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Articles For Photographers

How to Replace a Distracting Background

by Sue Barthelow

Image with distracting background You can improve some pictures by replacing a distracting background with something that blends into or contrasts with your subject. For this tutorial, I use Photoshop Elements to change a photo of an image reflected in the standing water of a barrel head. The background complicates the image and distracts from the main subject of the reflection.

I always work on a copy of the original image. In this case, I've already used the program's features to clean up the barrel and reflection. I'm ready to remove the background and replace it with a complimentary color using the Gradient tool and a texture filter.

Removing the Background

Since Photoshop Elements won't let me remove part of the image in a layer, I delete the picture's background from the Background layer. The program provides several tools for selecting a portion of an image. Had my background not contained many color and shade differences, I would have used the Magic Wand tool. The lasso tool The Lasso tool works well this time.

  1. Zoom in on the image by selecting View from the Menu bar and clicking on Actual Pixels. You can zoom in closer if you need to.
  2. Select the Lasso tool by clicking on it in the Toolbox.
  3. Capture a section of the background with the lasso.
  4. Delete the section by selecting Edit from the Menu bar and clicking on Clear.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary until all of the background has been removed.
  6. Resize the image to a workable size by selecting View from the Menu bar and clicking on Fit on Screen.

This action turns each selected area to a checkerboard pattern, which indicates that there is nothing in that area. I repeat the process as many times as I need. People with good manual dexterity can select a large area each time.

Adding the Background Color

I drop in the background color using the Gradient tool in a new layer. Before I start, I choose foreground and background colors that compliment the barrel image. I make the foreground color the darker one and set the background color to a lighter version of the foreground color. The gradient tool The gradient tool

  1. Create a new layer by selecting Layer from the Menu bar and clicking on New and Layer.
  2. Select colors by clicking on the foreground/background color blocks at the bottom of the Toolbox.
  3. Select the Gradient tool by clicking on it in the Toolbox.
  4. Set the gradient by clicking on Edit in the Options bar to get to the Gradient Editor's window.
  5. Adjust the handles on the color bar until they approximate the desired effect.
  6. Close the Gradient Editor's window by clicking on OK.
  7. On the new layer, press and hold the left mouse button down on the image, pull the cursor to another spot and release the mouse button to lay down the color pattern.

For my picture, I start the gradient near the top left edge and end it near the bottom right edge so it will correspond with the coloration of the barrel image. This lays down a color pattern that goes from light at the upper left corner to dark at the bottom right corner.

Adding the Background Texture

I add texture to the background gradient to give it a bit of depth and complexity. The texture provides contrast with the flatness of the objects in the reflection.

  1. Select Filter from the Menu bar and click on Texture and Texturizer to get the Texturizer window.
  2. Select a texture from the Texture pulldown menu and then adjust the Scaling and Relief to get the desired pattern.
  3. Close the Texturizer window and lay down the texture by clicking on OK.

I select Burlap for my texture since it works well with the barrel and reflection.

Bringing it Together

The gradient tool The screen image showed only the color gradient now since the new layer was on top of the Background layer. Photoshop Elements does not allow me to move the Background layer from the bottom of the layer list. To position the color image below the barrel image, I convert the Background layer to a layer.

  1. Click on Layers in the Pallet well.
  2. Double-click on the Background layer to get the New Layer window.
  3. Complete the conversion by naming the layer if desired and clicking on OK.
  4. Bring the image forward by selecting Layer from the Menu bar followed by Arrange and Bring to Front.
Image with new background

After this final action, the image is complete and ready to save.

Disclaimer: I have an old copy of Photoshop Elements - version 2. Newer versions will have the same capabilities but may offer them using different names. Photoshop Elements is a paired down version of Photoshop. The tools I use are also available in Photoshop.

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