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Background Removal

Removing the background in a photo can be a useful thing to know how to do. Some people would like to do this for their auction or e-commerce store images. While background removal is not practical for all items, it is for high dollar items and items that will be using the same images repeatedly.

There are many ways to accomplish background removal as well as numerous image editing programs to accomplish it with.

Adobe Photoshop is one program but it is very expensive. If you are not a graphic designer the price may be over kill just to do background removal and other photo touchups such as sharpen, brighten, contrast etc..

There are some very good alternative graphic editing programs. Paint Shop Pro is a more affordable program and you can accomplish the same thing. Check on ebay as you can get some great deals.

I have Paintshop Pro 8 and Paintshop Pro X. I really like PSP8 so will be using this version for my tutorial.

This tutorial has many illustrations and goes step by step so it's kind of long.

I will be using the:

vector pen tool
vector layer
magic wand selection tool

For my photo I chose a nature scene with elephants. I'm going to remove the handsome guy in front.

d (57K)

First, before I get started I want to duplicate my background layer. I like to keep the original image on it's own layer and hidden to go back to if I want to start fresh with the image. In the layer palette I right click on the background layer. From the menu I choose "duplicate".

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Now I have a duplicate background layer and I hide the bottom "background" layer by clicking on the "eye" which places a red X on the layer.

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Next I'm going to make a new vector layer and name it outline. In the layer palette I click on the "new vector layer" icon. In the pop-up window I gave the layer a name and now I have a new vector layer in my layers palette.

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I have my tool bar docked at the bottom of my workspace. You may have your workspace set up differently.

From the tool bar I'll select my pen tool.

a (3K)

From the tool options palette I adjust to these settings

mode - drawing
segment type - point to point
line style - solid
width - 1

b (6K)

From the materials palette I select my foreground color to one that will contrast with my photo.

This time I choose red. I also set my background color to transparent. Now the pen tool is set to outline the image I want to isolate from the background.

c (15K)

Working on the "outline" vector layer I'm ready to start the outline. I'll start to place the pen nodes beginning at the tip of the trunk.

The pen nodes are the squares you see joining the lines. The nodes could be described as joints because when you grab a node with the pen tool and pull it out of place, the adjoining lines flex like your elbow. In this way you can adjust their positioning.(some of the images are zoomed in so they look pixelated)

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Ok, I cheated and did the full outline without you. I've come all the way around and I need to close the path by joining the last node to the first. With the pen tool hovering over the first or last node, right click. From the drop down menu click "edit" and "close". The first and last nodes are joined and the path is closed.

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Now we have the entire body outlined. You can zoom in all around the body to be sure the line is positioned correctly preparing for the background removal. But we also need to outline the section between the flank and tail. To do that we need to start another line.

g (39K)

To start a new line you will need to right click on the photo with the pen tool. From the drop down menu click on "new drawing". When you start a new drawing your vector layer will have a new sub-layer. I named my sub-layers "outerline" and "flank line"

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Now I'm set to start a new line path. I outlined the tail/flank section and closed the nodes as before.

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The outlining is finished.

Once you get the hang of the pen tool it won't take too long do an outline.

By this time your probably saying to yourself, "What about the feet and trunk? Their hidden by grass and don't look so great."

Don't worry, I'll take care of that once I have him isolated from the background.

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Next I want to smooth out any little angles that might be present in a path, so first I'm going to right click on a node in the outer path around the elephant and in the drop down menu select "edit" > "select all".

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Now all the nodes for the outer path will be selected

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Once again I right click on a node and in the drop down menu, hover my mouse arrow over "node type" and click on "symmetric"This will help smooth any angles out to curves.

Do the same process for the inner path along the flank and tail.

l (34K)

Now I'm ready to remove the background.

First I'm going to remove the outer background.

I want to be working on the "outerline" layer, so in my layer palette I click on the "outerline" vector sub-layer.

I'm going to make a selection to the outside area of the outerline around the elephant.

I'm going to use the magic wand to do this and set the feather to 3. The feathering will help to create a smoother edge around the elephant when we begin the deleting.

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I clicked on an area outside the outerline. You can see the "marching ants" around the perimiter of the canvas and around the elephant.

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You can also see the selection goes beyond the outerline I made. This is because of the feathering.

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Next I'm switching to the "copy of background" layer in my layer palette. I'm ready to delete the background so it's time to press the delete key, pressing several times. This creates a soft edge.

I repeated this selecting and deleting process for the flank/tail area. Because the tail area is so thin I chose to set the feather to 1 so as not to delete too much of the tail.

m5 (50K)

Now I have the background completely removed. I placed a white background on a separate layer under the elephant. I also decided he was a little dark so I brightened him up a bit.

m6 (13K)

To clean up his feet I used his rear foot to fashion feet for the other legs and gave them some toenails. Last of all a perspective shadow and I am done.

n (14K)

Thanks for joining me. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.

graphics/tutorial/text 2009 My Digital Fixation
(previously Ilhaverdes Digital Delights)