Mini Photoshop course

How to delete a background when most

of the image is one colour!

How to delete
a background in

three seconds!


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In our Photoshop courses we go over a number of techniques in how to delete a background from an image. Here are some of what we think are the most useful!

Replacing a background from an image with hair

There are many other ways to replace a sky but it's always good to have a few options up your sleeve to suit your image.

How to replace a sky


ways to

delete a


in Photoshop

Video transcription

Replacing a background from an image with hair

Okay, so what we are going to do is remove this white background and replace it with this cool grungy background that I’ve got set up here. So in advance of this tutorial I’ve got my two files that are set up. Same size and resolution for the ease of showing you what to do, but it is a good idea to do that so make sure that you are set up. You don’t have two different images, two very different resolutions, otherwise you will have a little problem with your printing process.

Okay so the first thing we are going to do is actually look at our channels which is bottom right next to your layers panel. If you can’t see that just reset your essentials top right here. Click reset.

Okay so click on your channels, and you’ll see now this is where our colours have been created. If I click on red, you will see everywhere in that image where the red is applied;

green, blue. So what you will see is that we have quite good contrast between the foreground and the background here, depending on which one we click on. We actually want one that’s got the best contrast and you may have noticed that blue is our winner here.

Don’t worry about clicking on the eyes. You’ll see things might get confusing with different colours popping up, so make sure you just click on the words themselves.  So click on the blue option here which gave us that best contrast between the foreground and background.

So I don’t want to work on this actual channel. If I do, I will start to change the dark tones in my image and mess with the colours a bit, so we don’t want to do that, but we do want to work with a this, a duplicate of this. So all I’ve done is click with my black arrow, click on my blue channel and I’m just dragging this down to that icon down beside my trash can.  That’s one way you can duplicate. You can obviously right click, click on your duplicate or you can click on that option here as well, the little drop down menu. So it’s just my preference dragging. So I’m going to call this ‘my temporary mask’. I’ve just double-clicked on the word, which has allowed me to change that mask and click OK. Okay so now we can adjust this a bit more. We want, like I said, as good a contrast of black and white as possible and we’re still a little bit tonal, a bit too much grey here. So now head up to IMAGE, to the top of our screen. Head to ADJUSTMENTS AND LEVELS. So what we’re going to do here is basically work with our darks, mid-tones and lights of the image. We won’t worry about this at this stage. So if I take this to the extreme just so you can see what’s going to happen; changing my mid-tones, you’ll see that I’m obviously adding too much dark to that image. Same here. Or adding too much light with my lights little arrow. So I already have my settings for this one, set up ready to go. This one’s 0.45, and this one is, remembering, it is 214 I think. So if I turn my preview on and off here, you’ll see now that it is much better in that contrast between black and white as opposed to greys and white. So click OK.

Okay, so we do need to add a bit more to this. We need to make sure this is all fully coloured in black. If we don’t, it just means that part of this image will show through in this area here. We need to basically, like it says, mask it out. So anywhere that is solid black will be masked out, so you can’t actually see through it. So we need to cover this up as well.  So grab our paint brush on the left; making sure that it’s a hard, normal and 100% opacity so that it’s solid black. So I’m just going to colour this in. Make the brush a bit larger.  My brackets beside my ‘P’ on the keyboard. There you go. Okay, so if you were nice and steady with your hand, then you can obviously go through and do that outline as well. I’m not going to; you can see it’s not a very good edge. So what I’ll do is combine some tools together. I’m just going to grab my QUICK SELECTION tool, fourth down, QUICK SELECTION tool and this is a really great tool to use. Whatever you click on it picks up anything that’s of similar tones nearby. So if I click and drag a little bit, you’ll see that it’s automatically picked up that nice edge for me, so when I go back to my paint brush and I colour in, you’ll see it’s only painting inside that marching ant area. If I do a deselect now, CONTROL or COMMAND D, you will see that I have a bit of any area that I need to fill-in and that was where our ‘marching ants’ were sitting.

So if I just go through with my black arrow. So we’ve got this whole area masked out as we need. We’ve got the nice contrast, white and black and we’ve also got this nice wispy bit of her hair still with those little, fine hair bits. So next part is to turn this into our final mask.

So down the bottom, you’ll see down here, far, far bottom right, is we’ve got our little ADD TO SELECTION icon. It’s the little ‘marching ants’. It’s now picked up everything that’s white. We want it to pick up the actual area that will be masked. So if I do an INVERSE here. Just use my shortcut, but the long way INVERSE. And now what we do is just bring our image back to life, so click on the RGB in your channel mask and you’ll see here we’ve got our woman back, but we’ve also got all this nice detail here selected that we wouldn’t have been able to do any other way. We don’t actually need this any more. You could delete it, or leave it there. It doesn’t really matter.

