Advanced Editing

Change the background of a photo

Written by Gail Bjork

How to copy and paste a new background into a photo using the selection tool and layers.

Have a great photo but don’t like the background? Change it! With a little patience and practice, a pair of images and an image editing program that offers layers you can.

This is a basic tutorial, which works best when backgrounds are fairly simple and the edges of a subject are relatively well-defined. Below you’ll find a summary of more advanced techniques, as well as links to related tutorials.

Before

Before

After

After

Changing the background of a digital image

selections

  1. Open your image and then click on an edge selection tool such as the Magnetic Lasso found in programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Elements.add subtract
  2. Carefully outline the edges of the subject. You may have to use the add and subtract icon to get a more precise outline.
  3. After the image is selected, inverse the selection. Select > Inverse.
  4. Next, open the image you plan to use for the background — in this illustration, a beach shoreline. The image will open in a new window.
  5. Select all, then Copy. Select menu > All
  6. Edit menu > Copy. The sunset image will be placed on the clipboard.
  7. Make the first window active by clicking on it; then use the paste into menu to place the clipboard image into the selected area. Edit > Paste into.
  8. If desired, move the image around with the Move tool selected until the background image is place as you like it.
  9. Save image layers as a JPEG file.

Other methods to extract an object from its background

Those who process their photos with editing programs such as Photoshop can use more advanced techniques and tools to remove a background. These techniques may require a lot of time and skill, but the results are very effective for photos with more complex backgrounds, or where precision is a priority. The tools include:

The Magic Eraser

The Magic Eraser tool erases pixels of a particular color by making them trasparent. A high Tolerance setting will erase a broad range of color values. Only similar color values to the pixel you click will be erased when the Tolerance setting is set low. Click, don’t drag, your mouse cursor when using this tool.  [Magic Eraser tutorial]

Quick Mask Mode

In Quick Mask Mode use tools such as the paint brush and eraser to paint over every detail in the image that you don’t want. You can also use selection tools, then fill the selection. When you switch back to Standard Mode, every area that has been painted or filled will be removed. [Quick Mask Mode tutorial]

Extract Filter

A more sophisticated way to isolate a foreground object is to use the Extract filter, which allows you to extract an object from its background by drawing an outline around it that also overlaps the background. It is useful ror extracting intricate objects that lack defined edges, such as hair, from their backgrounds. The Extract filter works best when you zoom in on an object however you need to have a very steady hand. If you don’t have steady hands, consider using a pen tablet.

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.

55 Comments

  • alyn, the best bet is to uninstall the program and reinstall it. Make sure you’re using the lasted version of Picasa. In the Picasa Help menu, there is a link for “Uninstalling Picasa” in the drop down menu. If the problem started recently, you may also want to try as system restore.

  • I have used picasa for several years(before Google). It is now doing strange things.Should I try to repair it; live with it; or delete and download a new copy ???

  • I just purchased a new pny 4g sd card. My camera automatically formatted the card when I put it in. I took some pictures and uploaded them to my home computer via the printer but when I tried to upload them to my office computer via the printer it does not recognize the card. I have done this many time with my former Kodak sd card. Any suggestions?

    Thank you, Paula

  • The features of the cameras are almost identical, with a few notable exceptions. Different sensors (which I’ve already discussed0 They havve different zoom lengths 36× vs 21×. the P500 has a faster continuous mode (8 frames per second vs. .70. The L100 takes 4 AA batteries that are readily available; the P500 a propriety battery.

    Get the one with the features you want most. The image quality should be about the same for each; and perform best in good light.

