Transforming & Using Guides to Perfect Selections in Adobe Photoshop

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May 11, 2021
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I can remember way back to the early part of this century, before I knew how to use any of the more advanced selection tools, all the different types of things I would select. Most of the time, it was either round/oval objects or square/rectangle ones. I never got into clipping out people or things with random and complex edges. And honestly, the only reason I would ever select anything was to copy/paste it somewhere else or to crop the areas of the photo that weren’t selected, out. Things were very straightforward.

I guess you can call what I was doing the basics. As with in many other areas, the basics are critical to understand because they are taken advantage of so frequently. They are an absolute must if you plan on working in Photoshop for any extended period of time.

In today’s post, I’m going to show you two really fast and easy tricks that will help immensely when it comes to making basic selections in Adobe Photoshop. For my example down below, I’ll be using the Elliptical Marquee Tool to select the top ring of a cup of hot cocoa. To make an accurate selection, I’ll use two additional tools; guides and the Free Transform Tool. I know I alluded to both of these techniques in previous posts, but I feel it’s a good idea to write about them in their own post today. I oftentimes look back and refer to these types of posts and something like this will make it easier to do so.

Demo Photo​

As I mentioned above, I’ll be attempting to select the top ring of the mug in the photo below. I don’t need to do this for any particular reason other then to show you how to do it. And to let you know, the concepts I’ll demonstrate below can be translated and used with any type of a shape. Squares, rectangles, etc…


Setting Up Guides​

Circles and ovals are notoriously difficult to accurately select the first time around. I almost never get them right. As for squares, they’re relatively easy. All I need to do is to place my pointer on one of the corners and pull until the selection is made. When it comes to circles or anything with rounded edges, there’s no corner to place the pointer on. That’s where guides come into play. We need to create a corner.

To create a guide, we’ve got two options. We can simply pull a guide in from the ruler that surrounds the work area or we can use a menu item to take care of it. I’ll show you how to use the ruler pull method now.

First, make sure your rulers are showing. To do that, head up to the View > Rulers menu item and make sure that option has a check next to it. If it doesn’t, click it to set it.


After that, to create a guide, you can simply click inside one of the rulers, hold down and drag out into the work area somewhere. If you click on the horizontal ruler, you’ll create a horizontal guide. If you click on the vertical one, you’ll create a vertical guide. Check this out.


That blue line is a guide. It’s basically an invisible tool that assists with design that doesn’t appear in the final product.

Tips For Tabs & Guides in Adobe Photoshop

The other method we can take advantage of is generally used when precise guides are needed. We can set guides anywhere we want on the photo by filling in a value. To do this, head up to the View > New Guide menu item and click.


Then, once the New Guide dialog box appears, you can choose whether you want your guide to be created in a horizontal or vertical fashion and the position in which it should reside.


After that, click OK and the guide will be placed in the work area somewhere. For this project, I’ll just pull four guides in using the ruler method and set them around the rim of the mug.


Making a Guided Selection​

After the guides have been set up, I can activate the Elliptical Marquee Tool and then click on the guides’ upper left corner and drag down to their lower right corner. This is what I’ll end up with.


I’d say that’s not bad for my first try. I would never had gotten so close without those guides.

Transforming a Selection​

Okay, so we all probably know that selecting something is rarely so easy. I mean, how often do we have mugs on a table that are sitting absolutely level or plates that are straight? I’m sure you get the idea here. It’s not every day that we stumble across items in photos that are set up so wonderfully. This isn’t an issue though because we can easily transform a selection once it’s made.

To transform a selection to resize or distort it, we’ll need to visit the Select > Transform Selection menu item and click.


Once we activate the Transform tool, we can decide what to do with it. If I wanted to rotate the selection, I could place my pointer just outside of the bounding box. When the cursor turns into a curved arrow, I could click and drag. That would rotate it.


If I wanted to simply resize the selection, I could click and drag one of the corners and push towards the center or pull away from it. Remember, to constrain the selection’s proportions, hold down the Shift key while dragging.


Really though, we most often need to distort the selection. This is because the objects we oftentimes need to select are crooked or warped.

To distort a selection, hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard while dragging one of the bounding box handles.


Obviously, I didn’t select the rim of the mug like I intended to earlier. I merely wanted to show you how I could do so. With this knowledge, I should be able to select almost anything with a regular shape with either the Elliptical Marquee Tool or the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

Remember, when transforming a selection, the transform tools follow the same rules the regular transform tools do, so if you are knowledgeable about them, you should have no issues.


I hope I clearly explained how to set up guides for easier selections in Adobe Photoshop as well as how to transform selections in the same application. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!


May 11, 2021
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Transforming Selections in Adobe Photoshop for Some Really Cool Effects​

Pretty much all of what I write on this blog is meant to give you ideas. While I may offer an example or two to show you how something works, my intent is to merely ignite a spark that might turn into something much larger. In this post, I may explain how to transform a selection one way, but my hope is that you’ll consider what I’ve done and you’ll run with it your own way. This describes much of the Photoshop learning process. You’re going to learn an endless amount of tricks and tips, but it’s really up to you to see what you can make out of them.