Head over to your layers panel. If you’re on an earlier version, you will need to double click your background word, rename it and then do the stage that we’re about to do now. If you’re on a more recent version, you don’t need to do that, you just need to head straight to the bottom where your mask icon is. Click on that, and you’ll see we’ve now created our mask. We’ve got rid of our white background. So looking at our layers panel, we’ve got a box here now. We could obviously right-click on this little chain, disable, if you want to bring that white back, delete, or enable. So there’s a few options that you can do there as well. So let’s bring our background over. So here’s my background that I’ve got set up. I’m just going to select that, CONTROL or COMMAND A. My black arrow. I’m just going to drag this, drag it with my mouse. Still holding my mouse down and I’m just going to release it when I get on to my image and you’ll see I’ve got my background here now. I’m just going to put it in place, snaps to and all I need to do is change the order of my layers. Drag down. Great, job done. Almost finished.

You’ll see that we’ve got a few things to do. We’ve got a bit of a white edge here; bit of a white glow around the outside that’s still white that’s hanging around, you’ll see here as well. So if I click once on my mask, you’ll see I get this little tiny border around the outside. If I do that to my actual image, you’ll see that border swaps. That border’s basically indicating what I will work on, so if I’ve got it on the actual person, I’ll be able to change anything about her darks, lights, colours etc. If I’ve got it actually on the mask, that means that I can refine the mask edge, or make any adjustments to that. So I’m going to double-click on that mask, on the layers panel and I’ll get up this box here and all I’m going to do now is refine that mask edge. So what you’ll see (and I’ll just change my settings back to what it was), so if I change this edge; I’ll take it to the extreme. You’ll see if I add pixels to that edge, you’ll start to get back some of that white. If I take this the opposite way; get rid of some of those edge pixels, it’s going to obviously to go in to it all and start to get rid of some of those edges. So we just want to get a bit of a balance between getting rid of that white but also not getting rid of too much of the image. So maybe about, that’s looking a bit better. Maybe a little bit. There we go. Smooth, we see smooth that edge, but you don’t want her to get too smooth around the edge here. You just want it to be a little bit more subtle. So I’ll just take it back. That’s a bit smoother. It’s looking better. Feather. I can obviously feather that edge. I don’t need to do that though, but I could add that maybe, 1 pixel or 0.5 or something, just to give it a little bit of a blur on that edge and contrast I won’t worry about. If your view is different to mine when you were clicking on it, you can change your view mode. I like to work on layers; that’s how it will show you how it is on the screen. You can obviously have other options as well. Okay, so I’m going to click OK. And if I wasn’t quite happy with how that was shaping up, I could obviously work on the actual image. I could go in and grab my burn tool and maybe darken some of those edges if I wanted to as well. I probably wouldn’t in this instance. It’s just as you can see, a little bit harsh, but that’s just another option that you can do as well. I do prefer this mask properties box. So there you go. Job done. It’s not quite complete, but you get the idea for this process and that’s pretty much all there is to it.

How to delete a background when most of the image is one colour

Okay so in this tutorial we’re going to replace this sky background with a brick background. I’ve already set up both of these files in advance to be the same size and resolution so that is something that you want to bear in mind when you’re combing two images together. And this one is a little bit different to, if you have seen some of the other tutorials that we’ve put together. It’s a lot of the same tones of blue, so it’s a little bit tricky to use the QUICK SELECTION tool or the MAGIC WAND tool and it’s even a little bit tricky to be using this POLYGONAL LASSO tool that we’ve talked about in previous tutorials; that works with hard, sharp edges, so it’s not going to be so useful here.

So what we’re going to do with this process, is kind of work backwards. We’re going to create our mask first, and then fill that in as we go. So let’s get started. I’m just down at the bottom here on our layers panel. Bottom right. I’m just going to click on the MAKE A MASK option. And you’ll see here that our mask box has popped up. We’re normally used to seeing our black and white mask already created at this point, but since we’re working backwards, it is blank for now.  And what we’re going to do is just head over to our PAINT BRUSH on the left hand side and making sure that this little border here space is actually around your mask. You can see it does, it can swap round depending on where we click. If it’s on our image, we’re changing something on the image; the colour, the tones, things like that. If it’s actually on the mask, it means that we’re altering the mask that we’ve already created or we are obviously going to work with our mask area.

