How to Make Selections in Affinity Photo

by Dec 14, 2021Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Make Selections in Affinity Photo

The ability to create accurate selections in an image is an important skill for photo editing. Selections allow you to change parts of an image whilst leaving other areas unchanged, for example, to replace the sky. Fortunately, Affinity Photo has several tools to help us easily make selections. I’ve already explained one way to do this in a previous tutorial about using Affinity Photo’s Selection Brush Tool.

The Selection Brush is a great tool for selecting large continuous areas of an image with smooth edges. But when faced with an image like the one below on the left, the Selection Brush fails to make an accurate selection of the sky. You can see this in the screenshot on the right.

Affinity photo selection brush tool cant handle the fine detail in this photo

When we try to select the sky in the image using the Selection Brush, it can’t select the fine details in the tree branches. The red mask (showing the unselected area) indicates there are lots of tree branches in the selection. The Selection Brush also hasn’t picked up the area of sky between the branches.

To create a more accurate selection of the sky we need to use some of Affinity Photo’s other selection tools. In this tutorial, I’ll explain what these are and how you can easily combine them to quickly create accurate selections in photos.

The Flood Select Tool

Whilst the Selection Brush Tool is a great way to select large continuous areas like a sky, you’ve already seen it has limitations. When you’re faced with selecting or removing fine detail, you might find the Flood Select Tool a better option to work with.

You will find the Flood Select Tool in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette. It’s icon displays a magic wand.

The flood select tool in affinity photo

After clicking the icon for the Flood Select Tool, you will see its controls appear in the toolbar along the top of the screen. These controls are key to making accurate selections.

This is what happens when I use the Flood Select Tool to select the sky in the image using the settings you see in the screenshot.

Selection using the flood select tool

Here you can see the Flood Select Tool has made an accurate selection of the tree branches, selecting even the finest details. The only problem is that it hasn’t selected the sky we can see between the tree branches. But we can easily correct this by deselecting the Contiguous option in the toolbar before making a selection. You can see the result in the screenshot below.

Selection with flood select tool and contigious turned off

With the Contiguous option turned off, we achieve a much better selection.

The Contiguous option controls which areas are selected. When turned off, areas that aren’t Contiguous with the main area of the sky are also selected. This means that the small areas of sky seen through the tree branches are automatically included. Unfortunately, you can see that the Flood Select Tool has also selected a small lake in the distance behind the trees because it’s a similar colour to the sky. We now need to remove this which will do using the Freehand Selection Tool .

Freehand Selection Tool

You will find the Freehand Selection Tool  in the Affinity Photo Tools Palette on the left of the screen. It’s part of a larger group of selection tools which include the Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee Tools. The Freehand Selection Tool has an icon that looks like a lasso.

Freehand selection tool in Affinity Photo

After clicking the icon for the Freehand Selection Tool, it’s controls appear in the toolbar along the top of the screen. To refine the selection that was made with the Flood Select Tool, we need to change the selection mode using the icons in the toolbar.

Below, you can see the toolbar for the Freehand Selection Tool.

Freehand Selection Tool controls

The first setting to choose is the “Type” which changes the behaviour of the selection tool. We want to use the Freehand type which is the first icon (number 1). We also want to use the tool in the Subtract Mode so that anything we draw around is removed from the current selection. We can do this by clicking the Subtract Mode button (number 2).

Now we can draw around the lake to remove it from the selection. You can do this by clicking on a point and then was holding down your mouse button, draw around the area. When you release the mouse button, the selection is completed. And because we are using the Subtract Mode, it’s removed from the current selection.

Drawing a selection with the freehand selection tool

We can also use this tool to further refine the selection by removing the distant mountains on the horizon, that were included in the initial selection.

It’s also possible to change the mode to Add, to add areas to the selection that weren’t initially included. Using the Affinity Photo’s selection tools in the different modes is an important skill to develop. It means you don’t need to rely on trying to adjust tool settings to achieve a better selection. Instead, you can use any of the tools to improve a selection.

Other Selection Tools

As mentioned in the previous section, Affinity Photo has other selection tools like the Rectangular Marquee tool. Like the Freehand Selection Tool, these tools also have different Modes you can use with them:

  • New, which creates a new selection, replacing any existing selection.
  • Add, which adds a new area to an existing selection.
  • Subtract, which removes an area from an existing selection.
  • Intersect, which intersects with an existing selection so that only the intersection of the two areas is then selected.

Tools like the Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee make it easy to select large areas of an image. By using these tools with the different modes mentioned, you can quickly refine large areas of a selection.

Here’s an example of the selection after being refined to remove distant hills and all the foreground of the image. The Rectangular Marquee tool was used in the Subtract Mode to ensure nothing in the foreground was selected.

Finished selection made in Affinity Photo

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How to Make Selections in Affinity Photo Summary

Possibly the best way to start most selections in Affinity Photo is using either the Selection Brush or Flood Select Tools. These tools can quickly and easily create an initial selection.  Each has its own features which will make it suited to different situations. It’s best to spend some time experimenting with the tools to understand what these situations are.

After creating the initial selection, you can further refine it using other selection tools. Good examples include the Freehand Selection and Rectangular Marquee Tools. When using these tools to refine an initial selection, be sure to use the mode setting in the toolbar at the top of the screen. This allows you to Add Subtract or Intersect a new selection with an existing one.

Plan your selections carefully and you should be able to achieve an accurate selection using these tools, in most situations. If you find your selection isn’t quite accurate enough, consider using the Refine tools. You can learn how to use Affinity Photo is Refine tools in this tutorial.

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