Photoshop Tutorial: How to Delete and Replace an Image Background

Ever wonder how graphic artists create fake pictures? Ever wonder how hoaxers manage to put ghosts and monsters in otherwise ordinary photos? Ever wonder how your friend has a framed photo of herself standing on top of Mt. Everest, when you’re absolutely certain that she’s never been there?

It’s no secret, actually. The key is simply putting two or more pictures together to make a brand new (and well, fake, yet passable) image. And it all starts by deleting and replacing the background of a picture and trading it for something else.

For practice, you need a simple picture with one object in a single-color background. A picture of your cat standing against a white wall, for example, would be a good place to start. Also consider pictures that are crisp and clear. Avoid pictures that are blurry or full of shadows.

Step 1: Start by opening image with a central element (e.g., a cat, a notebook, an apple, etc.) in Photoshop. On the Layers panel, right click on the current layer and select duplicate layer. This allows you to keep a redundant copy of your original picture. This is particularly helpful if you mess up and need to start over.

Step 2: Unclick the eye icon on the first layer to make it invisible. Then, click on the top layer. For this exercise, you will be working solely on the top layer.

Step 3: On your workspace, zoom in on the central element. Press your Ctrl key and the plus sign (+) key together until the central element occupies the majority of your workspace.

Step 4: On the Tools panel, click on the Eraser tool. If you’re not sure which one it is, gently mouse over the icons until you find the right tool. Set the eraser brush size to 2 pixels. You are now ready to erase the background.

Step 5: Very gently run the eraser tool on the external edges of your central element. Since you are using a very thin brush, you will be deleting a very small portion of the background. But don’t worry; we’ll get to that later. Keep using the eraser tool until you delete the entire external edge of your central element. When you’re done, there should be a blank spot surrounding the element.

Step 6: Go back to the Tools panel, and select the Polygonal Lasso Tool. On your workspace, create a lasso around your central element. Remember to click the lasso tool on the blank portion (the area you just erased), and not on the central element or the background. Keep clicking the lasso tool until the central element is completely selected. A dashed polygon should now be encircling your central element.

Step 7: Go to Select on your file menu; then click Inverse. The background is now selected. Then, hit Delete on your keyboard. And voila, the background’s gone!

Step 8: Before you mix and match the central element with different pictures, try playing with color backgrounds first. Create a lower layer and fill it with color. Keep changing the color until you get the one you want. You can even place your central element against multi-colored backdrops. You can also use gradients to jazz up the background.

Step 9: If you want to place your central element in a completely new setting, select a picture with trees, mountains, beaches, or whatnot (whatever you want). Then, drag it to a lower layer. Play with your central element and move it around the new background to achieve the look and feel that you prefer.

That’s it. Pretty easy, huh?

Don’t despair if you don’t get it right the first time. Practice makes perfect. Keep tinkering with your Photoshop, and before you know it, you’ll be an expert.

Good luck and have fun with your experiment!

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