The other thing that I want to do is make sure that my black here is to the front. You see the white. I can toggle between the two on these little arrows, or just by clicking X to toggle through. Is that the black at the front? And I will make sure that the top of my brush, paint brush is normal, 100 and 100 and in terms of my size, I’m not going to worry about that because I’ll change that with my shortcuts and hardness, I’ll probably have that about 95 or 100. I do want a hard edge, not quite a feathered edge. So let’s click back into here. I’m changing my brush size. It’s the brackets beside the ‘P’ on your keyboard. Just those two brackets, smaller or larger.

Okay so what we want to do, is I’m going to make the brush large for now. And you’ll see here that I’m actually able to click, drag around and just do this a bit quickly here and you’ll see that my mask is being created down the side here. Just undo that just so you can see it obviously appearing in this area and I was a bit close to one of the edges, so I’ll just take it easy.

Okay, so you can start on the outside but it is actually quite good to sort of do the outlines of your image first. So I’m going to zoom in and I’m going to change my brush size so it’s a bit smaller and what I’m going to do is actually just drag around. I’m going to this quickly, so you’ll see here that my finish won’t be as great as it should be. So you’ll see that I was able to click once and I’ve just moved with my space bar, my little hand tool, maybe up to about here. If I hold down SHIFT. You’ll see that I’ve been able to get a straight line. So I’ll do that again. If I click once here, hold down SHIFT on my keyboard and click again it will give me a straight line. So that was how I was able to get a really nice straight line here and you'll see I’ll probably being doing that quite a way around. So if I just carry on up here, click once, hold down SHIFT and I’m actually going to do that quite a bit. I’m not holding down SHIFT at this point, but I do want to make my brush size a bit smaller here, just to get in to those edges. Hold down SHIFT again, round the corners, like so. I am holding down shift at these points. Just making little selections. So I’m want to do this quite quickly because otherwise it will be a very long tutorial. So I’ve just made my brush size a bit larger. If for some reason I went over the image that I didn’t’ want to or someone bumped me and I sort of went in like this. You can actually just toggle to your white and it will bring back whatever you wanted to bring back in. So you can see here that some of my edges (oops I had the white one in the front), are a bit rough, what I can actually do is go back and toggle between the black and the white down here and refine that a little bit.

So here we go, just doing this really fast. So I should have gone in to that area there you’ll see, but I can refine that later on. And just for the purpose of this exercise, I’m not going to worry about it. So you can see those little areas there that I’m talking about and that little bit there that I’ve just gone over. Make the brush size smaller. So it is really worth knowing the shortcut to changing your brush size. You can see that I’m changing that quite a lot. Otherwise you’re always having to go up here and change that or clicking on your right click on your button (oops undo), on your mouse.

So I’m going around here, round here, a little bit. Super rush now. Doing this really fast. So I would go back and fix all of that up. Just super quickly. If it’s one of those areas that are feathered here you’ll see on the mask, that is when you would probably want to change your hardness. Just so you get a bit of a softer edge, you’ll see what I mean and you’d get a bit of a softer edge than what we’ve got at the moment. So around here, out, getting really dodgy now! Let’s just pretend this is looking really good. So I think you get the idea by now. I would have used the space bar at that point, but I will. Just an UNDO, CONTROL or COMMAND Z. I could have gone to my history panel and done an UNDO.

SPACE BAR, super useful tool for this job. Okay, right at the end here. So all I want to do now is so that space bar was allowing me to move around my page. Hold down space bar you get my hand tool to move around my page. So I’ve made my brush larger, so you can see here now, I’m actually able to go in and delete a large portion all at once or smaller when I need to get closer to the edge. So if I was doing a mock up; just want to see how my image is working out before I spend a lot of time doing my mask, creating my mask. And you’ll see here it’s coming together nicely. I would probably do something as rough as this, just so I can get a bit of an idea of how it’s shaping up.  And then I would come back in and fix up all those edges that you’ll see that I was a bit rushed on. If for example this is going to be quite small on a website or on a magazine, then you can kind of use your discretion and work out where you need to spend your time. But obviously if it’s on a billboard or something really large, you do need to make sure that it is as perfect as it can be.

