Photoshop Tip — Removing and Changing a Background

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced

This blog post is for all you professional and aspiring photographers out there! Sometimes, when you do a photo session, you find yourself wishing you had a different background to work with. If there is a limitation on available location space, you may opt to remove the current background and add in a secondary one.

To do this, you must use Photoshop. In this tutorial, I will be using Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud, which is commonly referred to by photographers as Photoshop CC.

I will break this process down step by step. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below. I also offer private, one on one tutorials across the US either in person or via phone if there is a specific skill you are looking to learn. You can contact me at: alicia@BebaPhotography.com for more information.

Let’s get started!

  1. Open the foreground photo you will be working with. In this case, I decided to work with a photo of a family I recently photographed:

Family (61) WITH LOGO

Now, I personally love the background in this image, but decided to use it for this example.

2. Your next step is to turn the flattened background layer into a workable, free layer. To do this, double click on the background layer in your layers panel on the right side of your work space:

step 2

A dialogue box will come up saying that you have a new layer. Hit OK. You now have a free floating layer that is no longer locked. You will see this change when you look at your layers panel. You will see that your background layer has changed from being labeled as “background” to “layer 0.”

step 3

3. The next thing you want to do is select the lasso tool from your toolbar on the left hand side of your work space. Use this tool to quickly grab the areas around your subjects. It doesn’t have to be right up against them and it doesn’t have to be super close. It should just be somewhat near to them. We will clean things up in the next step:

step 4

step 5

The lines around your subjects should connect and they will look like little dancing ants.

4. The next thing you want to do with your mouse is to right-click. This will bring up a drop-down list. You’ll want to select the option that says, “Select Inverse.”

step 6

5. Once you have done this, hit your delete key. This will suddenly make your background disappear and you will be left with what looks like a grey checkerboard. These squares indicate that there is nothing there and you are to treat those areas as “transparent” as shown below:

step 7

6. What about the little bit of background surrounding the subjects? How do you get rid of this? Go to your toolbar on the left side of your work space and select the Quick Selection Tool:

step 8

7. Use the Quick Selection tool to select the background area around your subjects. You can add to your selection by holding down the SHIFT button on a PC and subtract from your selection by holding down the ALT button on a PC.

(Here is a cheat sheet on Microsoft’s support website for equivalent keys if you are a MAC user: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/970299)

When you have selected all of the background areas that you need to, your photo will have lines that look like dancing ants around the areas you will be deleting:

step 9

8. To make the deleting of your background look smoother, you will want to make sure you transition to the regular lasso tool. Without clicking off of your selection you’ve just made, right click with your mouse on the screen until you see a drop-down list. Select the “Feather” option and set the radius to between 1 and 3. After you have done that, hit the delete button and your entire background will be gone:

step 10

9. Your next step will be to open the second file you would like to use as your new background in the photo:

step 11

10. In order to drop your free floating subjects onto the new background, you will need to view the photos so that you see them at the same time. In order to do this, go to the top of your screen. Go to:

Window > Arrange > Select any multiple view option. In this case, I used 2 up vertical.

step 12

11. Click on the Move Tool in the upper left hand corner of your work space in the tool bar and use the tool to move your subjects onto the new background. You can do this by holding down the left side of your mouse and dragging the photo over.

step 13

When you are finished, go back to:

Window > Arrange > Consolidate All To Tabs

This will take you back to a single image view at a time.

12. You will now want to play around with positioning your family on your new background layer. Keep the ratio of their size by holding down the SHIFT key as you scale them smaller or larger.

step 14

13. You may notice that your subjects look a little flat or oddly popped out from your new background and this is something you’ll want to correct so that the new image looks authentic. Use other tools withing Photoshop to match the tones and lighting between the two photos. In some cases, you may want to recolor and crop the photo down as I did to make it appear more believable in regards to aspect ratio and believability:

last step

14. Your last and final steps are to flatten your image once it’s to your liking and to save it.

Again, if you have any questions, please post them in the comments section below.

Enjoy!

For private 1-on-1 tutorials learned at your skill level and pace, contact me at: alicia@BebaPhotography.com or 480.399.3030 for more information.

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6 thoughts on “Photoshop Tip — Removing and Changing a Background

    1. bebaphotography

      I’m so glad that this blessed you and that it was able to help you with your photography! :)!! Feel free to comment with your link below. Cheers!

  1. Jamie

    My subjects where in front of a green screen and when removing the green background there is a green tent left on the under side of arms and sometimes around the head….is there a way to keep this from happening? Thank yoy.

    1. bebaphotography

      I’ve had that happen before and it can be frustrating! ❤ It's usually the reflection of the green onto your subject. Having a white background can sometimes help if they aren't wearing white. With green though, you can grab the edges and reduce the green through your hue/saturation sliders for the photos you have already taken. in the future, it may help to pull your subject farther from the background so that the green doesn't reflect on them as much. I hope this helps! :)!! Keep up the great work!

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