Remove a Model from a Background with Photoshop

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Project 1: Removing a model from a background in Photoshop

In this project, we're going to have a ton of fun exploring how we can create a composite when we take a photograph of a person in a particular environment and then we extract the person from that environment and place them in another. Now these two images and the idea for this composite come to us by way of one of my students. And what she had in mind was to take a photograph of a person in one context and then to bring that person into another environment, another context and to create a kind of Alice in Wonderland kind of imaginative project.

So what we are going to do is we are going to explore how we can extract this model from this scenario and then bring her over here so that she's sitting on top of these books. All right well let's click in his image title girl.tif, and let's go full screen view mode by pressing the f key and then press Command+Plus or Ctrl+Plus to zoom in. Now one of the first things that we need to do is to figure out how we can extract her from the environment. Now whenever you're working on an image typically a good idea to start off by copying your background layer. Just so you have that extra added safety net in case you make any mistakes.

So here we'll go and press Command+ J or Ctrl+J to jump the contents of the background layer to new layer and then let's double-click the layer name and will name this girl. Next step, let's select the Quick Select tool. We can do so by pressing the w key or by clicking on it in the Tools panel. Well, what we can do with these tools, we can change our brush size by pressing the Bracket key. Right bracket key means a bigger brush, Left bracket key a smaller brush. Now we want a pretty small brush and what we are going to do is simply click and paint across the image.

Now as we do that, we will start to build up our selection. What will invariably happen is that we'll select a little bit too much of the image, so as you do this you'll notice that like in this case I've selected some of the grass in the background. In order to remove that, hold down Option on a Mac, Alt on Windows and then click and paint across those areas. Now the nice thing about this is that as you paint while holding down Option or Alt, on this background, you're informing this tool what you don't want to select.

So you're kind of adding to the equation. It's a pretty smart tool. It keeps that in mind as you work on the image. So again here I'm just going to go ahead and paint away a few of these areas, hold down Option or Alt to paint away some of that background, then make my brush a little bit smaller. Zoom in by pressing Ctrl + plus or Command + plus and work on some of those detail areas. So here we will work on those detail areas, so that we can get a pretty decent selection. All right with the hair, one of the interesting things with this image is we have this really backlit look here, the glowing color of the hair.

Now we may end up using that because it might be fun to have some color or tone behind the hair or we might decide to have a little bit cleaner or tighter or closer mask. We have to see how it looks as we start to work on the image. One of the other things you want to keep in mind is, I find it typically it's a little bit easier to remove from your selection than it is to add to it. So lot of times, you want to make sure you have a lot of the good content that you're going to need as you start to make this first selection. So, again, I just want to make sure and have a lot of this content here and kind of erring just a little bit on getting just a touch too much and that we can always sweeten that up or remove some of that later.

All right, well, so far so good. We have a pretty decent selection. The next step is going to be to create a mask. So first let's click on the visibility of the Background layer, so we'll turn that off. So we'll just focus on this layer. Then let's click on the Add Layer Mask icon. Now when we do that we get our first glimpse of our work. And I would say so far so good. On this transparent background it looks okay. Yet we need to make it better. So in order to do that we go to the Mask panel, and in the Mask panel we click on Mask Edge.

All right let's go ahead and open up that dialog. One of the neat things about this dialog is we can press the F key to toggle through the different view modes, and sometimes some of the view modes reveal something to us. Like this view mode which we can also access by clicking on the View pulldown menu or by pressing on its respective shortcut of B, Black. Here it shows us that these edges are not very good at all. We need to refine them. We need to make them better. So in order to do that, we'll first add a little bit of Smart Radius and bring this up.

And that alone will make all of your edges so much better. So again, increase this and what it's going to do is it's going to analyze some of that edge detail and create nice transitions and define those edges a bit more. Now we can also smooth things out. That will smooth out some of the little bumps and hiccups that we have in our selection. And Contrast will then bring back some of the definition of the edge. So I kind of think of Smooth and Contrast as working together pretty nicely. Feather, that gets risky to use. You know when you increase the Feather too much it just become soft and blurry and it doesn't work that well in situations where you're trying to extract a person from a context.

