Removing the background from your photos

Sometimes you will find that you need to create a totally black (or whichever color you prefer) background to enhance and isolate your main subject in the image. This is especially useful if you are planning to sell products on Ebay or are working on creating a catalog of your products. This tutorial will show you how to use the Quick Mask in Photoshop to remove the background from your photos.

We kick this tutorial off with this image of a sunflower with a very distracting building in the background. It doesn’t look very good.

The original photo before removing the background elements using the steps in the tutorial

Step 1:

Duplicate the layer and create a black background layer.

Open the image in Photoshop. Duplicate the layer containing your image. Layer > Duplicate Layer. This will be the layer we will be working with later on. You also need to create a background layer filled with the color of your choice (in this tutorial we will be using black). Go to Layer >> New >> Layer and fill the layer with black using the Paint Bucket Tool. Make sure to position the black layer below the duplicate layer of your original image. You do this by dragging and dropping it in the desired position on the layer tab.

Step 2:

There are various ways of going about this, you can sit all day and erase the background manually or mess around with channels. I prefer to use the Quick Mask option. Quick Mask allows you to make a selection (mask) by painting with black over the areas you want to include in your selection. Painting with white removes the area from your selection. The areas you have painted over will be visible as a red overlay. Sounds complicated, but it’s actually quite easy.

With the duplicate layer of your image set as the active layer, activate Quick Mask mode by clicking on the Quick Mask icon, or by pressing “Q” on your keyboard.

Step 3:

Painting in black marks the areas for selection.

Now we can start painting. Depending on the image you will need to select the appropriate brush size and type. I prefer to use a large solid brush for the large areas and a smaller soft brush for the detailed areas. We will be painting with black over the areas of the image we want to keep visible. You don’t need to be very precise at this stage.

Step 4:

Zoom in and work on the detailed sections of the image.

With the largest parts painted over we can start on the more detailed areas. Here it’s very helpful to zoom in and make use of a smaller brush size. Where you have overlapped the edges of your subject you can paint using white to remove the unwanted areas from the selection. If you have missed a spot or two you can paint using black to add it to the selection. If you make a mistake you can always undo it.

For the best results you should spend quite an amount of time refining your mask to be as accurate as possible. The more effort you put into it now, the better your result will be.

Step 5:

The red overlay created by the Quick mask option.

Once you have completed painting over all the areas you want to keep visible your image should look something like the above. Note the red overlay that shows the area that you have painted over.

Now it is time to see how well we colored within the lines. Press Q on the keyboard to leave Quick Mask mode and enter Standard Mode. The areas you want to keep should now be available as a selection (the area contained within the dotted lines).

Step 6:

The selection before the unwanted areas are deleted.

Press “Delete” on the keyboard. The unwanted areas will now be deleted and the black layer we created earlier will be visible in their place. (If you aren’t happy with the result you can use “Undo” and “Step backward” until you get back to your mask. Refine the mask until you are happy with it and repeat step 5 and 6).

You can also touch up any spots you might have missed by painting over them with the desired color. That’s it! You’re done. When done right the end result should look something like this:

The final result after removing the background elements from the image.

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