Selecting Things That Aren’t Easy to Select
The "magic wand" selection tool has been in Photoshop since the very first version 20 years ago (and other image-editing tools like Paint Shop Pro have their own equivalent), but they aren’t always that magical. Really complicated edges just don’t get selected properly, with detail left behind or extra background caught up in the selection. You can add and remove problem areas by hand and feather the selection to hide the join, but it can be a lot of work. Masks let you make precise selections that don’t vanish if you click in the wrong place, but they can be confusing to work with.
The selection tools in CS5 are better at detecting the edges of objects. The refine edges option makes it a snap to see how masks work and smart radius lets you use different techniques on the different parts of the same object. The hard edge of clothing or a plant stem and the complex edges of hair or small leaves need different settings to get the selection right–for example, whether the edge should be smooth or feathered or shifted slightly one way or the other. Now, you can turn this feature on and off or fine-tune how it’s applied in detail.
The simple selection brush gets a reasonable selection just by clicking on the areas you do and don’t want, but the refine selection option lets you fine-tune the edge by hand or just indicate the areas that need to be improved. Usually, you have the choice of doing everything manually or automatically–the refine edge dialog gives you all the tools to tweak the selection edge by hand, but the new tools mean you can keep the selections that Photoshop gets right and tell it what to tweak and how, giving you the best of both worlds.
It also lets you choose how you see the selection, such as a dotted edge, a mask, or a layer or as black and white areas. You can turn the smart radius on and off and use the refine radius tool to draw over any areas that should have a detailed edge and are too hard and simple (or erase any refinements that have added in extraneous areas by drawing along the edge again). You can keep the result as a selection or move it into a new layer, with or without a layer mask, depending on how you want to use it. The Decontaminate Colors option removes any color fringes from the background without losing the detail of the edge. Selection is something you do all the time in Photoshop and this is the kind of sophistication you’re paying for.