How to Remove a Busy Background in Affinity Photo

by Oct 5, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Remove a Busy Background in Affinity Photo

In this tutorial, I’m going to explain how to remove a busy or cluttered background from an image using Affinity Photo. As this is an easier process to demonstrate than explain, I have included a video later in the tutorial showing how I removed the background from the example image.

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Let’s face it, you can’t always get into the best position when taking photographs. As hard as you try, you often end up with a cluttered and busy background which distracts from your photo. That’s why portrait photographers often shoot using a wide aperture to blur the distracting background. But what if you can’t do that and you end up with a photo like this.

Starting image showing the subject against a distracting background

To remove the unwanted background from the photo, we need to create a detailed mask. This will hide the background leaving only the Morris Man visible. It’s then possible to replace the background entirely with another image.

Start With a Rough Selection

To create our mask, we will start by making a rough selection of the background using the Affinity Photo Selection Brush Tool. You will find this in the Tools Palette on the left of the screen. The icon shows a paintbrush with a dotted circle around the tip.

The Affinity Photo Selection Brush Tool used to select the background

After choosing and sizing the Selection Brush, paint over the background to select the area. As you paint with the brush, you will see an animated dotted line appear (the marching ants) around the selection.

When working with the Selection Brush to select a busy background to delete, it’s best to work on small areas at a time. Resizing the brush using the square bracket keys [ and ] will also adjust it’s sensitivity. You can also do this by magnifying the image whilst painting. This is a hidden feature of the Selection Brush which I cover in detail in this article.

You will also find that the Selection Brush has two modes you can use, and which you can select in the toolbar. The first icon is the Add mode and the second is the Subtract.

When you use the Selection Brush in the Add mode, you add to any existing selection. When you choose the Subtract mode, it removes areas from a selection.

Using these two modes, you should be able to paint a rough selection of the background to remove.

Refine the Background Selection

After making a rough selection using the Selection Brush, we need to refine it. This is best done as a two-step process:

  1. Working at a magnified level using the Selection Brush.
  2. Using the Refine Selection dialog and tools.

Working with the Selection Brush is more of what we have been doing except that we magnify the image. You can then use the Add and Subtract Modes for the brush to refine what is and isn’t selected.

Magnify the image to 100% or higher if necessary and then inspect the edges of the selection. If you find it difficult to see with only the marching ants as a guide, turn on the Quick Mask. You’ll find this in the toolbar along the top of the screen.

Quick Mask mode in Affinity Photo

Clicking the quick mask icon will toggle the mask view on and off. When on, you will see a red mask covering the area that isn’t selected. It then often becomes easier to see the areas that need to be refined. You can then zoom into these areas and fix them using the Selection Brush. And don’t forget to use a smaller brush size to increase its accuracy.

Using the Refine Selection Tools

Whilst you can achieve a lot using only the Selection Brush, its best to finish refining the selection using the Refine Selection tools. You access this from the button displayed in the toolbar at the top of the screen when using the Selection Brush.

The Refine button in the Affinity Photo toolbar

After clicking the refine button you will see the Refine Selection dialog open. The default settings in the dialog will often automatically improve the selection.

Refining a Selection using the Affinity Photo Selection Tool

But as well as refining the selection automatically, the dialog also contains brush tools you can use to fix problem areas. For example, when you paint along an edge using the Matte brush, it causes Affinity Photo to reanalyse and refine that area of the selection.

As this is much easier to explain with a demonstration, please watch the following video. It shows the entire process from making the initial selection through to refining it with these Refine Selection brush. There’s also a special tip explaining how to refine the resulting mask using the Paint Brush Tool set to paint with the Overlay mode.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

Create the Mask to Remove the Background

Having refined your selection, it’s time to create a mask to remove the background from the photo. But just before we do that, let’s save the selection in case we want to return to it. This ensures we don’t need to repeat all the work that we’ve done so far.

To save the selection, click the Select menu and then the option “Save Selection”. You can then choose to save the selection as a “Spare channel”. Once saved, the selection appears in the Channels Studio Panel where you can reload it by right clicking.

Now to add a mask to remove the background. Click the add “Mask Layer” icon at the bottom of the Layers Studio panel. You can see this indicated in the screenshot below.

Adding the mask to the layer to remove the background from the photo

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After clicking the icon, you will see the new mask layer added below the image. This will be the reverse of what we want, hiding the subject but leaving the background, so we need to invert it.

Inverting the Layer Mask

To invert the mask, first clear the selection. You can do this in the Select menu by choosing the Deselect option. Alternatively use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + D on a Mac or Ctrl + D on a Windows PC.

After clearing the selection, you can invert the mask. First click the Mask thumbnail in the Layers Studio panel so that only the mask is selected. Then use the keyboard shortcut of Cmd + I on a Mac or Ctrl + I on a Windows PC.

You should now see only the subject of the image with the background removed. But as this is a mask, we haven’t deleted the background, only hidden it. If you add a new background layer to the image (below the layer with your subject), the subject will appear on the new background.

We can now save our image with the background removed. If you didn’t watch the video above, be sure to do that now as it demonstrates an additional masking step to improve the results.

You can learn more about using the Refine Selection Tools in my book Affinity Photo How To.

More Affinity Photo Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Affinity Photo Tutorials page.

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