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Precise Selection with Focus Area

I’d like to share with you one of my favorite additions to Adobe Photoshop CC. It is a great way to quickly make a selection based on what’s in focus.

Focus Area dialog box

There are many ways to extract an image using Photoshop. The key is to know which tool to use and when. For this example, we will use the Focus Area select tool.

  1. Launch Photoshop and Open an Image.
  2. Choose Select > Focus Area.
  3. When the dialog box appears, start with an auto setting by checking the auto box.

We can tweak the mask by applying the tools in the Focus Area dialog box. At the end of this article is a quick 4 minute video demonstrating how to use the Focus Area select tool.

The View Mode

The view mode gives us seven different options to view the mask with our image. Let’s focus on 3; Overlay, Black & White and On Layers.

  • Overlay applies a Red Mask over the part of the image that will be masked out.
  • Black & White show a clean mask, great for final touch-ups.
  • On Layer shows what the image will look like when applied to the bottom layer.


Adjusting the parameters slider effects how a selection is made. Dragging the slider to the left, narrows the selection to the most focused area in the photo. Dragging the slider to the right widens the selection to include more areas in the photo.

Advance: Image Noise Level

If the image has significant noise, use image noise level adjustment to correct the selection.

Focus Area Add and Subtract Tool

We can fine tune our section with Focus Area Add and Subtract brush tool. Toggle between the brushes with keyboard short cut E. Change the brush size with the left “[” or right “]” bracket keys.

Output Options

We have five options to output our new layer mask. Output to Layer Mask is the most common. The creates a new layer mask on the current layer.

Fine tuning our selection with a brush

Using keyboard short cut E toggles the brush to paint in or paint out a selection. I’ve noticed after I’ve painted out or in an area, sometimes a previous selection changes. At first I thought this was a limitation of the program. After repainting an area again, I noticed Photoshop intelligently narrows down my selection each time producing a clean mask.

One last check

Before we click OK, toggle the view mode to Black & White. This will reveal areas of the mask we missed. Use the proper brush tool to paint in or paint out the selection.

The Refine Edge tool gives us even more control with our mask. This is a great option when masking fine areas such as hair or fury. For this image, we didn’t need to apply the tool. After clicking OK, Focus Area creates a clean mask applying it to the current layer.

Bonus Video

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