Background Manipulation Tutorials - Skin Investigation

Background Manipulation Tutorials

Photo Manipulation Tutorials: How to Remove Background from an Image in Photoshop


A photograph without a background can be used for many different purposes – you can stick it in a collage, add it to a logo, or slap it on a webpage. This is probably why removing the background is one of the first things a designer learns to do in Photoshop.

In this tutorial, we will use the Refine Edge tool in Photoshop to remove the background from an image. The Refine Edge is a powerful tool for making complicated selections. You can learn more about it and other advanced Photoshop tricks in this Photoshop CS6 crash course.

[Note: The ‘Refine Edge’ command used in this tutorial was first introduced in CS5. Older versions of Photoshop will not work with this tutorial. ]

Step 1: Create a Layer from the Background

After you’ve downloaded and loaded the image in Photoshop, you can turn it into a new layer.

To do this, look at the Layers panel in the bottom right corner (if you can’t see it, press F7 or go to Windows -> Layers). You’ll see a thumbnail of the image with a label that says Background and a lock icon next to it.

Right click on this layer and select ‘Layer from Background’ from the context menu.

Step II: Choosing the Right Selection Method

This is the tricky part.

There are a number of ways to make a selection in Photoshop. Some of these are:

  • Magic Wand Tool: This tool makes automatic selections based on differences between the background and foreground of the images.
  • Quick Selection Tool: A semi-automated version of the above. You have to specify the regions that are to be selected.
  • Lasso Tool: The lasso tool is great for manually selecting parts of an image, not so great for extracting the background from the image.
  • Color Range: Accessed from Select -> Color Range, this tool enables you to remove the background based on the color difference between background and foreground. Particularly powerful when the background is of a solid color not used extensively in the image (say, a black cat on a white background).
You’ll get a prompt asking you to give the layer a name. Call it anything you want (descriptive names help you find layers later).

Step III: Making the Selection

With the Quick Selection tool selected, hover your mouse over the image. Your cursor will change to a plus sign (+) inside a circle.

Clicking on any part of the image will automatically select its nearby parts. The selection will be highlighted by Photoshop’s ‘marching ants’ outline.

Since we want to select only the falcon, hold your mouse and start drawing around the edges of the bird. Try to select only the bird and not the area around it. If you do end up selecting outside areas, simply hold down ALT (on Windows) key – your cursor will change to a negative sign (-) – and deselect these regions.

Don’t worry about making it pixel perfect – we have another ace up our sleeve to do that. For now, try to get as close you can around the edges as quickly as possible.

Step IV: Refining the Selection

The selection looks pretty nice as such, but it still feels a little artificial – like a cardboard cutout. We want it to look more natural, so we will choose the ‘Refine Edge’ tool.

Or you can find it in the Select -> Refine Edge menu.

Your image should now have a black background. The background hasn’t actually changed. This is just a preview to make our selection clearer.

Click on this button and the Refine Edge window will pop-up. To make our job a little easier, click on the little arrow next to ‘View’ and choose ‘On Black’. Alternatively, you can press ‘B’


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