Photography - Knowledge

How to Remove Background in Photoshop: Tools and Plugins to Know About

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Yes, Adobe Photoshop - the most commonly used photo editing software - is known as a digital photographer’s greatest tool, but its powers don’t end just there. The common population too is growing to be quite the whizz where it comes to ‘touched – up’ photographs. In today’s day and age who hasn’t dabbled in the dark secrets of editing photographs and presenting images in a ‘larger-than-life’ way? With the onslaught of Photoshop, almost anyone and everyone has the power of beautiful pictures. Gone are the days when a bad picture remained bad, or the lighting remained dull and images remained stagnant. Adobe has proven that technology has developed such that we alter all our pictures to great extents. While Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool it’s also an overwhelming and an intimidating application. There is just so much to grasp and regularly update, that everyone has at some point, required a few pointers. We will be addressing a few different ways on how to remove the background in Photoshop. 

Among the most basic and useful functions of Photoshop is allowing you to remove the background from images or photographs, enabling you to use the foreground or the main subject in different ways, whether you are looking to switch a drab background for a more vibrant one, or want to create some excitement to your image! For instance, a regular selfie, add to it a bit of Photoshop magic… and Voila!....you can have an image of yourself at an exotic location. As is the case with Photoshop, there are multiple ways, and utilizing different Photoshop tools, generally, in the combination of each other, that act as background remover to achieve this effect.  

Understanding the Basics – Photoshop Layers and Convert Background 

Before getting to the main question of how to remove background from Photoshop, understanding a few of the basic concepts are in order. A background is a bottom-most image that you will notice in the Layers panel which comes into play whenever you fabricate a new image sporting either a white background or a coloured background, and each image can only have that single background layer.

You cannot play around with the stacking order of a background layer, whether its opacity or blending mode. But, if you transform a background to a regular layer, these attributes become functional. 

An image created with transparent content means its background layer doesn’t exist. Due to this non-existent layer, the bottom-most layer in the layers panel doesn’t face the same constrictions – making it movable in the Layer panel, adjustable in blending mode, opacity etc. 

Handy Tip Before Starting:

Before you get your hands on the various Photoshop tools update yourself with these tips:

  • Assuming you’re taking .jpeg images for editing, you’ll notice that the image is customarily locked
  • You can check this in your Layers Panel.
  • What you want to do is double-click on the single layer that is present and name it.
  • It will then show up with that name and the tiny lock icon beside it will no longer be there. 
  • This will enable you to cut out or remove sections of the image or the photograph down to transparency whereas if it was locked, the Delete key would only be attempting to fill in the area with a solid colour.
  • Simply put, unlock your image layer before beginning to edit. 
how to remove background
Easy way to remove background (source)

How to Remove Background in Photoshop Quickly 

If you are going for a fast process then follow the below steps:

  • Open  your photograph or image in Photoshop Adobe
  • A double-click on the thumbnail layer will open up the blending options
  • From the Blending Options menu go into the comparison to grey (at the bottom)
  • In order to remove a plain white background, move the slider towards the left – a degree of 250 generally is a decent value to achieve the desired result. 
  • Similarly, in order to remove a plain black background, move the slider towards the right. 

Top Photoshop Tools to Remove Background from Images

These photoshop tools will change your photos and give you a look that you want. Take a look at these wonder tools and elevate your photos to next level:

  • The Magic Wand Tool 

When you have a clearly defined difference in the colours between what you want to remove and what you want to keep, then the handy magic wand tool is the easiest and fastest way to go. 

Click on the subject or the foreground of the picture which you would like to keep the background and you will get a default Photoshop selection in the form of moving lines. 

If you aren’t happy with the precision of the selection, fiddle around with the tolerance setting located on the highest Photoshop toolbar.

If you increase the tolerance, the selection will expand, and if you decrease the tolerance the selection will shrink in size. After playing around with the tolerance, use CTRL+D or CMD+D to de-select the present selection, and click your subject again to see the effect of the change in tolerance. 

The lead factor of this procedure is the selection inversion – which is what enables you to remove the background, instead of the content you want to keep. 

At the top of the Photoshop, menu select the option ‘Inverse’ and the moving lines which show your selection will move from the foreground or the subject to the background. Once your background gets selected, with the simple use of the Backspace button you can delete the same. 

Magic Wand Tool 
Redefine your photos 
  • The Background Eraser Tool

As is evident in the name itself, the background eraser tool is one of the most foolproof methods of background removal but performs at its best when there isn’t a variant shade or hue of the subject that you want to remove.  

