Updated March 2012.
It is very frustrating when you have no control on what is in the background of your pictures. Sometimes, you can change position to improve things but often it is out of your control.
Take this image, for example, that ePz member roxpic posted in our forums asking for help with. Like many photographers Alan was struggling to remove some background elements, because they had a similar tone to the foreground that he wanted to isolate.
It's a portrait shot of a tiger in snow, but unfortunately it has the classic tree growing out of the head. In this example it's even worse because the tree splits making the tiger appear to have horns. The difficulty is that the tree has similar tone to the tiger's head, and fur is not a clean cut, so if you make a standard cut-out using a lasso tool you will have a sharp unrealistic edge around the head.
Photoshop CS5 has the Refine Edge tool and there are masking programs available to help you perform complex cut outs of fine hair and fur etc. But here's a quick method for those who don't have CS5 or a masking program that'll give you realistic results rather than an image where your subject looks like a cardboard cut-out.
- Software used: Photoshop CS4
- Time taken: 10 minutes
- Try this tutorial for yourself by clicking on the image to the right to download a higher resolution image.
Step 1: Highlight the area to be removed
Make a rough selection around the head just above the tips of the fur and out to the tip of the shot making sure all the offending area is selected. Use your preferred selection tool. I used the Polygonal Lasso tool and clicked at many points around the head. The Path tool would also work, but you will find the Magic Wand or Magic Lasso both struggle with this selection.
Step 2: Cloning out the tree
Select the Clone Stamp Tool and a large brush size. Make sure the Aligned option on the tool menu options isn't active (no tick in the box). Hold the Alt key down and click on an area outside the selection in the snow that you will use to fill your unwanted area. This samples from that area. Go to the selection and paint. This is now painting from the sampled area over the tree. Letting go of the mouse returns your sample point to its original location, so the idea is to click, paint and let go many times until the whole selection is covered.
Step 3: Deselecting the cloned area
Deselect the area. Ctrl +D and you will now see that the tree has gone. But you have a tiger with what appears to be a cut out and stuck on head. This is because the edge is too sharp.
Step 4: Smudge the edges
Grab the Smudge tool and set the strength to about 50% and a pixel size of 3 to 5, depending on the image file size. Brush in from the snow into the tiger's flat head to start to shape the fur.
Go around the head making short, sweeping brush strokes until all the sharp bits have been removed. Move in a direction that looks natural, arcing the paths to the curve of the head. Then select a smaller brush size, 1 to 3 pixels, and paint over the area again, this time going in from the snow to the head and out from the head to the snow. Do a few stokes at more acute angles to make it look more natural.
Step 5: Repeat again on the sides
Repeat steps 1 to 4 on both sides. I cloned out the left and right shapes. I know the right is his tail, but I think it looks better with it missing.