Replacing Backgrounds: Part One

Welcome to the next tutorial!

This one is on changing the backgrounds on a photo that already has a solid background to begin with. There are a few reasons one might do this, but for me, it’s just because I wanted something a little more colorful (& because I wanted to do this tutorial.)

This is the photo I’m working with today:

I have a ton of backgrounds from Great site for those of you looking! I didn’t spend a large quantity of time searching through the backgrounds – I just chose one with coordinating colors so it may or may not work well…we’ll see! 🙂 You’ll want to be choosy with your backgrounds though!

I want to keep it relatively dark since the black background in the original photo and the dark purple of her dress blend so closely together in the back. I don’t want to draw too much attention to that area because if it doesn’t blend well with the new background, everyone will know it’s totally fake 🙂

So this is the background I chose:

Make sure you have both the photo you’re working with and your background open in photoshop.

Let’s see how it turns out!

Also, note that these are instructions specifically for CS5. The steps are the same in Elements, but some of the tools work slightly differently. I’ll note those when we get to them.

The first thing you want to do is select your Magic Wand Tool.

You’re going to use it to select only the solid background of your photo. Just click it once on any portion of the background. Depending on how much your subject blends with the background, the tool will probably select portions of your subject that are similar in color to that of your background. See example below.

Everything inside the dotted portion is what the tool selected to begin with. Notice how the darker parts of her dress were included in the selection? To fix this, you need to go back to where the magic wand tool is and select your Quick Selection Tool.

After you select your Quick Selection Tool, look at the options at the top of your menu (the same place you would find the size settings for the paint brush.) You want to make sure you have the minus (-) sign selected before using this tool so you can deselect those parts of the photo that you don’t want to include in the background change. If you mess up a little, just click the (+) sign to reselect those areas.

I brought the brush size up to 20 px before I started my deselection. Use the size you think is appropriate for the amount of deselecting you need to do.

Then I just clicked and dragged on the areas I wanted to deselect. In this case, it was my daughter’s dress and her little toes that are showing. I had to use my own judgement for deselecting the area of the back of her dress that was blending so heavily with the black background so be very careful and try to be as precise with the lines as you can be while doing this. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get it as close as you can before we move on to the next step. This is what it looked like after I finished deselecting my daughter. Only the background should be selected when you get done.

The next thing you want to do is go to Select>Inverse. This is going to select your subject so that when you start refining the edges (next step) of your selection, your subject is left alone. In Elements you would skip this step for now. (Whatever you have selected in elements is where the changes happen – in CS5 whatever you have selected stays safe & unaffected.)

Elements users will go straight to this step. Next you want to click Refine Edge…

This window below will pop up in CS5 (in elements, this looks a little different and you don’t get as many options. Refining is more accurate in CS5.) On the left you see what the window looks like when it first appears. On the right, I’m showing you what I adjusted it to. You do not have to put your settings the same as mine. Watch how it affects your photo to get a feel for where you should put your own settings. Be careful with the “Feather”  & “Radius” options – if pulled out too much, these will put a gap in between your background and your subject so that when you put your new digital background in, there will be a line separating it from your subject, hence making it look horrible & fake. This is an essential step so play around with it to make sure you get the right settings for your own photos! You’ll mess up a few times, but you can always go back a few steps in your history to re-do it. (Your History window should be showing on the right hand side. If not, click Window>History to bring it up.)

This is what should happen to your photo once you click the refine option:

It does look very rough around the edges at first, but after you adjust the settings:

It should look something like this. In Elements, you won’t be able to see your changes as accurately as you can in CS5 because it doesn’t turn your background white like CS5 does and it also does not make your background transparent. Elements users have an extra step you’ll need to follow. Cs5 users can skip this part.

For Elements only: THIS is the part where you go to Select>Inverse. This will select your subject for you. You may or may not want to refine the edge again – that is up to you. Just be careful not to refine too much or there will be a noticeable line around your subject that will cause it not to flow seamlessly with the background. Then you need to go to Layer>New Layer>Layer Via Copy. This will duplicate your subject for you.

