Elliptical Challenge

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Today’s Question: I often struggle to create an elliptical selection using the Elliptical Marquee tool in Photoshop, such as when I want to apply an effect to the edges of an image. Do you have any tips for getting the selection in the right position?

Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two key tricks that can be especially helpful for the Elliptical Marquee tool in Photoshop. First, while still holding the mouse button down to create the initial selection, you can hold the Spacebar on the keyboard to enable you to move the selection around while you’re creating it. Second, you can move or transform the selection, such as with the Select > Transform Selection command.

More Detail: The Elliptical Marquee tool in Photoshop is virtually identical to the Rectangular Marquee tool, with the difference being that the selection will be in the shape of an ellipse rather than a rectangle. Thus, the same basic options are available with both of these tools.

One of the biggest challenges with using the Elliptical Marquee tool is in getting the selection into the right position. It can be helpful to think about drawing a rectangle that contains an ellipse when creating a selection using the Elliptical Marquee tool. That said, it can still be challenging to get the selection in just the right place.

If you realize that the selection isn’t in quite the right place while you’re still drawing the selection (with the mouse button still held down), you can simply hold the Spacebar key on the keyboard (while continuing to hold down the mouse button). Then drag the selection into a different position. When you release the Spacebar key you can continue refining the shape of the selection. This enables you to switch back and forth freely between resizing and moving the selection, until you release the mouse button to actually create the selection.

If you’ve already created the selection, you can still move it around easily. With the selection tool still active, make sure the mode is set to “Create New Selection” rather than add or subtract, for example. Then point the mouse inside the selection, and click and drag to move the selection.

If you need to resize (and possibly move) the selection, you can use the transform command. Once you’ve created the initial selection, choose Select > Transform Selection from the menu, and a transformation bounding box will appear around the image. You can then adjust the overall size and shape of the selection by dragging the edges or corners of the bounding box. You can also move the selection by dragging within the interior of the bounding box.

Note, by the way, that you can also have a selection grow outward from the point you initially click on rather than having that initial point serving as one of the corners of the rectangle that will define the overall elliptical shape. To do so, start drawing your selection with the Elliptical Marquee tool, and then while you are still holding down the mouse button press and hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh while continuing to drag. This will cause the selection to grow outward from the original point you clicked, provided you keep holding the Alt/Option key until you release the mouse button.