Photoshop

5 Ways to Remove a Background Using Photoshop

Oftentimes, the need to remove the background of an image will arise, whether it is editing a photo for an online store, Photoshopping a model into a different environment or creating a collage of images.  The method you choose to complete this task may depend on your skill level, the background and subject appearance or your software.

Below is my starting photo, my pug Mushi at the ocean last summer.  I chose this photo because the background color blended at some points with her coloring so this would be a somewhat difficult task for a novice.  I also picked a pretty radical background to lay behind the photo to show the effectiveness of my background removal options.

Here are 5 ways to remove a subject from a photo using Photoshop:

1. Magic Eraser: I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the Magic Eraser tool and the photo below is exactly why.  Photos in which the subject has a similar color as the background just will not erase well using the magic eraser because you need to set the tolerance quite low so you end up getting really blotchy results.  Even using the regular eraser tool requires a lot of work to clean up the mess you’ve created using magic eraser and by the time you start cleaning up the photo, chances are you’ve already erased part of your subject.

When should you use it?  Use the magic eraser when you have a very sharp contrast between subject and background and aren’t too concerned with the smoothness of the edges of the subject.

Notice a chunk of Mushi’s head got erased because the coloring blended in with the sand. Also notice all the speckling by her legs (the whole image looked like that, so I cleaned it with the eraser, but left this to demonstrate how messy the results look without a lot of work).

2. Eraser Tool: So if the magic eraser tool isn’t the cleanest, the eraser tool is a good option, right?  Well it is an acceptable option, but not one of my top options because of all the work it requires to do a good job with it.  I am also hesitant to erase part of a photo because of the likelihood of erasing too much and not being able to easily fix it.  For all the work that goes into using the eraser, you’d be better off using one of the other methods below for a much nicer result.

When should you use it? Use the eraser tool if you are not confident in your skills to remove the background using one of the below methods or if it is a simple eraser job.  For more complicated background removals, I would suggest one of the below methods over the eraser.

This is quite a clean result, but notice I missed a couple of spots. It requires a lot of erasing and close attention to detail. Also, the cutout might be too harsh for some, but it works out okay in this example. You may want to smooth the results, which are difficult using this method.

3. Lasso Tool & Mask: This was actually one of my first times really working with the lasso tool.  It is a little intimidating at first because it encourages you to lasso the entire subject in one move.  I was unable to do this, but because of that, I was able to learn the tool better.  I would recommend getting a rough outline of your subject to the best of your ability with the lasso tool.  Then, you can change to the add and subtract lasso tools to refine your selection.  If you missed a spot, simply circle it with the add lasso and it will be added to the selection.  Do the same with the subtract lasso to remove a section.

When should you use it? I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about this option, but at the same time, I like to have options.  This would be great if you had a pen & tablet so you have better control over your drawing.  Also, it may be a great choice for strangely shaped subjects or if you have multiple small objects to remove.  I prefer the next two options over this right now, but I’m sure I will use the lasso tool in the future.  I just didn’t find it to be as accurate as I prefer in relation to all the work it required to use it.

Mushi’s head & body look pretty good, but you can see the difficulty I had around the legs. The good thing about the lasso is the ability to zero in on sections, but it is very time-consuming and can be difficult to get the precise results you’re looking for.

4. Quick Selection Tool: The quick selection tool is one of my favorites for a quick background removal, however its challenges increase when the background somewhat blends with the subject.  One of my favorite tricks with this tool is selecting the background if the background is mostly solid then inverting the selection to the subject then using the mask.  For example, if I have a photo of a colorful bird on a blue sky background, it’s easier to select the sky then invert the selection to the bird rather than try to select all the different colors of the bird.  The same goes for a model in front of a white background.

When should you use it? I would recommend using the quick selection tool when there is a big enough contrast between the subject and background that making the selection is quick and easy.  If you are having trouble getting the subject separated from the background because there are just too many similar colors (i.e. a colorful butterfly on a similarly colored vegetation background) I would suggest the next method for the most precise results.

