Advanced: How to Select Difficult Hair in Photoshop

This tutorial is all about selecting hair in Photoshop. We’re going to tackle three different and very difficult selections in this tutorial. We’ll extract a blonde haired girl from a forest, we’ll cut out a redhead who is lying in the grass, and we’ll also extract a girl who has an incredible amount of teased hair from a studio setting. We’re going to use Calculations, the Lasso tools, and Levels to create intense channel-based selections that you are going to absolutely love. Because of the length of this tutorial, I’m am only going to cover some of what is covered in the full-length video; be sure the watch it and get all the info! It’s great stuff!

1. Select the Other Stuff First

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-01

I’m going to select the rest of this model’s body/dress first and then we’ll jump in and isolate the hair as best we can. Grab the Quick Selection Tool (W) and paint a selection over her dress and body until you’re up above her neck.

2. Save the Body Selection

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-02

Right click within the selection that you just created and choose “Save Selection” to convert this selection to a channel which we can load later on once we’ve got her hair isolated so we can cut her entirely out and move her to a new image.

3. Calculations to Create a Complex Channel

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-03

Go Image>Calculations to bring up the Calculations dialog box. This feature allows us to blend multiple channels together to create complex selections. I’m looking for a blend of channels which will create the max amount of contrast between her hair and the foliage behind her. I went with blending Red channel with Red channel using the Add blend mode and I set the “offset” to “-200” with a “scale” of “1”. We want to output this to a new channel.

4. Working on the Channel

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-04a

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-04b

We are now working on that channel that we just created (not the pixels of the actual image) and this will not affect the image because this channel is essentially just lightness information informing Photoshop of where it should select and where it shouldn’t. I’m grabbing my Lasso tool (L) and dragging a selection roughly around her hair (be careful not to cross the selection over any wisps of hair) and then hitting Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + I to invert my selection. Now that we have everything EXCEPT her hair selected, we want to go Edit>Fill and choose to fill this area with black. Deselect by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + D.

5. Boost Channel Contrast with Levels

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-05

Hit Cmd/Ctrl + L to bring up the Levels dialog. We’re still just working on our channel, not the image pixels. Use the black and white sliders on the upper slider to increase blacks and whites until we start to really increase the contrast along as much of the hairline as we can. PRO TIP: You can use the Lasso tool (L) here and select only portions of the hairline to work on and really dial in your Levels for better results!

6. Overlay with the Brush Tool

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-06

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-06b

Next up, grab the Brush Tool (B) and look to the top control bar and set the blend mode of the Brush to Overlay and also reduce the Opacity of the Brush to 50%. I also prefer to work with a very soft-edged brush for this type of painting. Gently paint around the edges of the hair with black where things need to be darkened and with white where the hair needs to be made more of a solid white. As you see in the screenshot, this step can really help clean things up a bit.

7. Fill Inside of Hair

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-07

Set your Brush tool (B) back to the blend mode of Normal and the tool Opacity back to 100% and set your foreground color to white and right click and decrease the hardness of your brush so you have control over exactly where you paint and begin painting within the area “inside” of the hair as I have done in my screenshot above. This will ensure that when we load both this channel and the body channel as a combined selection, we will get perfect overlap.

8. Load Both Channels as a Single Selection

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-08

Hold down Cmd/Ctrl + Shift and click on the thumbnail for each of our two new channels to load them both as a selection and add the other channel to our selection.

9. Create the Mask (& Prepare to Make some Adjustments)

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-09

Go Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection to make everything except the areas selected disappear. Notice that the edges of the hair look like there are all kinds of other colors there. That stuff is color matte. Color matte is bits of color left in semi-transparent areas and is going to match the color of the background from which you’ve extracted your model. You can grab the Brush tool (B) and set the blend mode to Overlay and paint with black to dump some of the edge color. In this case, I think I’m going to leave it and see what the model looks like over a new background.

10. Drag to New Image Background

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-10

I’m going to drag this girl over into this image and place her in front of this green mountain, this means that the little bits of green-ish color matte will mesh the edges of her hair with the colors in the background very nicely. You still have a mask here if your background colors aren’t quite matching up and you can use the Brush tool (B) as we’ve been doing all along to add or remove bits of the edge until you get the perfect head of hair over your new background.

11. Other Examples in the Video!

how-to-select-difficult-hair-photoshop-advanced-11

Check out the video above for more examples of very difficult to select heads of hair and how we conquer them in Photoshop! You will not regret taking the time to check it out, I promise!
Be sure to watch the video at the top of this article tutorial for even more detail and info on how I used this technique and really finished this effect and got great results!

Sign up for my newsletter and stay up to date with all the tutvid.com happenings! Thanks for checking out this tutorial!