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Photoshop Selections - Color Range  

To the right is an image that is difficult to 'select' - a varied background and many fine details.  For this, we'll use Color Range.

Begin by pressing Ctrl + J to duplicate the layer and click the 'eye' on the original layer to turn its visibilty off:

Duplicate Layer

 

Now go to SELECT...Color Range.

Feather Girl
Color Range

In the Color Range palette, click on the left-hand 'dropper' icon and click on a fairly representative area of the background (shown above in magenta).  If there is a contrasting background color - such as the darker blues towards the top of the image - click the middle 'dropper' tool (the one with the '+' sign) and click on these other colors (shown in light green, above).

Move the Fuzziness slider until the image is mostly black and the background is a clean as you can get it.

 

And that's basically it.  Pressing OK in the Color Range dialog box will put marching ants around the image and, by pressing the Delete key, the background will be cut away.

Not all images will be as 'clean' as this.  In the example below, there are areas of gray, these would be semi-transparent and need to become solid black and white (except for areas that should be semi transparent such as soft edges). There are tiny dots also visible, there will make for a very messy selection.

With the marching ants going, switch to the Channels palette and click on the 'Save selection as channel' icon at the bottom of the channels palette (highlighted in red, below)

This will create a new Channel - Alpha 1.  Click on this channel to highlight it.

 

Feather Girl 2
Alpha Channel
Levels Go to IMAGE...Adjustments...Levels.
In the levels Dialog box, click the black point slider on the left and drag it to the right until the gray areas have become a solid black, Slide the White point slider to the left until the whites are nice and clean and the grainy effect has gone. Click
OK to apply.
And here's the result!  An otherwise difficult selection made by using Color Range.  Of course there are a couple of areas that still need cleaning up, but the bulk of the selection work has been done. Feather Girl