Photoshop Tutorial: Masking a Photo


GOAL: This tutorial demonstrates how to mask an object from a photograph using Photoshop. This can also be called deleting a background from a photo.

Many product photos are done using a product light booth that leaves a gray shadowy area behind the subject. I've read about, and seen many, many ways to get rid of a background, but in my 25 years of trial and error, I stick with one tried and true method. Here it is…

  1. Let's begin by opening a COPY of your raw photo in Photoshop. Always work on a copy in case something goes wrong.

    I've kept this subject matter fairly simple, but the process works on any subject, no matter how complex its shape or background.
    Photoshop Masking

  2. Using the Pen Tool (P) in Photoshop, draw a path around the subject matter or object you want to separate from the background.

    Hint: a WACOM tablet and pen work really well here.

    Photoshop Masking

    I try to split the edge pixels in half. This creates a cleaner edge. My path looks like this:
    Photoshop Masking
  3. Next, I hold down the Command key and press return. This turns the path into a selection (marching ants).
    Photoshop Masking

  4. Now let's feather the edge 1 pixel. This helps the image blend into the new background.
    Choose Select > Modify > Feather
    Photoshop Masking

  5. Feather Radius: 1 pixel
    Photoshop Masking

  6. Inverse your selection
    Select > Inverse
    Photoshop Masking

  7. If your layer is the initial Background layer, you'll have to convert it to an editable layer. To do this, simply double-click the layer, name it, and click okay.
    Photoshop Masking

  8. To delete the image's background do one of the following:
    - Press Delete two times (destructive)
    - Create a layer mask (non-destructive)

    Zoom in so you can see it working on the feathered edge. Like this:
    Photoshop Masking

  9. Now your image has a nicely feathered, precise edge that will look good against most any background.
    Photoshop Masking

  10. If you see problem areas, you can always go back in the History pallet, edit your path, and try again.
  11. Before you save and close your file--remember to save your path. Click the Path tab, by the Layers and Channels tabs, double-click your Work Path, name it, and click Okay.
    Photoshop Masking


As I mentioned before, I've tried many, many different ways to mask an object, and I keep coming back to this method. It allows me total control, is editable, and once you hone your drawing skills, it's really quite speedy.


Here's a video tutorial of the same process