Background Removal in Photoshop

Updated: Jun 9

Three images showing the stages of Photoshopping a boy into a photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
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Background removal is one of the most performed tasks in Photoshop. It is generally used to cut and paste objects, people or animals from one environment to another or to simply isolate them from any other visual distraction. So, whether you are presenting your fabulous hand made products, combining multiple objects together in one image for a magazine cover or just creating a unique piece of artwork, the key to it all is a successful background removal.

So, how do you do it?

Sadly, there is no simple answer to this question as there are many different way to achieve your desired result. The complexity of the object you are working with will depict the tool or method you should use.

It is not always an easy task to undertake and there will be a certain amount of trial and error involved but the following break down should at least offer you some guidance.

The first thing to think about is whether you want to select the object and cut it out of it’s background or select the background and erase it. The more you play with these methods, the more you will understand the benefits and drawbacks of each and before long you will know exactly where to start.

Tools and Methods for Selecting the Object

A screenshot of the quick selection tool in Photoshop.
Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop

· Quick Selection Tool – This clever tool helps you find the edges of your object by relying on a clear distinction between the object and its background. If the edge is not clear, your selection will be incorrect. You can use the Select & Mask function to refine your selection.

· The Pen and Lasso Tools – I have grouped these tools together because they both rely on you finding the edges not the tools. They are simply methods of drawing around an object. Best used on simple shapes.

Two screenshots showing the Lasso and Pen tools in Photoshop.
Lasso and Pen tools in Photoshop

· Object Selection Tool – A fairly new tool to Photoshop. This little gem works in the same way as the Quick Selection Tool in that it requires the object to have clearly defined edges but it is much simpler. Just drag the box across the object and Photoshop will do the rest. Easy!

Tools and Methods for Selecting and Erasing the Background

Screenshot showing the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop.
Background Eraser tool in Photoshop.

· Background Eraser Tool – A fabulous tool for removing backgrounds from complex objects however this does take some getting used to. The secret is to get the right tolerance for the image to ensure you take away exactly what you need and nothing more. But once you get it right, it does a marvelous job!

Screenshot of the Properties panel in Photoshop.
Remove Background Quick Action in Photoshop

· Remove Background button – This feature is found in the properties panel of the image. It works best with simpler objects that have clearly defined edges and removes the background by creating a layer mask. It’s a click of a button…that’s it!

A screenshot showing the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop.
Magic Wand tool in Photoshop

· Magic Wand Tool – Excellent for selecting (and deleting if you wish) flat areas of colour, much like you would find in a two dimensional logo design for example. Just click and press ‘delete’. Job done.

A screenshot showing how to select Colour Ranges in Photoshop.
Colour Ranges in Photoshop

· Colour Ranges – Selecting specific colour ranges is a great way to isolate a background for removal providing it is a completely different colour to the object you wish to keep. You use the eyedropper provided to select the colour ranges you wish to remove, like a blue sky for example. Again, this method creates a layer mask.

The bottom line is, whatever subject you are working with, whatever method you chose it is going to take some time to master. But please do take the time because a successful background removal will be the difference between a successful and believable piece of Photoshopping and a bad one!

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