3 Photoshop Background Masking Techniques

There are many ways to mask a background using Photoshop. Some Photoshop backgrounds are better for certain situations and some are better suited for different users. Here are 3 options that you have.

Option 1: Extract

Go to the "Filter" drop-down and select "Extract". With this tool, you will outline the area that you want to keep and Photoshop will eliminate the rest. Grab the paint brush tool from the left hand side of the "Extract" window. Choose a width that will allow you to overlap both the edge of the foreground object and the background. Paint the outline as best you can. It does not need to be perfect, but get as close as you can without causing a headache. Zoom in if you need to. When the outline is complete, select the paint bucket tool in the window. Click on the object you are going to keep to fill it in. Hit preview if you want to take a look, then hit OK.  To touch up the edges, use the eraser tool to erase any lingering background. If parts of the subject are missing, use the history brush tool to restore them.

Option 2: Quick Mask

This option allows you to keep the background available in case you need it later. The quick mask icon is under the color palette. Select it and set the foreground color to black. Use the large brush to paint over all the unwanted areas of the photo. Start using smaller and smaller brushes as you get closer to your object so that you reduce the chance of blunders. If you do blunder, temporarily switch the foreground color to white and repaint over the areas you did not mean to mask. Once your object looks cleanly selected, go to the layer window and select the layer mask icon. This will put your background on a separate layer from your foreground.

Option 3: Magic Eraser

If your background contrasts the subject, then this tool will work well for you. However, if the object that are trying to keep is similar in color and tone, then this may just cause a mess. Select the magic eraser tool from the tool palette. This tool will select and erase any pixels similar to the on that you click on. In the options bar you will see a setting called "Tolerance". If the number is high, then the selector will select more pixels that are less similar to the one you choose. If the number is low, then the selector chooses only pixels that are close to identical to the one you choose. So start with a high tolerance, then work your way down as you move closer to your object.  At some point, you may need to switch to a normal eraser and paint out what is still lingering of the background. 

Once you have your background separated, you may find it aesthetically pleasing to add a drop shadow to the object you have pulled out. All these techniques have their advantages, so pick one that works for you.

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