All right well I think so far so good. Let's take a look at how we've done. Press the p key, here's before and then here's after. I'll zoom in the bit, so you can see some the edge detail. Before, not so good there, you can really see it in this area along the arms, and then p, press that key again, and after and it's looking a little bit better. Now if ever we want to work more on edges we can always use this little tool here and we can paint across areas. And what that can do is that it can help Photoshop to start to define some of these little edges and refine them a bit.

This'll work especially well on the hairs, so we could remove some of this glow, if we wanted to kind of bring that back a bit there. So I'm just going to paint along this glowing edge and again take a look at how we can have Photoshop reel some of that in just a bit there. Paint with a bigger brush to do even more heavy lifting or more work there and you can see how we are starting to really tap that back as we go across these edges and try to extract more and more of that background. Now in this case because we're going for a bit of the imagination, some of the glow we want to keep in there and so we'll go ahead and do that.

We don't want to remove all of it. But we do want to get a little bit tighter there on that area of the hair. So again here we have that before and then now our after. It's looking a lot better. If ever you make a mistake with this tool, let's say you paint across something and you don't like it, well hold down Option or Alt and then paint again and you can see. You can bring that edge back out. So just keep in mind that there's a lot of flexibility when working with this radius and trying to define these edges. Now in my case, I've decided that I kind of want to take a little bit more of the glow away from the image.

I can always add it back later but I want a little bit of a tighter mask here. So I'm just painting more of this Edge Radius along this and just telling Photoshop, hey, pay attention to this area. Let's define this a little bit more and let's try to tighten up that area. Okay so far so good. There are a couple of other little areas I'm noticing down here by the book. We can have Photoshop take a look at that as well and see if we can get a little bit more of that out and that's looking nice. How about decontaminating some of the green there? Turn that on, you will notice that we lose a little bit of that grass color in the background, this just helps with the edges, where there's color in the edges.

And I'll look down here. So far I think that's looking really good. And we have a pretty decent selection. What I'm doing is I'm impressing the space bar and I'm painting across this. That little bump there I'll have to fix when I go back to my mask but again for the most part, we're in good shape. Let's take a look at this On Layers, just for transparency and we want to double check our work. Zoom out by pressing Command or Ctrl+Minus. Again, I think we have a pretty good extraction. A few little areas of course that could be even better but for the most part we're in good shape.

So here we can choose our output option. We can choose to output this to a new layer with the mask. So we have a separate layer with this mask on it. Let's go ahead and do that, and so we'll leave that there. Click OK. You see that we have this new layer with this mask built into it. Again it just gives us a little bit more flexibility. Now one of the things I need to do as a mentioned is I need to work on this little bump down here I'm noticing. Well to do so, click in your mask, grab your Brush tool and then paint with black or white and hear I'll just paint with black and what I'm going to do is just conceal that little bump.

It may be hard to see but nonetheless it kind of the sweetens up that edge a bit. I'll work on the shoe here too. It felt a little harsh in some of those areas and I think that looks good. And I'll just go through and check some of my edges, this book here, take out a little bit of that, and just bring a little more definition into that area, and again I'm just pressing the spacebar key, panning around the image. I'm noticing that I chopped off one of the knuckles there, so I'm going to bring that back here. I'll paint with white, and you can choose white by hitting the x key. The x flips between black and white, and just this little extra bit of adding some details on the hand is going to be pretty important, because if ever you have an odd shape of something that just doesn't look quite right, it won't feel right and so we want us to feel really good.

Press the x again just to paint away some of the green there, and now the hand is looking much better. Now of course we could spend a few more minutes touching up these details, but really I think for now we're in a pretty good place. So the next thing that we need to do, is we need to bring this model into the other image, into the other context, the other environment, and we'll explore how we can start to do that in the next movie.

Project 1: Removing a model from a background in Photoshop
Video duration: 9m 27s 4h 41m Intermediate


Project 1: Removing a model from a background in Photoshop provides you with in-depth training on Photography. Taught by Chris Orwig as part of the Photoshop CS5: Creative Compositing

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