The process of how to remove background in Photoshop is one of the most frequent requirements of any photographer. No matter whether you’re a professional and would like to make a decent composition with another background or change the background taken in the studio with a natural scene with a beautiful sky with clouds. Or you’re a regular traveling photographer and just want to remove any unwanted person from your group photo on the beach.
Quick selection tool.
We will start our process of how to remove background in Photoshop with the powerful selection tool, and it is a Quick selection tool. So choose the Quick Selection tool, and make sure Auto Enhance is switched on. The selection process will last a little bit longer, but the results will be much better and more precise.
At the start, choose larger brush size as we will try to select larger areas first. Now just click and drag with the selected brush to build up the selection. Take care you are not moving next to the edges because we will cover it in a moment with a smaller brush. As you’re done with the more significant parts of the subject selection, we need to zoom in a bit and change the brush size and select a small-sized brush.
Use a shortcut for zooming and click Ctrl + on the Windows (Cmd + on Mac). Now go to the brush options and decrease the size as we already mentioned to a smaller size so you will be able to select the edges more precisely.
If you accidentally select more areas than you want just press and hold Alt on Windows (Option on Mac) and deselect or subtract the unwanted area (a little minus sign will appear next to quick selection tool). Alt, in this case, is called a modifier key.
Zoom out by pressing Ctrl - on the Windows (Cmd - on Mac) and check the whole image whether there are some uncovered areas that should be selected. Then zoom in again and fix these areas by selecting (or deselecting) if needed.
Select and Mask.
If we are good enough with the selection process, let’s press the Select and Mask. Immediately you will see your subject cut off from the background. But this could be a bit misleading in some cases. Because if you have a default option of Select and Mask transparent or white background, you might think it is perfect. But if you try to switch for example to the black background, you can notice critical parts, especially on edges. So I recommend always to try more background options to be able to find any imperfections on edges.
Now the first thing we have to do to achieve more precise edges is to increase the Radius slider.
Now you can fine-tune by increasing the smooth which will smoothen the edges especially. But be careful here. If you increase the Smooth slider too much, the edges could become blurry.
Using the Feather slider and by increasing it, you’ll increase the smoothening effect.
If your edges appear a kind of jagged, you can use the Refine Radius tool. Click the Refine Radius button, and now you can choose if you want to add or subtract from the selection. Now paint near the selection to add or subtract, and the tool will refine the selection around the edges. It is especially handy and useful in the areas with the transition of the hair against the background.
Now after refining the edges, try to change more backgrounds again to find out if there are no imperfections.
If we are finished with the refining, the selection go to Output to submenu and instead of default option which is Selection select the Layer Mask option and click OK.
Now you’ll notice that Photoshop will convert the selection into a new Layer Mask. We can anytime Shift-click the mask and disable it temporarily and see the before and after effect. The significant advantage of the mask is it is non-destructive, and you can edit it or even delete it anytime and make it again from scratch if needed. You can modify the mask by painting on it with black or white color and add or remove parts of the image this way. Remember that painting into the mask with white color reveals and black color hides.
Another advantage of the layer mask is you can reuse it on other layers. It could be helpful if you have multiple exposures of the same image, for example, in the case of bracketing images. In such a case you can just press and hold Alt on Windows (Option on Mac). With holding Alt pressed click on the layer mask, drag it onto a new layer and release. Now you’ll have the same layer mask on two (or multiple) layers.
Changing the background.
Now becomes the essential part of the process of how to remove background in Photoshop and it is removing the old background and replace it with a new one. To do that just open the image with your selected background. So prepare your new background file and open it in Photoshop. Now you will see two files in the top Photoshop panel. The task is now to place the prepared layer with masked or cut-out subject onto the new background layer. To do that, click on the top panel file tab with the selected subject and drag it a little bit down. This will separate it into a separated window. Now click on the layer with cut-out girl and drag it onto the new background. This operation will make a new layer in the new background file situated on top of the original background layer.
Now you will start to see how will be the subject interacting with the new background. You have to make some first adjustments. Try to reposition the subject to the right place or final position. Then you will definitely have to resize the subject to fit realistically to a new composite image. To do so, press another useful shortcut Ctrl T on Windows (Cmd T on Mac). You can do it also by selecting Edit and the Free Transform submenu. The bounding box will appear around the subject, and by clicking and dragging one of the corners resize the image as needed.
It is always good to make a final crop of the composited image. It helps to achieve the overall final composition of the picture. Here is an important feature. When you select the Crop tool by pressing C as a shortcut or simply clicking on the crop tool icon on the top panel appears a tick box named Delete cropped pixels. I usually never click this tick box as I want to have the possibility to Re-crop the image later and do not lose any pixel from the original image. So I recommend leaving this tick box clear.
