Articles For Photographers
How to Replace a Distracting Background
by Sue Barthelow
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 works well this time.
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.
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.
I select Burlap for my texture since it works well with the barrel and reflection.
Bringing it Together
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.
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.