Trade Tricks: Replacing Backgrounds
Three easy steps to save or enhance your portraits
Do you have a portrait of a subject who looks lovely, but is ruined by a busy and unappealing background? Consider performing some simple tricks in the computer to help it out. Replacing the background can introduce a new feel or mood and save a photograph that might otherwise be headed straight for the trash bin.
The image here is a good example of why you'd want to do this. The most predominant problem is the tree coming out of the couple's heads. The house on the left side of the image is too prominent as well and tends to draw the eye away from what's important in the photo.
Cut. The first step is to separate the subjects from the busy background. Image-editing software has three selection tools to accomplish this. The Lasso, Polygonal Lasso and Magnetic Lasso tools all perform the same function, but work in different ways. Try using each one to see which works best for you. The Lasso requires that you hold down the mouse key while continuously outlining your subject. To use the Polygonal Lasso, click a series of anchor points around your subject (to delete anchor points and back up, use the backspace key). By moving the mouse around the subject, the Magnetic Lasso "grabs" onto the edges of your subject and then automatically plants its own anchor points.
The next step is to cut out the subject. First outline around the subject using one of the Selection tools located in your tools palette. Hold down the Shift key to add or the Alt key to subtract the selection. When you're finished, you'll see what looks like marching ants surrounding the subject. Go to Edit > Copy, then Edit > Paste. The selection will be copied and pasted as a separate layer.