Notice Mushi’s nails were cropped a bit because they blended in with the sand, but overall, a very clean look.

5. Pen Tool & Mask: Unlike its name, the pen tool is not used to draw.  Instead, it is used to select points around the subject to get the most precise result.  It can be time-consuming, but if you have a complicated subject to remove, the pen tool and mask will yield the most accurate results.  You’ll want to zoom in closely and set points all along the edge of your subject as well as point out sections you want omitted.  This works great for jewelry photos or very detailed face or model photos.

When should you use it? Use the pen tool when you want the most accurate results and the quick selection or lasso options can’t capture the subject from the back ground accurately enough.

Notice that more of the detail shows up in this image and the subject is sharply cut out with a very light feathering to blend her in well with the background. This is the most accurate result of the 5 options.

What methods have worked well for you in removing the background from a subject?

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Editing with Blending Modes Part 2: Evening Out Colors with Layers and Blending Modes

When working with photographs of products, sometimes the colors are uneven, especially when working with rubber items, such as basketballs.  That’s been my project lately, making rubber basketballs look their best.

In learning more and more about blending modes, I discovered a great method using our good ol’ friend the paint bucket mixed with a new layer and blending modes to really even out the colors in a product.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. Open image in Photoshop
  2. Save PSD file
  3. Duplicate original layerDuplicate original laye
  4. Adjust color using Image –> Adjustments –> LevelsAdjust color using Levels
  5. Crop out unnecessary backgroundCrop out unnecessary background
  6. Select object using the Quick Selection or Pen ToolSelect object using the Quick Selection or Pen Tool
  7. Hide the background layer then create a Mask to remove balance of backgroundHide the background layer then create a Mask to remove balance of background
  8. Refine Mask to smooth the edgesRefine Mask to smooth the edges
  9. Make any major cosmetic edits (i.e. uneven lines, folds in the logo) on a new layer. It can be helpful to circle all the flaws so you are sure to fix all of them.Make any major cosmetic edits (i.e. uneven lines, folds in the logo) on a new layer.
  10. Duplicate the color edited layer and merge with the editing layersDuplicate the color edited layer and merge with the editing layers
  11. Select the first color to even out using Select –> Color RangeSelect the first color to even out using Select --> Color Range
  12. Adjust the color selection with the Quick Selection ToolAdjust the color selection with the Quick Selection Tool
  13. When color is selected, create a new layerWhen color is selected, create a new layer
  14. Make a Mask of the selection on the new layer (make sure the image is selected, not the mask by clicking on the image on the layer list before moving on to the next step)Make a Mask of the selection on the new layer
  15. Using the Paint Bucket Tool, click alt to use the eyedropper to select the correct color (or, if you have a PMS color, select that color from the color library).  Click on the image to flood the masked selection with the colorUsing the Paint Bucket Tool, click on the image to flood the masked selection with the color
  16. Select FX –> Blending Options to select a blend modeSelect FX --> Blending Options to select a blend mode
  17. Review the Blend Modes to see which has the best effect for your image
  18. Work with the Advanced Blending options until satisfied with the re-coloring
  19. Repeat from step 11 for the balance of colors if needed
  20. Review for additional cosmetic editing required
  21. Trim to desired sizeTrim to desired size
  22. Save for Web & DevicesSave for Web & Devices

Check out the difference between the original photo and the edited image!

Before & After

Before & After

NOTE: When working with multiple color adjusting layers, it is helpful to name them specifically, i.e. Red Layer, Blue Layer

Was this helpful to you?  Let me know how you have used blending modes in Photoshop!

Using Blending Modes in Photoshop – Part 1

Even fairly seasoned Photoshop users may not have much or any experience working with Blend Modes, but they can prove to be extremely helpful in getting your image to look as realistic as possible.

Working in the sporting goods manufacturing industry, I am constantly working with images of 3D objects. In preparing these images for web use or showing a customer what their logo will look like on a ball, I am regularly faced with the challenge of putting a flat image on a pebbled surface when creating virtuals. While it could be understood that a virtual is a glorified drawing, it is also very helpful to provide the most realistic view of the finished product.

