Five-Minute Tutorial: How to Remove a Background in Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop offers a variety of different ways to remove a background from an image. Methods range from the very straight-forward (Magic Wand tool) to the more complex (Paths and Masks).
Each method has its own strengths and drawbacks, so knowing which tool to use in each situation is a key part of the skill. In this tutorial, we’re going to cover one of the most straight-forward tools to get to grips with: the Photoshop Magic Wand Tool
What are the strengths of the Photoshop Magic Wand Tool?
The Magic Wand tool in Photoshop is great for selecting areas with clearly defined edges. This means if the background you wish to remove is a good solid flat colour that contrasts sharply with the rest of your image – for example, a brilliant white building against a clear blue sky or a red apple in a green bowl – Photoshop’s Magic Wand Tool is going to be ideal for removing your background
Using the Photoshop Magic Wand Tool
You can find the Photoshop Magic Wand Tool in the Tool Panel (the main menu of icons to the left of your artboard). It’s the fourth icon on the list, together with the Quick Selection Tool.
• Open your image and save it with a new file name.
• Select the Magic Wand Tool by clicking the icon if it isn’t already selected.
• Click the cursor anywhere within the area that is the flat solid colour of your background. Immediately, you will see a dotted line appear around the background area.
• From the Layer Menu, select Layer Mask and Hide Selection.
• The area you selected with your Magic Wand Tool will now show as transparent.
• Re-save your image as a .psd file so you can return to it and make further changes later if you wish.
• Save in your preferred format.
Tip: Duplicate layer
When you open your image, you may find it helpful to duplicate the layer. Hide the background layer while you work (using the eye symbol adjacent to the layer in the Layers Palette). If you need to refer back to the original image at any point, simply make the original layer visible again.
Just ensure you have the background layer deleted or invisible when you finally save your work.
How to deal with the Magic Wand Tool’s drawbacks
As we’ve already noted, the Magic Wand Tool works best on large, continuous areas of colour. This means if the background is not one homogenous block, you may need to do a little extra work.
For example, if your background is a blue sky dotted with white clouds, not only will you need to select the blue sky area with the Magic Wand Tool, you will also need to select each patch of cloud as well before using the Layer Mask to Hide Selection.
You can do this by holding down the Shift key as you use the Magic Wand Tool. This allows you to select multiple areas, so you can select each area you wish to remove.
The Magic Wand Tool also works best when the area you want to remove from your image has a clearly defined edge.
If the line between foreground and background isn’t clear in areas, or the background and foreground are similar colours – for example, a turquoise sea under an azure sky or a white egg on a pale work surface – you may find it difficult to select the area you wish to remove.
The quickest way to solve this problem is to adjust the Tolerance Levels in Photoshop.
You’ll find the Tolerance Levels in the Options bar. By decreasing the tolerance value, you can narrow the range of colours that will be selected.
Then you can experiment with the Magic Wand Tool as you hold down the Shift key until you have selected all of the area you wish to remove. The Step Backward option under the Edit Menu tab can be a good friend as you do this!
If your background has lots of shades of colour but the foreground contrasts clearly against it, you can reduce the Tolerance Levels to make it easier to select the background and you will find it takes you fewer clicks to select the area.
If you are still struggling to select the area you want, you may need to consider using a different tool to get the effect you want. We’ll cover some of the other options open to you in future blog posts.
Tip: Invert your selection
It may be that the foreground of your picture is a single contiguous area of colour and the background is a more complex pattern or spectrum of shades.
If this is the case, you can select the foreground then either use the Layer Mask option in the Layer menu to Reveal Selection or choose Inverse from the Select menu, so the subject is selected instead of the background.
Photoshop is a powerful image editing software and offers numerous ways to adapt and edit your photos and images. If you’d like to know more about Photoshop or wish to advance your existing Photoshop skills, the best way to gain new skills quickly is by taking one of our one or two-day Photoshop courses.
We offer scheduled or private courses in our training studios at Westland Place in London’s Shoreditch or we can come to you.