  • dear gail,

    thanks for your prompt response to my query, now please tell me, which one will be a better choice between Nikon L120 and Nikon P 500 ? I have got all confusing reviews on the net and I am not in a position to decide. My preference is better picture quality and better videos.

    thanks,

  • bharat, I think either Nikon would be a fine choice. Two other excellent superzooms to consider are the Canon or SX40 and the Panasonic FZ150. If you’re interested in HD video, cameras with a CMOS (also called MOS) sensor generally do a better job than ones with CCD sensors; they also do slightly better in low light. Some information on sensors >>

  • I want to buy a digi cam, I would like to have above 12 megapixel, more than 16 times zoom with full HD/HD. I have short listed Nikon L120 and P500. can you suggest which one will be a better choice? or if you can suggest any other digicam like these. A
    According to you which one is better ; Nikon or canon

    pl. guide me.

    thanks,

  • Could you please suggest a few websites from where I can download free background images for photos like home interior?

  • Jordan, you’ll need a photo editing program with layers to change colors of individual objects in a picture. The process it complicated and beyond the scope of answering it in a commenting section. I highly recommend you visit this forum and post your question there. You will get lots of expert help about this type of photo editing.

  • Sorry, I know that this is a little off topic.  I want to change the colors of different individual objects, not change the hue of the entire picture.  Is there a way I can do that?

  • were can i get more backgrounds and overlays i would like some christain ones. for the greenscreen wizard. thanks ginger

  • Thank you so much for having this! my mom was working all day to make this work and now kaboom! its done. and we have a beautiful christmas card!

  • Is there free software with layers that works on a mac?
    there’s a photo of someone where i want to change the colour of the wall!

  • Ginger, yes you can. You’ll need a program with layering capabilities like Photoshop or Gimp (Gimp is free) to remove the background. There are plenty of YouTube video tutorials on the subject so I suggest you do a search there and follow the step-by-step instructions.

  • Erum, yes you can. An internet search will reveal there are plenty of them. Sorry to not be able to provide more information than suggesting a search; we focus on digital cameras, not camera phones (though the camera in the Nokia N8 looks awesome!).

  • Can I edit pictures on my mobile? (not the mobile’s default editor) Is there any app which provides features like these? I have a symbian phone. Please help.

  • hi. im buying the greenscreen wizard and i wanted to no if u can use pictures u already have? is there a way to take out the background and make it like greenscreen so i can put in new backgrounds and special effects. if so could u explain it simple im not very good with computers but love to play with pictures thanks. ginger j

  • Anika, You can darken a background by following the steps on this page, up to “Inverse.” But before selecting the subject, “Feather” the selection tool about 4-6 pixels (the “Feather” box appears when you click on a selection tool. Feathering blurs edges by creating a transition boundary between the selection and its surrounding pixels so when you darken the background it won’t look so harsh around the edges of the subject).

    After you select the image and reverse the selection, decrease the brightness. The background will get darker but not the main subject. I suggest you make a duplicate layer of your photo and work on it, not the background layer).

    As to getting a background from the internet, make sure it’s not copyrighted first. Search for photos under Creative Commons to find a free one. You can also purchase photos for a nominal cost at places like istockphoto.com.

  • My background image also came up as a small box in the middle of my original image. Can you not just use images found on the internet for backgrounds? (I am using Gimp btw)
    I don’t know if you can help with this or direct me to a site where I can find help on this, but I have a photo with a person in the middle, and I want to make the background darker but keep the person the same brightness/colour. Is there anyway to select the person in the image and adjust the single selection separate to the background and vice versa? I can’t find where to do it! Thanks

  • Pixlr claims to the “the most popular advanced online image editor in the world.” You’d be hard pressed not to think you’re working with Photoshop when using the Pixlr editor. It offers layers and a host of sophisticated tools. You can save images to your desktop as well as files with layers. They are saved with the .pxd extension. Whenever you want to resume working on a file again, go back to the editor again and open the file. Quite impressive.

  • hi i want to do the same process you did to your picture but i dont have photoshop is there a good free website you could recommend?

  • Try an free online editor such as Aviary or Picnik. Having a decent broadband connection helps and, remember, they can’t be used off-line.

    If you can download Picasa, available for PCs and Apple Computers, it lets you easily make Photo Collages with any and all of your photos right from your desktop.

