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How to Remove the Background of an Image in Photoshop

by Tiffany Tillman-Emanuel
craft & maker

This scrapbook page was created by removing the background of an image in Photoshop and using the silhouette. Learn how it was done on the CreativeLive blog.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

Imagine the subject of your photo surrounded by a completely different background — one you’ve designed from the ground-up using your imagination. Before you can place your subject into a completely new landscape, you’ll need to remove the background of the image first. Background removal is a tricky art, but it’s simple using the right set of Photoshop tools and steps.

Ready Your Tool

First open your photo in Adobe Photoshop. To remove the background, select the Quick Selection Tool from the tools panel. (Don’t see the Quick Selection Tool? It may be nested with the Magic Wand Tool). The Quick Selection Tool is the best tool for basic background removals.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

Choosing the Quick Selection Tool opens a context sensitive menu at the top of your workspace. Before you begin, select Add to Selection. You may need to open the Brush Picker and increase or reduce the Brush size depending on the size of your photo.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

Separate the Background with a Selection

With the tool ready, click and drag your mouse around the areas of the photo you want separated from the background. A group of marching ants, or selection, will appear and grow as you click and drag. Gradually work around your subject adding to the selection as you go.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

Sometimes, you’ll find that some areas are added to your selection that you don’t want to include. Hold down the Alt or Option key to toggle the subtraction mode for the tool, and then click and drag your mouse around the background area you wish to remove. Release the Alt or Option key when you’re ready to add to your selection again. Alternate between the addition and subtraction modes as your work.

Zoom-in closer to work tougher areas that include both background and subject. Tip: Small details, for example: shoe strings, aren’t necessary to include. But reducing your brush to 1px can help capture the smallest details.

Once your subject is completely within a selection, you’re ready to move on.

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Refine the Edges

With the selection complete, right click within the marching ants and select Refine Edge from the pop-up menu.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

The Refine Edge dialogue can help you fine-tune your selection for better results. First, change the View Mode to ‘On White’ or any option that sharply contrasts with your selection. Doing so will help you see the parts of your edge that need the most help.

Under Adjust Edge, increase the Smooth value slider to soften the jagged edges of your selection. You may need to adjust additional sliders but smoothing should help the most. Click OK when finished.

View Your Selection On a New Layer

Your final step is to review your result. Right click within your selection and choose Layer Via Copy. Your selection will assign its self to a new layer, sans background, without having edited your original photo.

Learn how to remove the background of an image in Photoshop with the complete tutorial on the CreativeLive blog.

Toggle off the visibility of your original background layer to view your completed piece.

Removing the background of an image is the first step for compositing success. With the background removed, you’re ready to create a new surrounding for your subject using your own creativity.

Ready to create new backgrounds within your photos? Check out Tiffany Tillman-Emanuel’s, Compositing for Digital Scrapbookers.

Learn how to create imaginative images in Compositing for Digital Scrapbookers with Tiffany Tillman-Emanuel on CreativeLive.

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Tiffany Tillman-Emanuel

Tiffany Tillman Emanuel is a leading scrapbooking instructor and founder of Scrapaneers — the world’s largest online collection of digital scrapbooking classes. For over 10 years, she has taught tens of thousands of creatives how to begin memory-keeping with digital technology and advance to a stronger, more confident digital scrapbooking hobbyist.