Easy Photoshop Technique for Removing the Background in Photos

by Robin WhalleyMay 12, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

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Easy Photoshop Technique for Removing the Background in Photos

Did you know that there’s a feature in Photoshop that makes it easy to remove the background in photos? Not only that but you can select which objects in a photo you want to keep and which you want to remove. In this tutorial, I’ll share with you how to use this feature, together with tips on how to improve your results.

Here’s the photo we’ll be removing the background from.

Our aim is to remove the background from this photo so that it leaves only the woman, her desk, and the computer. We can replace the background with a new one if we want to.

Photoshop Object Selection Tool

The tool we are going to use to remove the background from our photo is the Object Selection Tool. This was released in 2019, and you will find this in the Photoshop Tools Palette on the left of the screen. It’s grouped together with the Quick Selection and Magic Wand tools so one of those may be displayed instead if you can’t see the icon.

After clicking the Object Selection Tool icon in the Tools Palette, you will see the tool’s controls appear in the Context Sensitive toolbar. This is the toolbar that runs along the top of Photoshop, just below the menu.

There are several controls in the toolbar, but we are only really interested in three:

  1. The Selection Type. Here there are four icons which are: New, Add, Subtract, or Intersect with an existing selection. Most of the time you will use the New or Add options.
  2. The Object Finder. This does the bulk of the work for us by finding objects in the photo that we want to retain when we delete the background.
  3. The Mode setting. This can be set to either Rectangle or Lasso. Most of the time Lasso is the best option.

Finding Objects in a Photo

Our approach to removing the background from a photo is to select the objects in the image that we want to keep. We can then use this information to create a mask that hides everything else in the photo, so removing the background.

When you first clicked the Select Objects Tool, Photoshop analysed your image to identify any objects it could find. Sometimes it can’t detect any objects, but most of the time it does an amazing job. If you want to repeat the object detection, click the circular arrow icon in the toolbar to the right of the “Object Finder”. The arrows then spin whilst Photoshop tries to detect the objects in the photo.

When the object selection is complete, you can see the objects Photoshop has found in one of two ways:

  1. Click the “Show all objects” icon in the toolbar. This is to the right of the curved arrow refresh icon discussed above. You can also press and hold the N key on your keyboard, which is a great shortcut to remember.
  2. Alternatively, you can move your mouse pointer over the image which highlights any identified objects you pass over.

Identified objects are indicated with a coloured overlay which you can configure by clicking the Settings icon (a cog wheel) in the toolbar.

Selecting Objects in a Photo

When Photoshop has identified the objects in the image, we can convert them to selections. We just need to move our mouse pointer over the object we want to select. Then when you see the object highlighted click it with your mouse. After a moment, you will see marching ants appear around the object, indicating an active selection has been created.

We now need to add to this selection so that we select everything in the photo that we want to keep. This allows us to then remove the background from the photo whilst keeping the selected objects.

The way to add to the existing selection is to use the Selection Type of Add. You set this using the four icons to the left side of the Context Sensitive Toolbar. The Add icon is the second icon from the left and shows two overlapping squares.

When you have the  Selection Type set to Add, move your mouse pointer over the other areas of the photo you want to keep. As each one is highlighted, click to add it to the existing selection.

After selecting the objects in the photo that you want to keep you will see the marching ants around those areas.

As great as the Select Object Tool is, you may still find areas that you can’t select and which you need to refine.

Refining the Selection

As good as this initial selection looks, there are problem that aren’t immediately obvious. One example is the corner of the laptop keyboard.

In this screenshot you can see the part of the computer has been missed as well as the corner of a post it note. The way to select these areas is to draw around them.

Using your mouse with the Select Object Tool in the Lasso Mode (dropdown option in the Context Sensitive Toolbar), click and draw around the area you want to add to the selection. When you release your mouse button the area is added.

Removing the Photo Background

After selecting what you want to keep in the photo, it’s time to create the layer mask to remove the background. Whilst you could remove the background using one of the erase tools, using a mask is preferable because it’s non-destructive. There are also other tools and techniques you can use to refine a layer mask to improve your selection.

With the selection in place, click the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of the Photoshop Layers window. This looks like a light-coloured square with a dark circle in the centre.

When you add the layer mask to the layer it converts the active selection into a mask that removes the background from the photo. The background that’s been removed is then displayed with a checked pattern, indicating that it’s transparent.

As this is a mask, you can easy hide it to show the background again if you need to. But you can also refine the mask to improve the results using the Select and Mask tool in Photoshop. You can learn more in this video where I demonstrate the entire process, including removing the unwanted objects on the desk.

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Summary of Remove the Background from a Photo

In this tutorial we’ve looked at one technique you can use to remove the background from a photo. The Photoshop Select Object Tool can automatically select the objects in a photo which makes the technique easy to use with most photos. After using a layer mask to remove the unwanted background you can replace it with a new one.

A similar task to removing the background in a photo is to replace the sky. In this tutorial I explain how to do this easily using Photoshop’s sky replacement tools.

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