Do you have a photo with a background you don’t like? Do you want to create a more interesting image that will grab people’s attention? Then this tutorial on how to change the background color in Photoshop is for you.
By removing a background and replacing it with a solid color your subject will stand out. This is great for use on social media, for example.
Step 1: Choose Your Photo
For this tutorial, I will use a photo I took of a young Hmong woman at a new year festival in Laos. She was standing in a photo booth with a background I found unattractive, but the lighting was nice and soft.
The quality of your finished image depends on the amount of time you spend on the process. Spending more time zoomed in and paying attention to details will result in a more natural looking photograph.
How much time do you have for this Photoshop project? If you don’t have much time, choose an easy image. One with clear, sharp edges and a clean background of a contrasting colour. If you have more time, choose an image where the edges of the subject are not clear.
To follow along with this tutorial, I suggest using an easy photo. Then you can practice on more difficult ones.
My photo is not too complex. My subject is sharp enough around the edges. The challenging parts will be where her hair and pompoms overlap onto the background.
Some things to avoid when you are new to isolating a subject to change the background color are:
- Hair that’s loose, frizzy, spiked or not smooth;
- Subjects with detailed edges;
- Anything with edges not in focus;
- Motion blur;
- A background that blends with the subject.
Step 2: Create Two Layers
Open your photo in Photoshop and make a duplicate layer (Ctrl+j). Turn the original layer off.
Make a solid layer by clicking the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer icon in the Layers Panel.
Choose Solid Color from the top.
Pick a color close to the background you will use, or choose white.
Renaming your layers when working on a project like this is a good idea. Adding a name relating to what you’ll use the layer for will make your workflow more efficient.
Step 3: Selecting the Subject
Click on the Quick Selection tool in the Tools Panel. Then click on the option Select Subject. It’s in the top bar above the image. Photoshop will attempt to select your subject.
If your subject is not clear a dialogue box will appear. This will let you know Photoshop cannot find a prominent subject. If you see this, it will be best to choose another photo for this Photoshop project.
Unless your subject is very clear, the resulting selection will not be perfect. You will need to refine the edges using other tools.
Step 4: Clean up the Edges
Keep the Quick Selection tool selected. And click on the Select and Mask option box above your photo. This opens a new window where you can begin to refine your selection.
Auto selection tools rarely make a complete job. Or even a good enough selection to give the best possible results. You will need to use the tools in this window to improve the edges of your selection.
The edges of your subject that are not separated from the background will need some work. Use the Refine Edge Brush Tool from the tools panel on the left side of your screen.
To help you see the effect of this brush, select either Overlay or On White. These options are in the View panel on the right side of your screen.
You can adjust the opacity to a point where you are able to see the effect of the brush as you use it.
Here is an example showing the Overlay option from the view panel at 50% opacity.
If you have chosen a photo with clearly defined edges you may not have to do much refinement. Zoom in to 100% and start at the bottom left edge of your subject.
Work your way around the edge in a clockwise direction to make sure you cover the whole outline.
You can control the size of this bush by using the [ and ] keys. You can also control the effect more by using the Radius, Smooth, Feather and Contrast sliders. These are on the panel at the right of your photo.
Experiment with these controls. You’ll find the best balance for the different areas of the image you are working on. They will have a varied effect depending on the different detail of your photo.
Here I have zoomed into the detail in this difficult area of her hair. I have increased the opacity of the Overlay so I could see the changes happening as I painted.
Once you are happy that your selection is cleaned up, switch the View to Black and White. This way you can see how your edges look.
If there are no further changes to make in the Output To box select Layer Mask and click OK.
Step 5: Paint on the Layer Mask
Now you have a new mask on your layer. If you want to further refine some difficult parts of the selection, like hair or other fuzzy edges, use the brush tool.
Set it to 50% black and paint on your subject to erase and parts you do not wish to see. Set it to 50% white and paint over any of the background which is still visible to erase it.
Using the brush at 50% or lower opacity gives you more precise control. This will bring levels of transparency to the areas you work on. It will help blurred or fuzzy areas of the edges to look more natural.
Step 6: Select and Isolate Your Subject
Ctrl click on the layer mask to select it. Now duplicate the selection to a new layer using Ctrl+j. Hide other layers so you only see your isolated subject.
In this step you can also resize your canvas if you wish. This is helpful if you want to add some text with your photo. Or if you want to make a composite with other photos on the same background.
To change the size of your canvas use Ctrl + Alt + c. A new window will open where you can type in the size you want.
In the drop-down box to the right you can select the measurement method you want to use. Type the number into the boxes on the left for both the width and height.
You can also choose an anchor point for the resize.
Step 7: Make a Solid Fill for Your New Background
In the Layers Panel click on the Create New Fill or Adjustment Layer. Select Solid Color from the top and the colour you want your new background to be.
Here I have chosen a soft pink like the color in the trim on her jacket. It looks okay, but a little flat.
To add some depth, you can add a gradient or photo background.
To add a gradient, make a new layer below your isolated subject. Click on the Create New Layer icon in the Layers Panel.
Now you can use the Gradient tool (G) to add a more interesting background.
In this image I added three gradients. Two from the bottom and one from the top. This adds the illusion of depth to the coloured background.
Adding another photo as the background is just as easy. Create a new layer and drag and drop your chosen background photo onto it.
You may need to resize the background photo to fit. If your background photo is too small, it is best not to resize it larger as it will lose quality and may not look sharp.
Step 8: Check for Halos Around the Edges
Now that you have your new background in place you need to make one last check. Zoom into 100% and look for a halo effect which may be visible.
This may appear if your new background colour is significantly different to the photo’s original background.
Use the black and/or white brush to paint over the halo on the layer mask you created in Step 4.
How long it takes you to change the background colour in Photoshop will depend on how complex your image is.
If you are new to this technique, start with simpler images. Then move to more complicated ones once you have some practise.
And show us your results in the comments section!
Now check our articles on best apps to add background to photos or how to batch resize in Photoshop!