How to remove a background in Photoshop

Channels are great for images that contain fine detail such hair, fur and foliage. Like the other techniques we've explored so far, this process works best when you're working with an image that has a solid background and clear contrast between the foreground and background elements. 

 01. Work with channels

Channels can be really effective for cutting out finer details

Open your image and navigate to the Channel panel (Windows > Channels). View each of the channels, then select and duplicate the channel with the most contrast. With the duplicate channel selected, open your levels (cmd+L) and adjust to up the contrast.

02. Clean up with the Dodge and Burn tools

The Dodge and Burn tool can help refine the contrast of a channel-based cutout

Use the Dodge and Burn tools to clean up any areas that aren't solid black or white. Set the exposure to 100 and use the Dodge tool to paint out any areas you want to lighten. Experiment with using the different ranges until you're happy with the results. 

Use the Burn tool for the opposite purpose: to darken any areas that need it. When you're happy, cmd+click your channel thumbnail to make a selection. Open your Layer panel and create a mask. Hit shift+cmd+I to invert your selection and add a Layer Mask.

03. Try the Refine Edge tool

The Refine Edge tool is really effective for cutting out hair and fur

The Refine Edge tool can be really useful when cutting out images with finer details – it works really effectively with hair and fur. To use the tool, open your image and duplicate the background layer. Use any tool to do a rough cutout of the foreground image (we used the Quick Selection tool). At this stage don’t worry too much about the finer detail of the hair. 

With the selection active, open the Refine Edge tool in your Control panel. Increase the edge detection until some of the finer detail of the hair is visible.

04. Restore detail

Use the Erase refinement tool to increase the finer detail of your cutout

To get some of the finer hair detail back into your image, check the Smart Radius checkbox and make sure you have the Refine Radius Tool selected. Then start to paint over the edges of your selection where the detail is missing. 

If you want to remove detail, switch over to the Erase Refinement tool. You can use the additional Adjust Edge option to fine-tune your selection. If you get too much of your original background showing through, use the Shift Edge tool to contrast your selection. 

When you're happy with the changes you’ve made, choose to output to Layer mask. Now you'll be able to edit your image further.

Next page: Creating cutouts using the Pen tool