So here we go, pretty much at the end here. All we have to do is bring in our image. Almost done. Okay, right, so it’s pretty much done. Obviously I’m not going to worry about those other bits. So you’ll see here how a mask is created here and I’m just going to go to my brick image that I already have ready to go. I'm going to do a COMMAND/CONTROL A. Long way was SELECT ALL and I’ll do a copy. Shortcuts CONTROL or COMMAND C. Head over to here and do a PASTE. And I’ve got my image on the page now and I can just change the order of my layers on my layers panel by clicking and holding my mouse and dragging down, so my brick is underneath my robot. So what I would do from this point on is look at my, I’ve just gone in to EDIT and TRANSFORM, I use the shortcut here and I’ll probably have a play with maybe my perspective and just try and get the same kind of perspective as my robot. Sort of looking up. And I’ve just realised one area that I’ve left off. It’s just this one here, but that’s okay. We can go back and still work on that. So I’d head back up to my mask (obviously not the image, but the actual mask). Let’s zoom in and I’ll carry on as I was. It doesn’t matter that I’ve got the brick in the background. So I’ve got my paint brush again; and making sure that my black is to the front and I’ll just get rid of that there and you’ll see the background coming in. So I'll just do this really fast as well.

If it was a bit confusing having that background, you can just turn that off and obviously that will help getting all your finer details. And just quickly refining your edge. If you double click on your mask here. You will get the chance to refine an edge, just with this option here, and go through and change some of these settings, which I have talked about in one of our previous tutorials so I won’t go in to that now, but that’s also an option there. And there we go. Mask is created.

How to Replace a Sky

So this image I’m going to replace this white dull background with a cloudy background here, I’ve already got set up. I haven’t gone for your typical beautiful blue sky, I just thought that maybe the clouds might add to this image a bit more than just having a perfect sky. It’s not the best day, although we can try and work on that at the end. When you’re choosing two images that you want to combine together, do be aware of resolution; making sure they’re the same quality and also the direction in that your camera is sitting. You don’t want to have clouds that are very distant very quickly or looking up too far, too harsh. You want it to sort of have that same angle. So hopefully these two work together ok.

Right so, the first thing that I want to do is try and select as much of this foreground as possible. So I’ll be combing quite a few tools today. So the first one I’m going to use is the RECTANGULAR MARQUEE tool. This is a really good one just to select and grab across and obviously get as much of that space as I can. The next one I’ll work with is either one of these. The MAGIC WAND tool. I could hold down SHIFT so it adds to that selection and just click in this tree area here. So I don’t think that’s going to work perfectly this time, so what I might use instead (I’ve just done an UNDO), is your quick selection tool. So this one here’s great if you haven’t used it before. Basically if I click in this tree area here and drag a little bit, you’ll see that it’s actually picked up that whole area that I wanted and the reason it’s done it is, wherever I clicked in the first place, it’s going to find other pixels and tones similar to where I clicked, so it’s a really good way to select a whole area quite quickly, all at once. You’ll see here if I do the same thing here, click and drag a little bit, it’s actually picked up that whole area for me. Making sure that when you do, do this, that you’ve got this plus icon here selected. You’ll notice I didn’t say to hold SHIFT for that next option. That’s because we’ve got the little plus icon and that is adding to our selection. This one here would have taken on a new selection which we didn’t want to. We wanted to add to that RECTANGULAR MARQUEE.

