Although Photoshop is used for many different tasks, one of the most popular and common uses for Photoshop is changing the background of the photograph. Maybe you have a picture with a great-looking subject but a background that is too noisy, too plain, or in some other way simply not ideal.
Fortunately, with Photoshop, it is easy to remove this less-than-perfect background and place your subject in a new background of your choosing. It could be a famous location, a solid color for editorial photos, or practically anything else you can think up. Although changing the background in Photoshop is not particularly difficult, you should still have a basic understanding of Photoshop principles before continuing this tutorial. Photoshop: Mastering the Fundamentals is a great place to start.
Believe it or not, Photoshop provides many tools that can be used for background removal and replacement. The tool you choose depends on the composition of the photograph and your skill level using some of the more complex features inherent to the program.
In this tutorial, you will learn how to use the Quick Selection Tool to extract foreground images from the background. Other popular methods of changing backgrounds in Photoshop include the Background Eraser Tool and the Pen Tool for fine detail work. If you would like to learn more about the various methods available for removing a background (and replacing it with another) check out Adobe Photoshop for Photographers.
Removing a Background
Before you can replace the background with something new and more interesting, you have to remove the original background from the image. In other words, you have to separate the foreground (your subject) from the rest of the photograph.
As previously mentioned, there are numerous ways to do this; however, you will be using the Quick Selection Tool in this tutorial. This tool works very well in most cases and can save a lot of time compared to some other background removal techniques.
Start by making a duplicate layer. This copy allows you to make changes without affecting the original image accidentally. Next, on the left side of the toolbar, select the Quick Selection Tool (or press W). In the Option bar, make sure to select the Subtract From option.
You can change the size of the brush tip in the Option bar using the Diameter slider or by typing in a pixel size. As a shortcut, you can also use the right bracket key to increase the size and the left bracket key to decrease the size of the brush tip as needed.
Once you have selected the image, click on the Refine Edge option. This option is only available for selection tools (such as Quick Selection and Lasso). Photoshop also offers Auto-Enhance, a feature that reduces jagged edges along selection boundary. However, this tool rarely gives the desired effect and you are much better off playing around with settings in the Refine Edge dialog box.
This Dialog box provides parameter adjustments for Radius, Smooth, Feather, and Contrast. By changing these settings slightly, you can transform uneven edges into smooth ones relatively easily. It does take a little bit of practice to get used to the Refine Edge controls, but it shouldn’t take you long to figure out.
At the bottom of this Dialog box, you should see a drop-down menu called Output To. Once you are happy with the edges in your Quick Selection, you can output the subject as a New Layer. This gives you a copy of the original layer with the background removed.
You can learn more about using the Quick Selection Tool and the Refine Edge dialog box in the Photoshop CS6 Crash Course.
Adding a New Background
Now that you have successfully removed your old background from the image, it’s time to add a new background. This is relatively simple and starts by opening the new background image in a new Photoshop window.
Select the Move Tool and click inside the image you want to move (your subject from the original photograph). While continuing to hold the mouse button down, drag your subject into the new background image’s Photoshop window.
You can pick up and move the foreground image around until you have it positioned perfectly. You can also resize your subject as needed to fit appropriately into your new background photo.
One of the most difficult aspects of creating believable images when you change the background is lighting. Very rarely will the lighting of your subject match the ambient lighting of your new background image.
Properly lighting your image is one of the skills that truly sets a Photoshop professional apart from a novice. It takes time, patience, and a good understanding of how natural lighting works to re-create these effects accurately in your Photoshop images.
Fortunately, Photoshop has tons of lighting effects that can be used to make your new image much more believable and realistic. You can learn more about lighting effects in Photoshop Photographic Effects.
Learning how to change the background of your images in Photoshop is a very useful skill. Not only can it save poorly composed photographs, but it also allows you to create interesting effects that would not be possible using natural photo composition.
Once you understand the basics of changing backgrounds, you have successfully added an entirely new level of versatility to your photography and graphic design endeavors. These skills can be applied to both your personal photography collection and any professional graphic design or photography work you do in the future.