If you ever watch someone who knows what they’re doing in Adobe Photoshop, you’ll quickly come to realize that selections are critical to so many different types of workflows. I can remember standing behind a colleague as they were attempting to show me something regarding this topic and I was amazed at how fast their hands moved and how fast selections were created and manipulated. It was at that moment that I realized I would never dismiss and try to work around selection again. Sure, they’re oftentimes not the simplest things to understand and get down pat, but they can sure help make some wonderful creations.

In today’s post, I’d like to explore two of the most important areas of selections in Photoshop there is; transformation and alteration. I’ll work with one tiny sliver of the entire pie, but with this sliver, you should begin to get ideas. Basically, I want you to see something you might not have thought possible.

To kick things off, I’ll select the top area of a cup of coffee. Then, I’ll use an adjustment layer to add a tad of contrast to the inside of that selection. Then, I’ll reselect the area, invert the selection, transform the selection and use another adjustment layer to darken everything but the originally selected area. I’ll repeat that process twice more and hopefully, I’ll end up with a neat effect that puts focus on the originally selected area. This one’s going to be weird, but it’s also going to be fun.

The Original Photo​

As I mentioned above, I’ll be working with a photo of a cup of coffee. This is a top down photo, so it should make it very easy to get the selection that I need. Essentially, it’ll be a circle.


Making the Initial Selection​

Okay, to get going and to acquire the most accurate selection possible, I’m going to drag two guides into my workspace.

Transforming & Using Guides to Perfect Selections in Adobe Photoshop

I’ll pull one in from the left ruler and one in from the top ruler. Take a look.


The reason I added the guides to the edge of the mug is because they give me a great starting point. When I’m ready to select, which I am now, I can place my mouse pointer right on top of the guide intersection. Then, I can hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and drag down and to the right, until the selection encompasses the entire top of the coffee cup. For more information on this technique, please click through to the post I linked to above.

Let’s take a look at my selection. I’ll use the Elliptical Marquee Tool to make it.


Here’s the selection. You can see the marching ants around the rim of the mug.


Adding an Adjustment Layer​

Now that I have my selection, I can go ahead and add some contrast via the Curves adjustment. To do this, I’ll head up to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves icon. Then, once the Properties panel for this adjustment opens up, I’ll click on the Preset drop-down and inside of that, I’ll select the Increase Contrast option. Doing this will add the adjustment to anything inside of the selected area.


Reselecting & Inverting​

Okay, I now have the first step finished. From here, I’d like to reselect the same area as I did earlier. To accomplish this, I’ll simply hold down the Ctrl key on my keyboard and click on the mask of the adjustment layer in the Layers panel. This is a quick and easy method for reselecting something you’ve already selected in the past. Here’s a screenshot of the adjustment layer in the Layers panel.


From this point on, my goal is to darken the areas around the coffee cup. So, since the cup is selected, I’d like to invert that selection so everything but the cup is selected. To invert a current selection, I’ll head up to the Select > Inverse menu item and click.


At this point, I should see the same selection around the top of the cup as I did earlier, but also a selection around the outer edge of the image. These two selections will indicate that the area outside the cup is currently selected.


Next, I’ll use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+T to free transform the selection. I’ll hold down the Shift key on my keyboard and then I’ll click and drag one of the corners out. Then, I’ll click and drag the opposite corner outward as well. I’ll use the arrow keys on my keyboard to nudge the transformation so the circle area is equidistant around the center of the cup. When I’m finished, I’ll press the Enter key on my keyboard to apply the transformation.


Now I can go back up to the Adjustments panel, but this time, I’ll click on the Brightness/Contrast icon and once I’m inside of the Properties panel for this adjustment, I’ll reduce the Brightness to -55.


And if I take a look at the Layers panel now, I’ll see the first adjustment layer as well as the second. Remember, the white parts of the masks in these layers are revealing the adjustments and the black parts are concealing them.


Repeating the Steps​

Since I’d like a stepped effect, I’m going to repeat the steps I just took two more times. Each time, I’ll click on the original selection adjustment layer to reselect it, invert the selection, transform the selection and then apply an adjustment layer to that selection. I’ll transform each one of these next selections so they’re slightly larger than the one before it. Let’s see how that looks.

Here’s the final inverse selection I’ll make.


And this is the final image, after I applied the reduced brightness adjustment layer.


That looks pretty cool. If I was really adventurous, I would have feathered the edges of the following selections so the darkness blurred into itself, but I’ll leave that for another day. What I wanted to show you today was merely a process for working with selections and adjustment layers. Again, take the concept I just showed you and apply it to your own projects. It doesn’t have to be anything near what I just did, so feel free to be creative.


I hope I clearly explained how to create a selection, invert a selection, transform a selection and apply an adjustment layer to a selection inside of Adobe Photoshop. If you have any questions regarding this post, please leave them in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!