Master your photo editor's selection tools

People accuse me of occasionally giving accurate but useless answers to their questions. Ask me why the sky is blue, and I'm likely to say "Rayleigh scattering."

That sort of thing happened recently when a friend, obviously annoyed with his image editing program, asked me why there were so many different selection tools to choose from. "Because making selections is such an important capability!" I immediately replied. Afterwards, I tutored him with some real-world examples of how the various selection tools can be used. This week I'll share them with you.

Choose how much help you want

When you need to make a selection within a digital photo, the goal is often to separate an object from the background -- so you can fiddle with the colors, exposure, or sharpness in one area, for example, without affecting the rest of the photo. Or you might want to clip an object out of the photo and use it in a different project. That's one reason why image editing programs like Corel Paint Shop Pro (which I'll use as my example this week) offer more than one kind of tool to choose from. Different tools work better than others in certain situations.

Suppose you wanted to cut an arbitrary section out of a photo, for instance. There are no obvious edges to cut along, so in a situation like this you might have the most luck with the Freehand or Point to Point tool.

To get started with the Freehand selection tool, open a photo in Paint Shop Pro and then click the Freehand selection tool, which lives in the third cubby in the toolbar on the left side of the screen.

In the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, choose Freehand from the Selection Type menu. (You can get to the Point to Point tool from Selection Type menu, too.) If you don't see the Tool Options palette, you can toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Tool Options.

Neither Freehand nor Point to Point have any built-in intelligence to help you. Wherever you click, you mark your selection.

But they do have their differences. Freehand lets you make a smooth, arbitrary shape -- the tool perfectly follows any motion you make with the mouse. Contrast that with the Point to Point tool: Each time you click, the tool creates a straight line, which allows you to make a complex (but artificially angular) shape with the selection tool.

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