  • im looking for a website were photo montage is available to change background , because the program  you mentioned above isn’t available on my computer  .. so i was wondering if photo montage would be available online, could you plz help me.
    thank you very much

  • As far as I know, the best free program that is close to the “gold standard’ Photoshop is Gimp. Granted, you may be given more help if you inqurie at Adobe forums, but the software will not be free. Give gimp a try and let us know if it works for you.

  • Hi i downloaded the serif photoplus and could not get the lasso tool. so my layers were basically pointless. is there another way to get this effect of changing my background.

    Thanks much.

  • I am wanting to change the background on pictures and delete things such as shadows.
    I have the negatives and the pictures. Should I scan the picture to a cd or the negative? I didnt know which would be better.

    Thanks!

  • Check the help files of the program you’re using about how to enlarge a file. When you enlarge an image, it is called resampling. If an image is resampled too much, image quality will be reduced. Finding and using a larger image as the background if often the better option.

  • Hi again , Thanks so much i did it just one problem , it added but i want to make it bigger the background photo i want to resize it but i dont know how

  • Hi , sorry but i didnt understand .
    Do i have to download photoshop or something ?
    I want to change the background of my pictures for over a year im looking and i found this site , Can you please explain to me what exactly should i do ?
    Thank You
     

  • hi! i am able to change the background of my desired image but the background appears too small in size as compared to the previous one which in turn shows the previous background and a small background which i have changed lying in the middle of the image. How do i increase the size of my new background?

  • Lifeasatrucker, I’m familiar with Photokey but have never used it. It seems best suited for studio shots as you need to photography your subjects against a blue or green background for it to work best. If you photograph your subjects against a plain or non-complex scene, the tools in photoshop should suffice for you needs. The more complex the background, the more complex the steps in photoshop. There are plenty of online video tutorials for extracting a subject from a complex background.

  • This made a lot of functions in photoshop easier. I was thinking of buyings of photokey elements to edit my pictures from trucking over the country. Chaning the backgrounds is onething i wanted to experiment with. Are you familiar with photokey 3 or is it unecessary with photoshop.

    I mean does photokey offer any additional advabtages that photoshop wouldn’t?

    Thanks for the time you put in this site.

    The crazy trucker

  • hello, when I have a piece of  red or ruby jewelry no matter if I’m outside or inside my reds come out black or dark, where should my lighting or settings be??? help

  • There are plenty of tutorials online that cover a wide variety of techniques to remove and change a background. To find one that better suits your needs do a web search for “tutorial for changing background of photo.”

  • I never understood Photoshop until I read this! Thanks to you I’m doing great stuff with my pics! Thank you so much! Blessings.

  • There are three things you should look for in a program if you’re interested in changing the back ground of a photo. A program that offers layers, one that also has a Magic Wand and Lasso tool.

    There are a few free programs that offer some of these tools. You can download and try them to see if they meet your needs.

    Your best bet may to use a program like Photoshop CS or Photoshop Elements, which is more reasonably priced.

    Paintshop Pro is another reasonably priced photo editing program with Layers and a variety of editing tools.

  • Hi!…would give me some recommendations on what kind of program am I going to buy that has the capability of changing  picture background?

    Thank you!

  • Thanks a lot, it really solve my one of big problem i am new in graphics but i am able to do this.
    Thanks
    God Bless You..

  • Sorry for the delay in responding, Annie. You can use a program such as Photoshop Elements or PaintShop Pro. However, if you don’t want to buy a program, there are a few free photo editing programs that support layers such as Paint.NET and PhotoPlus. You will have to learn how to use the selection too. You may want to download and try some of the free programs listed here > You may want to check out our basic tutorial about using layers.

  • Man Thankyou so much!! I really appreciate you taking the time to help all us noobs!

  • Hi, I need help changing a background on one of my digital pics? How do I do it if I don’t have a photoshop program? Thanks!