Both Elements and PS CS5 users can now make sure you have your background open in photoshop. Select the Move Tool at the top of your tool bar and move your background over on top of your photo. It will appear on the top layer of your photo. Adjust the size accordingly.

This step is slightly different for Elements users.

In CS5, you’ll go to Layer>Arrange>Send to Back. This will put your background behind your subject for you.

In Elements you will go to your layers pane on the right-hand side of the screen and make sure your copied subject layer is selected. Then you will go to Layer>Arrange>Bring to Front in order to bring your copied subject in front of your background. For Elements users, the new background will be in between the original background layer and your subject. In CS5, it will be the same, but your original background layer will be invisible to begin with. Check the box beside the layer to put the little eye back in and make it visible if you like. It won’t affect the immediate appearance of your photo.

See the eyeball—>

Your photo may already look good without any further adjustments, but there are other things you can do. The rest of these steps are optional, but go through them anyway because there are several things you can do to perfect the look of your photo.

You do not have to make your original background visible, but I did because I wanted to lower the opacity of my new purple background so that it would blend better with Kira’s dress by blending on top of the original black background. You can see in the photo above that I have the opacity set to 45%. This tones down the brightness of the new background and blends it with the original black one as stated above. (Sorry for the redundancy – just want to make sure I’m clear…I always think I suck at explaining things lol)

Another thing I did was select the top layer (labeled Background Copy) and I clicked inside the layer mask (the area that is black and white in the photo above.) I chose my Brush Tool, selected the color White, Blend Mode set to Normal and painted around a few edges of my subject so that it would blend more seamlessly into the background. You may do this, too if you need to. If you mess up, just change the color to black and paint back over the area’s you need to fix.

Next, I selected my purple background (the middle layer labeled Layer 1) and added a layer mask to it as well. Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All. It adds a white layer mask to my purple background layer. I can use the brush tool to paint certain areas of my background to make it look more blended and natural. (Note: When using layer masks, if the layer mask is white, you will use a black brush to make changes. If the layer mask is black, you will use a white brush.)

You will notice above that my layer mask is not all white. There is a gray section at the bottom where I used my paint brush to lower the opacity of that one area on the floor. I selected my black brush on normal mode and changed the opacity to somewhere around 40% and began painting over only the floor area of the background. I did this to allow for more depth because without it, it looked as if Kira was floating in the photo rather than sitting. It’s still not perfect, but here is the result:

After that, I merged my layers together. You do not have to do this as you may find there are other adjustments you want to make along the way in the existing layers. The reason I did is because I wanted to blur a few of the outer edges of my daughter and I needed the background to blur with her to make it look more natural. Go to Layer>Merge Visible.

Then select your Blur Tool. It looks like a tear drop. There are other tools in this same area so if you do not see the tear drop-shaped one, look for a finger (the smudge tool) or a little triangle (the sharpen tool.)

I ran my blur tool around the edges I wanted to blend a bit more. Be careful not to do this too much if you use it. Sometimes it helps to duplicate the layer so that if you do overdo it a little, you can adjust the opacity so that the blur isn’t as prominent. You can also adjust the blur amount of the tool itself in the same bar at the top that you use to adjust the size and opacity of every other tool.

After I was satisfied with the blur, I duplicated my layer for the next step. Layer>Duplicate Layer.

I selected the Burn Tool (pictured below) to make a few area’s around my subject darker (like the edges of the back of her dress) since they blended so seamlessly with the black background, I had to make them blend just as well with this purple one.

When I was satisfied with that, I adjusted the opacity of the burn layer to 38% so it wouldn’t be as noticeable that I’d burned the edges with the background.

And here is the finished product. 🙂


2 thoughts on “Replacing Backgrounds: Part One

  1. Love your blog about Photoshop Tutorials. I just started my own Photoshop blog at Do you know of anyone who does affiliate marketing for Adobe Photoshop?

  2. Pingback: Leaves; Now Part of A Balanced Diet « SpiffySnaps Photography

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