This tutorial demonstrates how to extract backgrounds utilising the Background Eraser Tool and the Eraser Tool. To work along, you are welcome to download the image I am working with - (St George’s Church Cullercoats, England) - Here. Unzip the file and open the image onto Photoshop’s workspace.
Understand The Workspace And Palettes
Undo and Navigation Steps
Two ways of undoing steps are from the top menu, Edit then Step Backwards. Alternatively, click a previous snapshot in the History Palette.
Navigate (zoom in and pan) your image using the Navigator Palette,
or the Zoom Tool.
Activate The Hand Tool by tapping the Spacebar, keeping the Spacebar pressed, pan your image in the usual way.
Open your Start Image onto Photoshop’s workspace.
Grab your image’s top-right menu, and drag it diagonally, upwards - to display its outer grey canvas.
Now, from the Tools Toolbar, activate the Background Eraser Tool.
And to begin with, set the following settings into its Options Bar.
Background Eraser Tool Setting Notes
The Tolerance setting and Brush Size (Master Diameter) are dependant upon the needs of your photograph and sometimes need to be altered when working with different areas. The settings above work well for my Start Image: however, for personal results, experiment with different Tolerance, Sampling and Limits settings, and discover what works best for you.
Background Eraser Notes And Tips
As soon as you begin applying the Background Eraser Tool, your photograph’s Layer (in the Layers Palette), will automatically change from Background to Layer 0. This creates the transparency Layer needed for this tool to operate correctly. The Background Eraser Tool deletes background pixels as you drag your cursor over them. Important! You must remember to keep the following Crosshair over the pixels your wish to delete, and not over the areas you wish to retain. The Crosshair samples the background, and removes all similar-coloured pixels.
Display Your Cursor’s Crosshair
From the top menu, choose Edit then choose Preferences then choose Cursors.
Now, mark the following Show Crosshair in Brush Tip box, then click OK.
Protect Foreground Colour Tip
If you would like Photoshop to protect a certain colour from being erased, for example, the church’s brown pixels: then first, mark the following Protect Foreground Colour box.
Now, Alt/Click to sample the church’s midtone colours: and the Foreground Swatch will change to reflect your colour choice .
Now, when you apply the Background Eraser around the edges of the church, Photoshop will try to prevent the active Foreground Colour from being erased from your photograph.
Take a little time to familiarise yourself with the Background Eraser Tool.
Quickly Resize The Brush
You can quickly resize the Brush by tapping the Outer Bracket Keys (with caps Off).
3/ Tutorial Continued
Now, left-click over the sky area, (or part of your own photograph), and a circular area will be removed; and replaced by the following Chessboard Transparency effect.
The Chessboard Background is Photoshop’s way of displaying transparency.
Now, whilst avoiding the building, continue to left-click, subsequently removing more sky; for quickness left-click and drag your cursor over the sky.
If you make a mistake either Step Backwards, or click an earlier snapshot in the History Palette.
To remove stubborn sky pixels ensure the Crosshair (inside the circle) is directly over the area you wish to erase then repeatedly left-click.
Continue removing sky pixels, slowly and carefully; and check your progress as you work.
If you release the left-side mouse button regularly you can quickly rectify errors by stepping backwards a step or two.
4/ Eraser Tool Tip
From the Tools Toolbar, activate the Eraser Tool.
And set the following attributes into its Options Bar.
Now, remove large areas of sky being very careful not to touch the building.
Quickly Adjust The Brush Size
To adjust the Brush Size, tap your Keyboard’s Outer Bracket Keys - ensuring the Keyboard is set to lower case, and not capitals.
Remember to return to the Background Eraser Tool when working close to the church or elements you wish to retain.
After you have removed the sky or the background elements of your photograph, you are ready for the next step.
Zoom into your image using the Zoom Tool .
And ensure the Background Eraser Tool is active. Then set a Tolerance of around 45% - remember, settings depend on your photograph.
Now, hover your cursor over the steeple and ensure the cross inside the circle-guide is close to but does not touch the steeple - or the element you wish to retain.
Then left-click. You will notice the blue sky has been removed and the steeple remains untouched.
If you place the cross over the element you wish to keep, and left-click the following will happen.
To rectify this error, go back a step or two and reapply the Background Removal Tool.
Now, continue left-clicking close to the steeple (or your own element) slowly removing the background elements - as illustrated below.
Navigate around your photograph and remove the sky from the corner of the church, as illustrated below.
Continue removing the sky that surrounds the building in exactly the same way - altering the Master Diameter, Hardness, and Tolerance as needed.
Pay special attention to the areas indicated below, ensuring the Brush Size (and Tolerance) are adjusted when needed - for accuracy, Zoom in further.
Remember to remove stubborn background pixels with the Eraser Tool; however, be careful with this Tool; it is not as forgiving as the Background Eraser Tool - and removes all pixels not just background pixels.
After you have removed all visible background pixels, you are ready for the next step.
7/ Create A Fill Layer Optional
To ensure your background has been completely removed, from the top menu, choose Layer then choose New Fill Layer then choose Solid Colour.
From the subsequent New Layer dialogue box, (accept the default settings), then click OK.
From the subsequent Colour Picker dialogue box, left-click over a contrasting colour to the background you have just removed. In my instance, I am choosing Solid White - then click OK.
A white Layer, (or your chosen colour) will then be placed above your image.
To reveal your image; from the Layers Palette, left-click and drag the photograph Layer above the white Fill Layer. The white background will highlight background pixels that were not completely removed - as illustrated below.
Now, activate the Background Eraser Tool, then Zoom into your image and carefully remove the remaining background pixels; remembering to experiment with the Brush Size, (Master Diameter), and the Tolerance. The Eraser Tool can be helpful; however, ensure you don’t erase parts of the church.
Keeping Zooming out of your image to check your progress.
When you are satisfied that every stray background pixel has been removed, you are ready for the next step.
10/ Delete The Fill Layer
From the Layers Palette, right-click the Colour Fill 1 Layer.
And from the subsequent drop-down list click Delete Layer.
Congratulations, you have cleanly removed the background, and your photo object can now be dragged onto a different background, or onto an image of your choice using the Move Tool.
Preserve your image’s transparency by saving it as a Transparent Gif. Alternatively, if you save it as a PSD File you will retain the Chessboard Transparency.
Now you are familiar with the Background Eraser Tool you can have lots of fun removing backgrounds from photographic objects.
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