There are several ways to accomplish this task. One way is by adding a 5-10% opaque layer of the ball over the top of the logo or decreasing the opacity of the logo by 5-10%, however that affects the integrity of the logo by changing the color.

Another way is to create a pattern of the pebble by cropping a sample of the ball, adjusting coloring and/or using a mask and saving the sample as a pattern. Simply apply the pattern over the logo or image, drop the pattern opacity low enough to show, but not high enough to affect the logo and you will see a patterned logo. The problem with this is that the pattern may not match the background quite right so it can be counterproductive, making the logo look more distracting and separate than as actually being on the item.

One of the best ways I have found (so far) is to use a blending mode. You will find this in CS4/CS5 at the top of the Layers panel, next to Opacity. It should default to “Normal.” To gain access to advanced blending options, you can also access it through the FX tab at the bottom of the Layers panel, or by right clicking on the layer and selecting Blending Options.

Below is an example of the difference between not using a blending mode and using a blending mode. The image on the left looks really fake, the logo just sitting on top of the ball, no texture showing whatsoever, other than where I cut the white out of the logo to show the ball through.

Using Photoshop Blending Modes

The image on the right looks like an actual photograph of the ball! I added a spherize filter of about 75% to give the logo the appearance of being wrapped around the ball. I then added a linear burn blending mode to the logo to attach it to the pebbling underneath. Finally, I decreased opacity to correct the logo color.

Experiment with the different blending modes to see what works best for what you are doing and to learn what each setting does. While most of the options won’t work for your current project, it’s good to keep in mind the other possibilities for future projects.

Happy Photoshopping!

Staying Organized in Photoshop

If you’ve ever had to work with a Photoshop file someone else created, you may notice they have a much different way of organizing the layers than you do. If you have to make multiple changes, you may find their organization or lack thereof can really delay your progress.

Don’t be that person.

Working with layers can be great, but it can also be maddening, especially if you’re working with several layers. The good news is that Photoshop offers some great ways to stay organized so you can work efficiently. The two best organizational tools for me are layer names and grouping layers.

Take the time to label your layers. Chances are, you’re not going to remember what Shape 3 copy 5 is offhand, so labeling it “footer blue box” will ensure you don’t confuse it with “header red box”. If you’re like me, you create duplicate layers while working, then delete unneeded copies when you are complete. Labeling can also help remind you which layers to keep and which to delete. Sometimes I’ll even name a layer “footer blue box delete” so it’s there if I need it while I’m working, but I remember to delete it at the end since it is unnecessary.

Group layers. Maybe you didn’t feel up to committing to putting layers in a group, but it is an incredible time saver! Say you have an information box consisting of a headline, text, 2 photos, 2 photo captions, a bounding box and 2 photocorrection layers—that’s 9 layers that you probably won’t need to mess with much once you have completed them and 9 layers you are likely to have to move multiple times across your document. By grouping layers, you preserve the location of each facet and can easily minimize and mazimize the layers for editing. You can add or remove layers by dragging and dropping and by highlighting the group layer, you can move all at once.

I usually start by creating the first couple layers of the group, highlight the layers I want grouped, then click ctrl + G to group them. If I have one of the grouped layers highlighted, the next layer I add automatically gets added to the group, which makes it very easy to add to the group.

Another way this comes in handy is with my templates. If I am creating multiple designs on the same background or product, I can leave the constant layer ungrouped, then create new groups for each different design. This keeps a consistent look and makes it incredibly easy to create multiple designs in a short time frame.

Ungrouping layers is just as easy as grouping: click on the group and press Shift + crtl + G or just right click on the group and select Ungroup Layers.

Lastly, before I got into grouping, I always made a point of organizing my layers by where they appeared on my document. Header items were at the top of the layer list and footer items were at the bottom. This way, if I want to make a change, I know approximately where I can find the layer on my list.

By staying organized in Photoshop, you not only save yourself time, but if you need to send that file on to someone else, they can quickly pick up where you left making you more of a pleasure to work with.