Lesson A: Rectangular Marquee – Adobe Photoshop

Lesson A: Rectangular Marquee

Much of what we’ll see with this tool applies very well to the other tools, so please don’t skip this lesson! I will assume you’ve done it later.

  • Open the image “A rectangular marquee.psd” from the folder “03 Selections and Masking.”
  • Choose the Rectangular Marquee tool in the Tools panel by clicking it or tapping the M key (as in “Marquee”) on your keyboard. That’s right, more letters to learn!

Our objective is to select the central part of this image where the dog carving is and then lighten that area, leaving the outer parts of the image dark.

Basic Use

Before we attempt the final selection, let’s see what this tool is about.

  • Drag diagonally with the Rectangular Marquee tool. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dragging upward or downward, leftward or rightward, as long as you drag diagonally.
  • Once you have the “marching ants,” note how the cursor’s appearance changes when it moves into and out of the perimeter of your selection. With the cursor inside, press and drag to move your selection.
  • Click outside the marquee (selection) and you deselect.
  • Make a new selection.
  • Drag outside that selection to begin a new selection.

Note: Some selection tools can’t be used to deselect by clicking outside the current selection, but instead will always make a new selection. I’ll let you know when we get to one of those.

  • This time, to deselect I want you to use a shortcut: -D/Ctrl-D (as in “Deselect”). No matter which tool made the selection or which tool you’re wielding, this will work.

With Modifier Keys

When arbitrary rectangles aren’t sufficient, we can use modifier keys (option or shift on macOS; Alt or Shift on Windows). Actually, only option/Alt and/or shift with the selection tools.

  • With no active selection, draw a new marquee, being sure to hold down the shift key, especially as you finish the selection. You now have a perfectly square selection. Interesting, right?
  • Deselect (-D/Ctrl-D).
  • Starting in the center of the image (or perhaps at the dog’s nose?), drag outward with the option/Alt key held down, especially as you finish the selection. It will have grown outward, centered on the point from which you started. Also cool.

But what happens when there is an active selection when using those modifiers? It is different! If you use a text-editing program, you may know that if you have a word selected, then shift-click later in the text, you’ve grown your selection (added to it). That’s the case here too.

  • With an active selection, hold down shift and then start a new marquee, adding more area to the existing selection. Even if you release that key partway through, it will work.

The added area does not need to be contiguous with actively selected area. It would still be a single selection in the same way a stencil is one stencil even if it has multiple holes in it.

  • Use option/Alt to remove an area from the selection. If a stencil could have a cardboard (or plastic, etc.) island floating in the middle of a hole, that would be a good metaphor.
  • Tap the letter Q (as in “Quick Mask”). This shows you the virtual stencil that a selection actually is. For now, don’t do anything in that mode. To see those marching ants again, tap Q a second time.

There is one more modifier key I’d like you to learn, and it will be surprising. It won’t be useful in this lesson, but will definitely help in the next one. Be warned that you’ll be holding the mouse button down a while.

  • Be sure you’re not in Quick Mask mode, then deselect (-D/Ctrl-D).
  • Start a new selection but don’t release the mouse!
  • Partway through, pause and hold down the spacebar (!). With that mouse button still held down, move your mouse hand. While the spacebar is held down and with the marquee unfinished, your movements move the marquee-in-progress. Release only the spacebar and you can resize and reshape the marquee you’re drawing.
  • Release the mouse to complete the marquee. Yes, this does take practice!

When you feel that you’ve got that, at least for now, let’s lighten up that lovely puppy.

  • Deselect (-D/Ctrl-D).
  • Draw a marquee around the recess where the dog relief is.
  • Make a Curves adjustment layer by clicking the Curves icon in the Adjustments panel.

The histogram will reveal that no pixel is even as bright as a midtone. This image is dark! We need a substantial change:

  • Drag the white-point slider to the left. Not necessarily all the way to the lightest pixels in the histogram, but almost. We can see the color of the sandstone now. But that sharp edge…
  • Click on the mask thumbnail to show its properties in the Properties panel.
  • In the Properties panel, drag the Feather slider to the right to nondestructively blur the mask. I found a value of 40–50 pixels looks good, like a light gently shining on that sculpted element.