In this lesson we’re going to learn how to remove the background from a portrait. Being able to change the background behind your portrait subject is a fun skill to have and not too difficult to master. This lesson takes a little more patience than some of my previous lessons, but even a beginner can get this if they follow along.
We’re going to be using the Photoshop extract tool, as well as the history brush and eraser for this lesson.
Open your picture which contains the person or object you wish to extract. I’m going to use this photograph of a college girl.
Now click “Filter” at the top of Photoshop and select “Extract”. Press B to ensure you have the highlighter tool selected. Trace a line around your subject with half the line on the subject and the other on the background. (hint: draw only small sections of line at a time. If you make a mistake you can just undo by pressing Ctrl-Z or Option-Z on a mac).
Your image should look about like the one on the right. Next you want to press G for the bucket (fill) tool. How Adobe figured G stands for bucket I’ll never guess, but it does. Now click somewhere inside of the green line you just traced (don’t forget to close the pattern first by tracing along the side edges.) If your whole picture turns blue, it means your subject isn’t completely enclosed by your edge border.
You should now have a picture with a green line around it and a blue tint inside the line. Click OK if you’re happy with your selection.
Check out the picture you’ve extracted, it should look something like the one to the right. Pay extra close attention to the hair. You’ll notice that certain parts of the portrait have dropped out of the image. Don’t worry too much about the drop-outs as long as the edge of the hair looks good. Notice I didn’t say perfect, we’ll touch it up in a minute.
You can redo the Photoshop Extraction filter from scratch if you’re not happy with the results, but trust me, my picture doesn’t look as good as it does on this tiny little image. We’re going to fix everything in the next few steps.
You can fix most of the missing parts of the image just by creating a new copy layer (remember: it’s Ctrl-J or Command-J on a mac). Amazing right? Once you have your new copy layer, turn the opacity on the new layer down to about 90% in the Layers Palette.
Only a couple of quick steps left. Press Y to select the History Brush Tool. With your history brush you can paint “history” onto your photo. Basically it restores your photo to what it looked like when you first opened it, but only where you paint.
I threw a bright background up behind my photo so I can see clearly what I’m doing. You can do this by creating a new layer and dragging it beneath your subject layer in the layers palette. Fill your new background layer with red, orange, or another high contrast color.
Now Find the areas which have detail removed which should have stayed. Paint over those areas with the history brush and all the detail comes back like magic! Cool huh? Last but not least, use a small eraser tool to erase anything in the picture which obviously should not be there.
Find a cool background for your subject and you’re done! Whew, if you followed along and were diligent about the quality of your work, you should have something that looks about like my end result below. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for the purpose of this tutorial. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s lesson. Please comment if you need clarification on anything or you can think of a way to improve this tutorial.