Now let us inspect the composition in a more detailed view. Zoom the whole image by pressing Ctrl + on the Windows (Cmd + on Mac). Now review slowly, especially edges of the subject and try to find some imperfections like edge glow or selection defects.
In this kind of situation, improve the selection. We will again use the non - destructive method which is using the mask. So, in this case, click on the layer mask of the subject layer. Now select the brush by pressing b key or select Brush icon directly on the tool panel. Select black as your foreground color. Paint along the edge of the mask and mask out the unwanted areas of the edge glowing or other unwanted parts of the image.
There is a useful method on how to paint straight lines in Photoshop. I am mentioning it right here because it is usable also in painting into the masks. After you selected the brush with the right size and the foreground color - in this case, black - click to the starting point of the straight line, then re-position the cursor to the ending point of your straight line and Shift-click. Photoshop will paint the straight line automatically from the starting point to the ending one.
You can repeat this process as many times as you need. Another good advice here is to use a soft brush and paint along the edge without touching the edge line but somewhat just near it. As the brush has the soft edge, it will also affect the area behind the brush cursor that is invisible.
Light and tone.
If you look at the composite image, you can see the subject is simply not working together with the background. It is caused by different light conditions the subject photograph was taken at, what camera or lenses were used. To achieve a realistic composite image, you need to make enhancements almost every time. It is, of course, individual every time, and you have to analyze the image first.
In my case, I see the subject image is too bright at least some parts of it when you compare it to the new background. So I decided to add the Levels adjustment layer and try to make the subject image a bit darker to fit more into the new background. As the new Levels adjustment layer is created, we need to affect only the layer with the subject image. To achieve that, press and hold the Alt key. Then position the mouse cursor right between the Levels adjustment layer and the subject layer until a little arrow appears. Then click. Now the Levels adjustment layer will affect only the layer below.
So now let us darken the subject image Layer. Click the left slider (Black) and move it to the right side until your layer becomes darker as it will be fitting to the background. Fine-tune it with the middle slider (Grey). If any part of the enhanced subject image layer is too dark after this operation enhance it further. You can do it by painting into the mask of this Levels adjustment layer with the soft brush and black foreground color set.
Another parameter that needs to be adjusted is color. As we already mentioned, the original image was taken at entirely different conditions comparing to the new background. Additionally, each subject on the photograph absorbs but also reflect light but also the color from the surrounding objects and surrounding spaces. All these circumstances have to be taken into consideration when adjusting the final image composition.
So for our example, we can see the new background contains mainly bright blue and cyan color tones. So we have to reflect it on our subject as well. As always in Photoshop, we have more options on how to do it. In our case, I decided to use the Color Balance adjustment layer. So go ahead and create a new Color Balance adjustment layer on top of all existing layers. As we are going to affect only our subject layer, we have to clip it to the underneath layer. This process is called creating the clipping layer.
Now we can make the adjustments. So as we want to emphasize specifically Blue and Cyan color tones. We start with the Yellow color slider that sets the color tones between yellowish and bluish color tones. So let us move the slider to the right and make the blue color more present. After that, let us focus on the first slider, which is Cyan - Red. As we need to increase cyan tones, let us move the slider to the left side.
We can make additional extra fine-tuning by enhancing the color balance also for Highlights and Shadows. As we open the Color balance adjustment layer, it opens by default for Midtones. So that is the reason we also need to switch to Highlights and Shadows and make a separate fine-tuning.
As a part of the process of how to remove background in Photoshop is to even better unify the complete image composition, there is a good practice to put a photographic filter over the whole image. To do so, I decided to use the Photographic filter adjustment layer. I want to warm the final image a bit, so in this case, I will choose the Warming Filter (LBA) adjustment layer. Just fine-tune the intensity by moving the slider here. gAs I already mentioned, this filter will give a nice warmer feeling from the overall image, and mainly it will help to unify the color toning for both subject and new background images. Relevant here is to apply the Photographic filter adjustment layer not clipped to the underneath layer but the whole picture. So no clipping here. You can also use other filters here.
If there are any areas that are affected by any adjustment layer somehow negatively, we can any time enhance it by painting into the layer mask and mask out these unwanted effects. So for example, if we do not want the Color balance adjustment layer to affect the wooden pier just select the layer mask of the Color Balance adjustment layer, take a soft brush and set the black as your foreground color. Then paint into the layer mask on the areas you want not to be affected by Color balance.
Conclusion of the process of how to remove background in Photoshop.
So we finally went through the process of how to remove background in Photoshop and make further enhancements. In the end, it is always good to organize all the layers. Group together all adjustment layers and name them appropriately. You will find it useful when you return back to this project in the future. Also, you can Re-crop the image and change or fine-tune the overall composition. This is the phase of the process to apply the sharpening as well.