Right so the next one I’m going to use is this ‘polygonal lasso’ tool. It’s in the same family as LASSO, it’s third down and what we’ll do here is, (I’m just going to zoom in a little bit), and basically we’re going to kind of just draw an outline around this image here, all the way around. It’s good to do a little bit at a time and you’ll see why in a second and the other thing to do is, first making sure that we’re on that, add to the selection again where it’s got that little plus, so we don’t have to worry about holding down SHIFT. So keep this at zero as well; nothing else we need to change here. So what I want to do, I want to actually drop a little point, just here in the image, so I’m just going to click once. Basically that’s like putting a thumb tack on the wall. I don’t actually want to start up here, close to the rest of the ‘marching ants’ because it’s just quite hard to see where I’m clicking, what I’m clicking, but at least now I can actually see down here at my starting point. What I want to do is, I don’t have to be perfect in this instance but I’m actually just, I’m not clicking and dragging with my mouse, I’m just clicking once, moving, releasing my mouse button and then clicking again, like so. I want to do it a bit at a time. I’ll show you why. I’m just going to come back down here and you’ll see, I can see where my starting point is. If you can’t quite see what I mean I’ll ‘zoom in’ a little bit back to my starting point, and you’ll know that I’m back to my starting when you see that little zero. A little circle, sorry. I just click there. I’m just going to zoom out. So you can see what we’ve got now is a little extra part added to our selection. Zoom in again. Right, just move my mouse, SPACE BAR. So I’m just going to click again here and make my way up, ‘zoom out’ a little bit. So I’ve just done a few more, sorry zooming in and out here. Okay, so if I realise I’ve done something wrong and I click out and then into an area that I didn’t want to do, a: we could fix it up at the end when we want to adjust our mask, or at this point I would imagine I could click UNDO. I try and do my shortcut, that doesn’t work. If I want to head up to ‘edit’, you’ll notice that none of this is working either. So what will happen, (my little mouse will follow me around). I’d assume that I could go up to my HISTORY panel but it’s not clickable. And what you’ll see what I’m doing is actually is just creating new points everywhere on my page, so a bit of a disaster if I’m not sure what I’m meant to be doing. So at this point, all I’m going to do is actually click return and it’s going to accept my weird selection that I’ve got here and just click UNDO at this point head up to go undo one step, or obviously we could have done our UNDO here or CONTROL or COMMAND Z, but you’ll see now that its taken me back to where we had our starting points. So if anything does go wrong, don’t worry about it. You can just click ‘return’ and do that process again. That’s why it’s quite good to do a little step a time. I’ll just zoom in a little bit here. So notice I’ve started down in the middle again, just so I can see where that starting point is. I’m just going to click a couple of these. I’m not being too fussy right now for the sake of this tutorial because I know you’ll get the idea. So we’re just going to come back down again to my starting point. Remember if I can’t see my starting point, I can just click ‘return’ and it will accept that selection. So I’m going to do another one. Start here this time, come up. At this point there’s a bit of detail here. I’d probably ‘zoom in’ for that to get it done perfectly. But again, for the sake of a shorter tutorial, I’m not going to worry about that.

Sorry. So you see we come all the way back down because I want to select all this area here, so I’m just going to come to here, back around and find my starting point which is just there. So I’ve just added this whole area, so you can see how we’re shaping up. Just got this area here to do.

Right next part. Not the best points at that area but that’s okay. I probably would have done this in two stages, but it’s just a mock-up. Okay, so there’s a bit of an area there that I’ll need to fix up and maybe here as well. But basically we’ve got that whole outline selected. We’ve used the ‘rectangular marquee’ tool. We’ve had a look at the ‘magic wand’ tool, but we ended up by using the ‘quick selection’ and then I combined that with that ‘polygonal lasso’ tool that just gives us hard edges. So the next stage is to come over to your layers panel. If you can’t see that, just reset your essentials and head on down and click on your ‘create a mask’ option. You’ll see here that we’ve got rid of our background. So so far we going quite well and everything’s not looking too badly. So we’re going to head over to my clouds that I have set up already. I’m just going to select these. CONTROL or COMMAND A and with my black arrow selected, I’m just going to click and drag. I’m not going to release my mouse just yet. I’m going to release it when I get to the image and that way I’m able to copy and paste. Otherwise you could do that, CONTROL C, CONTROL V or COMMAND. All I’m going to do now, is with my black arrow, I’ll just move that in place. I just want to reorder my layers, so I’m just going to drag this to be underneath my main shot. So here we go, almost there. You can see that the little bit of the dodgy area that I was careless with my points here. I just need to fix a couple of those cloud areas and a few around here. So what I’m going to do now is actually amend my mask. You would have seen if you’ve watched the hair tutorial, how to refine your edge. If you double click on this icon, you can go through to this area here. So I won’t do it entirely, because we’ve just done a tutorial on that, but I can obviously start to adjust that edge, however I see fit. Okay, it’s probably a bit fluffy, take that down a little bit, but we’ve done this process already. So there we go. That’s how we would combine two images together just using a couple of new techniques that might be suitable for your image.

How to delete a background in three seconds!

Okay, so for this image, we want to get rid of this white here, so we’ve got a transparent background. We can use our great QUICK SELECTION tool. That’s really quick and easy, but a quicker way to do that is actually grab your MAGIC WAND tool. It shares the same space on the tool bar. All we need to do is click once in the white background.  It’s just much easier than clicking in the image itself. You know, it’s going to take quite a while to select all of those orange tones. Just deselect that. So if we click in the white, you’ll see it’s picked up everything here in the background that’s white. All we need to do now is INVERSE. Your long way is SELECT and INVERSE. Or we can use that shortcut, CONTROL or COMMAND, SHIFT and I, and you’ll see now that our ‘marching ants’, they were around the outside here and now they’ve swapped to be just around the outside of this flower. And all we have to do is click down the bottom right here to create your mask and that’s it, job done! About three seconds.