer mask to the subject and mask out the outer edge of the hair. Focus on any areas that have the original background in it, making sure there is a smooth seamless blend. A nice, fluffy, round brush with a lower flow rate will work nicely here. Take your time with this part as a blending is key. There is absolutely no rush. Now, there is a good chance your hair will be mismatched color wise. Here, the original subject's hair has a very distinct blue tint. Oftentimes, black hair will lean either blue or brown, it's never truly black. So we can add a quick tint by going to Image Adjustments > Color Balance, and playing with these sliders to get a more accurate undertone. You can also use Hue Saturation, or any other adjustment that alters color. Now, we could stop here, but I love me some backlit hair. So let's duplicate the multiply layer and then invert it by hitting Ctrl+I, setting the layer mode to Screen. This will give us a white version of our subject's hair, essentially. Let's flip the layer horizontally so that the hair does not seem so copy pasted, repetitive, and then enlarge the hair just slightly so that it peaks out from behind the darker, thicker curls. This is a very stylized version of this backlit hair effect. If you'd like to tone it down, you can play with the layers opacity or try erasing parts of the white hair. You can also experiment with different colors for the backlit hair portion, soft yellows or blues would work very well here. But all of that will change image to image, so don't be afraid to really get in there and just tinker away. The best thing about this method is just how much detail the hair retains, as we can kind of see here, every little strand and curl is left. None of it is accidentally chopped off by Photoshop trying its best to guess what you do and don't want to be selected, but I'm not going to leave you with just one way to extract hair. No, we are just getting started. Next up, we will be looking at how to extract hair using channels here in the Ultimate Guide to Hair in Photoshop.

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