Removing a background with Quick Selection and Refine Edge in Photoshop

Before and After images for removing background Photoshop tutorial

Before and after.


Great for complex backgrounds.
Created in Photoshop CS5.

Quick Steps

  1. Unlock your photo layer and create a duplicate of your photo layer
  2. Create a new layer with a solid background color of your choice
  3. Use the Quick Selection Tool from the Tools Palette to loosely select the parts of the foreground objects you want to keep
  4. Fill in selection using the Lasso Tool
  5. Click on the Refine Edge… button on the top toolbar
  6. Check the Smart Radius checkbox under Edge Detection
  7. Make sure the Refine Radius Tool is active (click and hold-down your mouse button on the icon next Edge Detection to check)
  8. Using the Refine Edge Tool, paint around the edges of the foreground objects you want to keep.
  9. Touch-up your selection with the Erase Refinements Tool if necessary and click OK
  10. Inverse your selection: Command + Shift + i or go to Select > Inverse
  11. Press Delete

Detailed Steps

Bird and Bunny starter photo

Let's start with this adorable photo of my parakeet Roubaix on a bunny.

1. Open your photo in Photoshop

You can drag your photo onto the Photoshop icon on your dock, or if Photoshop is open, you can go to File > Open and find your photo

2. Unlock the photo layer

Look in your Layers Palette and double-click on your photo’s layer. It usually says Background.

Name this layer. I named it “Original”.

3. Duplicate your photo layer

Now that your photo layer is unlocked, you can duplicate it and keep your original safe.

With the layer selected, press Command + j. Or right-click on the layer you want to duplicate and select Duplicate Layer… from the fly-out menu.

New layer button in Photoshop

Click the New Layer button at the bottom of your Layers Palette.

You should have three layers.

4. Create a background layer

Creating a background layer will help you see the edges of your selection once you delete the background from your photo.

Click on the Create a new layer button button or go to Layer > New > Layer.

Click on the Paint Bucket Tool in the Tools Palette, select the background color you would like to use, and fill the new layer with your color.

Using the Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop CS5

Your selection does not need to be perfect. As you can see in the sample above, part of the bird's nose and parts of the bunny are outside of the selection.

5. Select your foreground object

Click on the Quick Selection Tool in your Tools Palette and click on the objects in your photo you would like to keep. The Quick Selection Tool tends to select groups of similar contiguous colors, so I’ve found that starting in the center of an object and dragging out works best. Don’t drag into or click the background, because that will add it to your selection.

You can increase and decrease the size of your Quick Selection Tool by using the [ and ] keys.

If you are having trouble with the Quick Selection Tool, you can create a selection of your objects with the Lasso Tool. You do not need your selection to be perfect because you will refine the edges of your selection later. You can also use a combination of both tools, just be sure to hold down the Shift key to get the Add to selection version of your selection tool.

Refine Edge button in Photoshop CS5

Click on the Refine Edge... button at the top of Photoshop

Photoshop CS5 Smart Radius checkbox

Check Smart Radius within the Edge Detection group.

Refine Radius Dropdown in Photoshop CS5

Make sure the Refine Radius Tool is active.

Bird with Photoshop refined edge

Your selection does not have to be perfect. We will fill in the blanks later.

6. Refine the edges of your selection

This is the fun part. Once you click the Refine Edge… button, the Refine Edge menu opens up. Drag this menu out of the way so you can see how your selections affect your photo.

Make sure the Smart Radius checkbox is checked and the Refine Radius Tool is selected.

Using the Refine Radius Tool, paint over the edges of your selection. This will add the small details like fur and hair to your selection.

You can use the sliders in the Adjust Edge group to fine-tune your selection. Don’t worry about things looking perfect at this step. As you can see in my sample photo, part of the bird’s nose is not selected and bits of the background around the bird are part of the selection.

Click OK.

Bird and bunny refined selection

Selection with refined edge.

Image with background deleted

Image with background deleted.

7. Delete background

Now you should see your selection around your foreground object.

Inverse your selection by pressing Command + Shift + i or going to Select > Inverse.

Press the Delete key.

You should now be able to see the background layer you created earlier.

Photoshop CS5 History Palette

Click on the empty box next to the step you would like to be your source image for the History Brush.

8. Touch-up image

Use the History Brush Tool to fill in the unwanted spaces within your foreground image.

Open the History Palette and make sure to click within the open box next to an action a few steps back to select that state of the image you are working with (see example).

Use the Eraser Tool to remove parts of the background that are still present.

Completed bird and bunny photo

Completed bird and bunny image.

9. Done!

You can now place your foreground image on any background you wish!

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