How to add a coloured background to your portraits in Photoshop

Nov 28, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

How to add a coloured background to your portraits in Photoshop

Nov 28, 2016

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Adding coloured backgrounds to portraits is often done in camera at the time of shooting. It’s a quick and easy process that can be done either with the use of gels on your flashes, or by using a coloured backdrop. Sometimes, though, you’re shooting for a client, you don’t know what colour they ultimately want. Or, perhaps it’s for yourself, but you haven’t decided what colour you want the background to be.

In this Photoshop tutorial from Phlearn, Aaron Nace shows us how we can quickly go from a simple grey or white background, to any colour background we want. Aaron shows us some of the finer points of masking around hair to get a clean mask, and then giving the background a more natural feel with a vignette.

YouTube video

The overall process is fairly straightfoward.

  • Create a selection around your subject with the magic wand tool
  • Refine the section to deal with fringing and tricky areas like hair
  • Make a mask from the selection
  • Add a solid colour layer underneath your masked out subject
  • Create an adjustment layer above the solid colour with a mask to create a vignette

The magic wand tool is an ideal starting point for cutting out subjects which were photographed on a solid clean background. You can extract subjects from other backgrounds, but it will take a little more work, and the pen tool is generally a wiser choice.

An alternative to creating separate solid colour & vignette adjustment layers is to simply use a single gradient adjustment layer. With the mode set to radial, producing a smooth vignette from one colour to a slightly darker version of the same colour is quite trivial. But, keeping it as two separate layers allows you to more easily swap out the colour if needed, without affecting the vignette.

changing_background_colours

You could, of course, add any background you want to the shot after you’ve masked it out. But if you’re using some kind of location with pre-existing lighting as your background, you’ll want to make sure the lighting on your subject matches it. Or, you could always fake the location in-camera with the assistance of a slide projector.

What other tips do you have for swapping subjects onto other backgrounds? Is this something you find yourself doing often? Or is whatever the camera captures what’s in the final image? Let us know in the comments.

[via Phlearn]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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2 responses to “How to add a coloured background to your portraits in Photoshop”

  1. Gandalf Avatar
    Gandalf

    the new mask refine function in cc2017 sucks.. i don´t get the same good results as with cc2015.

    1. Steve Thewis Avatar
      Steve Thewis

      Once you made the selection, go to Select- Select& mask. Press and Hold SHIFT while clicking on Select&Mask. Now, if you done it right, the old refine edge window is back :)