So, how to remove the background in Photoshop using this tool? 

The most important setting is your brush configuration – which means the size and the hardness of the brush. If you increase the hardness, you’ll be taking out more of the background with a single click while decreasing the hardness will make the background removal a bit less harsh, providing it with a slightly fade away effect to the subject of the image. 

Again the tolerance setting is vital as it would determine how much of the background should Photoshop let slide – a high tolerance could easily take away the subject as well as the background without the distinction between the two but a low tolerance will allow more of the background though. 

You need to figure out a tolerance level that gives you a decent amount of flexibility to remove the background but also retain the subject image. 

Depending on the part of the image you are tracing, tweak the size of the brush accordingly to draw a kind of a transparent ‘halo’. Draw with your cursor, and make adjustments with the size and tolerance until you are satisfied with your traced image. Whenever you do not like the selection you have made, use CTRL+SHIFT+Z or CMD+SHIFT+Z to take a step back. After you have completed the creation of your ‘halo’ of the subject, you can remove the remainder of the background, with a background eraser tool or the normal eraser tool. Just increase the size of the brush and start erasing. 

background eraser tool
Erase the background in a jiffy
  • The Quick Selection Tool 

Similar to the background removal eraser, you get to set a brush size. You can head on to selection once you have your brush size set. What makes the quick selection tool powerful is its two modes of ‘add to’ and ‘subtract from’. 

With the use of the minus and plus selection, you will be able to determine what parts of the image you want to get rid of and what parts you would like to keep. 

You should be able to achieve a decent selection simply by dragging around the selection tool. This could be simpler if your background and subject colours do not vary too much. There is, of course, the high likelihood of the areas of your ‘wanted part of the image’ creeping into the ‘discarding part of the image’. 

This is where the plus and minus tools come into play. Resize and then hover the minus selection tool over the part that you don’t want inside your selected part, and keep reducing off the areas you don’t want. 

Vice versa with the plus selection tool, just add the areas that you want to include to your selected part. Once you have achieved a perfect outline, use CTRL + DELETE or CMD + DELETE to delete the entire background. 

quick selection tool
Add and Subtract to remove background (source)
  • The Magic Eraser Tool 

This tool is quick and works great when the background is mostly one colour, but for complex backgrounds, this probably isn’t the most suitable option to choose. While similar to the Magic Wand tool, it additionally deletes the similar pixels instead of just selecting them. 

When you have a single layer open when you click to remove the background, it will turn transparent, or rather you’ll see the chequered pattern which denotes that there’s nothing there. 

The different tools’ settings which are adjustable in the toolbar atop the window will determine how much of your picture can be erased with one click. With a higher tolerance, the tool will remove pixels from a broader range means a number of pixels will get removed. A lower tolerance will only delete the pixels that are similar to the colour of the pixel you clicked on. The anti-alias option generally is pre-enabled and should be kept that way since it helps smoothen out the edges, particularly if you are switching backgrounds. 

With the Contiguous option enabled, you will be able to remove only similar pixels that are located next to each other. If there is any obstruction in the background the pixels of similar colour located on the other side of the obstruction will not be erased. The Sample All Layers Option will delete all similar pixels of all the layers of the image and not just any particular one layer. It’s best to not enable this option and work with a single layer at a time for better results. The percentage of the opacity will dictate the strength of the eraser, if you go for a 100% opacity, the eraser will take off the entire background, leaving you with a chequered pattern/transparency. A lower opacity will keep the colour partially visible.  

magic eraser tool
Magical difference to your photos (source)
  • The Polygonal Lasso Tool

Your perfect companion to remove background from complex images.

This tool is handy for drawing straight-edged segments of selections, which means it’s a great option to consider when selecting angular objects, without the hassle of clicking and dragging. 

  • Open your image in Photoshop and use the zoom to really get into the minor detailing.
  • Select the polygonal lasso tool and begin by clicking on a starting point followed by a series of clicks at points around the image that you want to trace.
  • Making your way all around the image connect it to the starting point. A flashing dotted line will represent the trace you have created. 
  • After this, to remove background from image go to the Select menu on the toolbar, click on the Inverse option which will highlight the entire background that you would like to delete/cut/make transparent. 
  • Hit Delete and your traced image will show up with no background, instead, replaced with the chequered pattern.

And there you go….another successful background remover tool!    

Polygonal Lasso
Perfect tool for complex images (source)
  • The Pen Tool 

Don’t lose minute details from your photos. Use pen tool and make a change!

