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I've found multiple tutorials on how to take a shape and turn it into a silhouette, but full black sometimes lacks expression. I was wondering what was the best way of preserving highlights with Photoshop to create an image like the one below.

enter image description here

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These are actually photographs lit from behind to create the silhouette. –  Scott Mar 15 at 15:51

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Levels are your friend here. Lets take this image of a very happy lady:

Phase 1

Next stage we convert the image to Grayscale (Image -> Mode -> Grayscale).

Phase 2

Finally we adjust the levels (Image -> Adjustments -> Levels...) bringing the lighter areas to darker shades. Here I had to apply it multiple times as there are a lot of lighter shades around her facial areas I wanted to remove whilst allowing some of the areas on her legs to stay. I first adjust the levels to the degree I want to maintain highlights at, then grab sections with the marquee tool and adjust their levels further until they are fully blacked out.

Phase 3

Very quick but effective, I'm sure you could create some great effects if you spent a little more time on it.

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That's cool. Do you know of a way to smoothen the selection? (for example, to get rid of the aliasing around her arm and face) –  nachocab Mar 15 at 16:34
    
@nachocab I would zoom in around the area and carefully apply the blur tool around the edges to recreate the antialising. Due to the brightness of her face here I had to ramp the levels right up which removes any gradual tones around the edges. This image was made in 2 minutes as a quick demonstration, with proper care and attention you could create something far more professional. That or you could avoid the edges with your selection and adjust the levels more gradually to keep the soft edges. –  George Mar 15 at 16:37
    
It's better to use feather filter on your object/selection, it's meant for this. Or just blur the alpha channel. –  orion Mar 15 at 21:44

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