I recently taught an Introductory workshop for Photoshop on Layers and Masks. While most of the attendees found the workshop very useful, the general consensus was that making selections for masking would take a lot of practice and that while Photoshop does a good job, the user interface can be complicated and some of the tools cumbersome. I tend to use a third party tool for this myself and was reminded of its efficacy by a webinar delivered by my fellow educator #BlakeRudis. The tool I advocate is called Remask and until recently was available only as a plugin for editing applications from the folks at Topaz Labs. That changed with the recent update to Remask 5.
I use Remask because I bore easily but more importantly because it does a superb job, particularly when you have areas of partial transparency. Consider a bridal veil, or long hair or some other similar situation. Cutting a mask on relatively sharp edges is not really all that hard, but is time consuming. Dealing with transparency is painful, but Remask makes it very easy.
Open the file in Lightroom, or Photoshop or now, directly in Remask by the appropriate means. The default setting is keep everything, which covers the image with a greenish transparent cover. Take your mouse, trackpad pointer or tablet stylus and select the blue brush icon. Set as small a brush size as is reasonable. Now paint all the edges ensuring that the brush touches both the keep area and what you want to discard. If you have areas that should have some transparency, simply paint those areas with the same blue brush.
Now take the red paint bucket and click all areas of the image the you want to remove. This is very quick and explicitly shows what is going to be cut away.
Zooming in allows you to check all your edges and you can touch them up with the red brush for removal, or the green brush to preserve completely or the blue brush for the edges.
Once you have completed your painting, which goes far more quickly than it may sound, you click the compute button and in a short period of time, the mask is created. Remask provides a number of ways to view the mask to help you be sure of the cut and you can now use the brushes to refine it specifically as needed.
When you are done, you click Save and the mask is returned to the application that called it, or in the case of a file opened directly in Remask, Save As. File formats include TIFF, JPEG and PNG. Please note that Topaz Remask does not open RAW files directly, those you will round trip from Photoshop, Lightroom or another supported editor.
If you've struggled with the pen tool, or the magic (tragic??) wand when it comes to selections, or the combination of Quick Selection Tool and Refine Edge brush makes your teeth hurt, you will want to check out Topaz Remask 5. Head over to their web page here and download the free trial.
I would also suggest watching Blake's tutorial on his site here. You'll get a good sense of ease of use, and also may find other interesting stuff on Blake's site. I often do.