The debate of how to remove the background in Photoshop can be easily resolved with the ‘professional’ Pen Tool. Photoshop’s Pen Tool will allow you to create a quick and an efficient outline, which can be adjusted along the way. While the kind process may seem similar to the other tools, the pen’s advantage lies in its ability to provide neat and crisp outlines. It is a bit tricky though mastering the use of it, the more time you spend with it, the better the quality of your work. 

If you need to draw straight lines with the pen, click on the area you would like to place your points, and to draw a curved line, simply hold down the left button of the mouse, whilst dragging it in the direction of the curve and then release it. You’ll notice that adding points on your image will cause the shape to fill in with colour. This can be easily fixed by reducing the opacity to 0%. The more the detail in the outline you create the image, the better your results will turn out to be. 

Another point to keep an eye out for is that should you select a different layer than the one your outline is on, it may seem like the outline has vanished, which of course, isn’t the actual case. Clicking on the Vector Mask thumbnail in the actual layer of the outline will make it visible. 

The outline you are creating is called a ‘path’ and so that your outline is complete you need to have a ‘closed path’ which means your last point and the starting point must be in contact, creating an outline which completely encircles the image. 

You have now completed the trickiest part of the process!

Now to separate the two – to cut out the image from the background, press the Control Key and click on the Vector Mask Thumbnail. If all’s turned out well, you’ll arrive upon a similar image as when you would use the Lasso tool. On the Menu bar at the top of the window, go to the Select menu, and hit Inverse. Your selection will be inversed and the background of the image will be selected. Use the Delete button to remove the background from the image. 

The advantage of cutting out your background in this manner is that you still have the layer with the outline should you need to make some adjustments, you have the option of doing so by going to the Vector Mask Thumbnail in the layer of your shape on it and click on it. You can then correct the path as desired, and then re-do the process of deleting the background.  

pen tool
Quick tool to remove beackgrounds

How to Change Background in Photoshop?

After exploring the various Photoshop tools and methods of removing the background from an image, here’s a quick way to change the background using Photoshop as well:

  • Open your foreground and background photograph/image in Photoshop.  
  • On your foreground image, head over to the Select menu and choose the Mask option.
  • Now with the varied selection of tools, paint over the area of the image you would like to maintain. For ease during this step, you can switch the View mode to On Black which will help you notice what areas require more attention. 
  • In order to change the background, simply copy the background image and then paste it over the foreground. Drag or resize the background image to position it as per your liking. 
  • Drag and change the order in the Layers panel, such that the background layer sits below the foreground image layer.

Top 3 Photoshop Plugins to Remove Background in Photoshop 

Wondering how to remove background in photoshop, then Plugins is your answer!

While Adobe Photoshop is the go-to editing software, few professional photographers also turn towards extra plugins for background removal in digital photographs. The plugins that have made it into the top three are: 

1. Mask Pro

The Mask Pro allows you to eliminate a subject from its background with the assignment of drop and keep colours which simply means you can paint away your background. This plugin makes the selection and cutting of paths along difficult subjects such as hair, glass etc. much easier. 

Mask Pro
Mask Pro (source)

2. Ez Green Screen 5

There isn’t a better program out there for green screen photography extractions. This plugin has excellent spill suppression and detailed transparency masks, making it a simple yet a powerful software. Mostly experienced clipping service providers are partial to this plugin for its crisp edges and natural extraction. 

ez Green Screen 5
Ez green screen 5 (source)

3. Fluid Mask

The Fluid Mask comes handy when you are trying to remove the background of a digital photograph which sports tricky lines and curves. This plugin poses ease in operation and its isolation technology enables the complete deletion of the background with minimal effort. 

fluid mask
Remove tricky curves with this tool (source)

Saving Your Work

The Photoshop software has been around ever since the advent of 1988 when the Knoll brothers - Thomas and John, came up with the idea of editing images. Originally innovated to show grayscale images on a monochrome display, and even named ‘Display’ it further down the line developed into a full-fledged editing program – quite the foundation on which our current Photoshop versions stand. Previously only being able to perform relatively crude functions of cropping images and changing colour effects, the software has grown to enable the user with features of finesse. Yes, it’s easily a baffling subject to master, but grasping hold of each individual concept at a time – like how to remove background in Photoshop with the various tools that enable removal, change and replacement – surely and steadily, your editing capabilities will grow. 

So go ahead…click, cut, delete, change and SAVE!

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