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 (Windowlayers), 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 Layerflatten Image to finish.
Before Darkening or changing the colour of the background can easily change the look of a portrait, whoever your subject is.