A really useful (and fun!) Photoshop skill to learn is the Quick Selection tool. Perhaps you have the perfect subject, but want to experiment with a different background in your photograph.
How do you select the image to cut out in Photoshop?
Follow my Photoshop tutorial as I move Elise from an earthquake damaged urban environment to a rural building site.
1. Cut Out Your Subject With the Quick Selection Tool
Resize your image to a manageable size to keep your computer working efficiently. I resize to between 2500-3000 pixels on the longest side if I’m just practising or experimenting with an image.
There are a few different Photoshop selection tools, but this one is called ‘quick’ for good reason.
Click on the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop and drag the cursor in a part of the area you want to select.
You’ll see a line of ‘marching ants’ appear around the shape. Keep adding to it by continuing to drag the cursor within the area. It’s OK if it’s a bit rough to start with.
To deselect large areas, hold down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key as you drag the cursor around the area you want to remove.
The marching ants will disappear from that area.
2. Use A Layer Mask For Photoshop Peace Of Mind
To avoid permanently deleting sections of your photos, it’s best to work with layers.
This means that you hide parts of your image, then reveal them using the brush tool at any time.
Duplicating a Layer
Unlock the layer in the layer menu at the lower right of your screen. Right click on it and click ‘duplicate layer’. You’ll see another layer appear.
Click on the eye icon on the bottom layer to hide it (this hidden lower layer is a back-up in case of Photoshop disasters).
Revealing Your Selection
At the top of your screen, click Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal Selection.
This is the aha! moment when your background will disappear, showing the roughly cut-out shape you’ve selected.
3. Select Tricky Areas With the Select and Mask Tool
At this point in the process, I tidy up my photograph using the Select and Mask tool. Click on the layer mask on the layer menu (that’s the black and white shape outline box).
Click on Select and Mask at the top of your screen. If you can’t see the button, make sure you’ve clicked on the Quick Selection tool button first.
Adjust the size, hardness and spacing of the tool, and slowly drag your cursor over the edges of the image.
My settings for the Select and Mask tool change depending on the type of image I’m selecting, so it takes a bit of trial and error.
I find the Select and Mask tool fantastic for fluffy edges or hair, and I use the Brush tool for harder lines (more about that shortly).
4. Create a Background That Fits
Using the Quick Selection tool effectively isn’t much use if you don’t have a background ready. Sometimes you might be using a simple neutral background created in Photoshop.
But if you’re keen to use another photo of a different environment, you’ll need to pay a little more attention to the process to make sure the final result is cohesive.
Opening the Background
Find the image you want to use and drag it into your Photoshop project. It’s best to use a photo with similar lighting, shadows and tones.
To ensure both the background and your selected subject are displayed, check the layers in the layer menu on the lower right of your screen are in the right order. The newly added image you’re using for your background should be underneath the subject layer and layer mask.
To move the layers around, click on one of the layers and drag it up or down.
Adjusting the Background
If the subject and background images look mismatched or inconsistent, use Lightroom or Adobe Raw to make adjustments. Start with the temperature and brightness of one of the images.
Sometimes adjusting saturation and luminance of individual colours also helps. If the images still don’t quite match, try converting both images to black and white. But make sure the contrast, clarity and shadows are the same.
5. Apply the Brush Tool for a Seamless Result
It’s pretty unusual for me to use the Quick Selection tool without using the Brush tool too.
When your subject is in their new environment, check to see if you need to do a final tidy up of the edges.
Click on the layer mask on the layer menu, the click on the Brush tool. Zoom in (ALT+, CMD+) and carefully check around the entire edge of your subject.
Carefully brush the cursor over areas that you want to reveal or hide.
Switch between the ‘Foreground and Background Colours’ to alternate between hiding and revealing parts of the photo.
I use the Photoshop Quick Selection tool to help tell stories in photographic artwork, and to transport my friends and family (and cat) to all sorts of interesting locations.
The Quick Selection tool has also helped to hone my Photoshop skills in general, and improve my attention to detail.
Like all Photoshop techniques, the best way to learn is to practice and make mistakes.
So delve into your photo archives, dig out some photos where the background is less-than-perfect, and work some Quick Select magic on it!