Add a per­fect por­trait back­drop

If you want to cre­ate sim­ple, strik­ing por­traits a clean black back­ground can work won­ders. Here’s how to add one in Pho­to­shop...


Cre­ate sim­ple, strik­ing por­traits with a clean, black back­ground. We show you how.

• Soft­ware Pho­to­shop or El­e­ments

• Im­age type A por­trait that needs a change of back­ground

It’s not al­ways pos­si­ble to get the back­drop you want when shoot­ing a por­trait, and if it’s dis­tract­ing it can clash or fight the sub­ject for at­ten­tion. Sim­ple colours, like those of painted walls, can of­ten work best, but even then you might find that the hue is not to your lik­ing.

For­tu­nately, it’s straight­for­ward to im­prove back­grounds in Pho­to­shop or El­e­ments, and it all starts off with a mak­ing a good Se­lec­tion of the sub­ject, or the back­ground if eas­ier.

To edit the ex­am­ple im­age, I used the Quick Se­lec­tion tool to make a se­lec­tion of Lola the boxer dog, then im­proved the se­lec­tion us­ing the Se­lect and Mask com­mand (you can also use Re­fine Edge); this helps when se­lect­ing a sub­ject with fur or other awk­ward edges.

Fi­nally, a Solid Color layer was used to add the black and, be­cause of the way the lat­ter works, you can change the colour to what­ever you like, as well as chang­ing the Opac­ity and Blend­ing Mode.

1 Make a Se­lec­tion of the sub­ject

Pick the Quick Se­lec­tion tool (W) and us­ing a fairly small tip (you can change this in the Op­tions bar), run it over the sub­ject. Use short strokes for greater ac­cu­racy, but don’t worry if it’s not per­fect at the edges. If you se­lect chinks of the back­ground by mis­take, hold Alt to switch to Re­move from Se­lec­tion mode and paint over them. When all the sub­ject is se­lected, click on Se­lect and Mask in the Op­tions bar (or Re­fine Edge in older ver­sions; the con­trols are sim­i­lar). In the pal­ette, click the Smart Ra­dius box and in­crease the Ra­dius set­ting un­til the edge looks good. If you need to, click on the Re­fine Edge Brush tool and paint over any awk­ward parts. Fi­nally add 0.5px Feather, set the Out­put Set­tings to Se­lec­tion and click OK.

2 Ap­ply a Solid Color Ad­just­ment Layer

With the Se­lec­tion made, press Ctrl+shift+i to in­vert it, then in the Lay­ers pal­ette (Win­dow’lay­ers), click the Cre­ate New Fill or Ad­just­ment Layer icon and choose Solid Color. Choose the colour you want from the Color Picker (solid black here), then click OK. You should now have a per­fectly coloured back­ground, but make sure to check around the sub­ject for any parts that are miss­ing. If you find some­thing, ei­ther re­peat the process (prac­tise makes per­fect), or pick the Brush tool (B), set its colour to black and paint over. Set White to cor­rect a mis­take. Lower the layer’s Opac­ity if re­quired, then go to Layer’flat­ten Im­age to fin­ish.

Be­fore Darken­ing or chang­ing the colour of the back­ground can eas­ily change the look of a por­trait, who­ever your sub­ject is.

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