Skip Main Navigation

Enter a query to search our site. Note that you can use "*" and "?" as wildcards. Enclosing more than one word in double quotes ("CSS Layout") will search for the exact phrase.

SELECTIONS: Magic Wand Selections

The Magic Wand tools is not my favorite for making selections. That's because there isn't any reliable way to estimate what tolerance level to use. You either have to keep deselecting and resetting the tolerance level until you get it right, or you have to press the Shift key and bucket along, clicking all over the image to capture the pixels you want, without taking hostage the ones you don’t. It’s good practice to learn all the selection methods, however, so let’s give the Magic Wand tool a workout.

  • Choose File > Open
  • Browse to the PVII_PhotoMagic directory on your hard drive.
  • Locate the dahlia.jpg file and click on it to select it.
  • Click on Open

Figure1: A brilliantly colored flower!

There is good contrast between the flower and the background of the image, which makes the task of selecting with the Magic Wand tool a lot easier. It's easier because the Magic Wand tool makes selections based on color similarity. The selection radiates outward from the place you click, to adjacent pixels of the same or similar color to the one you clicked on. The tolerance level you set is what tells the Magic Wand how similar the colors should be. Let's give it a try.

wand tool
Figure2: The Magic Wand tool

  • Click on the Magic Wand tool to select it.
  • In the Property inspector, set the Tolerance level to 70.

Tip: Levels from 0 to 255 are possible. 70 is a low, midrange choice, which is a reasonable place to begin when there is a lot of contrast between the foreground and background.

  • Click on the brownish bricks in the lower, left corner of the picture.
  • Press and hold down the Shift key. A small plus sign (+) appears next to the Magic Wand, indicating that the next click will add pixels to the current selection.
  • Click on the leaves to the left of the selected bricks.
  • Continue clicking on the background around the flower in a clockwise direction until you reach the two small, light brown spots under the bottom flower petals.

selected pixels
Figure3: The marching ants have captured the bricks

The color values of the bricks and flower petals are close in that area. I’ll warn you ahead of time that when you click on the two spots, you’ll capture some of the flower petals too. I want you to try it anyway, so you can learn how to undo a step with the Magic wand.

  • Still holding down the Shift key, click the wand on the two light brown spots below the bottom flower petals.

Figure4: Whoops! We've captured some bits of the flower there

To undo the two small selections,

  • Press and hold the Alt (Windows) or Option (Macintosh) key. A small minus (-) sign will appear next to the wand, indicating that the next click will subtract an area from your selection.
  • Click on the two light brown spots, and then release the Alt/Option key.

You can still use the Magic wand to select the two areas, but it’s necessary to change the tolerance level first.

  • In the Property inspector, change the Tolerance level of the Magic wand tool to around 20.
  • Press Shift and click on the two light brown spots.

There are probably a few little ‘islands’ of unselected background pixels. To add them to the selection,

  • Still holding the Shift key, click on the Lasso tool to select it.
  • Use the Lasso tool to draw a circle around the island. A small square appears next to the Lasso, indicating that the stray bit is added to your selection as soon as you release the mouse button.

capturing an island
Figure5: Snagging an island with the Lasso tool

Now that the selection has been made, lets make sure that the edges of the flower will appear smooth.

  • Choose Select > Smooth Marquee. Smooth the marquee by 1 pixel.
  • Choose Select > Expand Marquee. Expand by 1 pixel.

Expanding the marquee will push it over the outermost pixels of the flower. Selectively blurring the background emphasizes the main subject of a photograph by focusing the viewer’s attention on the foreground. A side benefit is that it reduces the file size of a JPEG.

  • Choose Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Use the default blur setting.

To really make the flower pop from the background, you’ll apply a sharpen filter to it.

  • Choose Select > Select Inverse. Now the flower is selected in place of the background.
  • Choose Filters > Sharpen > Sharpen.
  • Choose Select > Deselect to remove the marquee.

Your image is ready to Optimize and Export.

finished image