Erase unwanted backgrounds in Photoshop

When faced with the common challenge of selecting and replacing an unwanted background we’re spoilt for choice thanks to Photoshop CS6’s comprehensive collection of tools.

Indeed, if you gave three Photoshop users the task of removing the clutter in our opening image’s background then you might see three different approaches to the task. To remove the sky, Photoshop user number one might reach for the old Magic Wand and tick Contiguous so that it will avoid selecting some of the parrot’s similarly coloured feathers. They’d then click to sample the sky pixels and then Shift-click to add other background details to the selection, and use Edit>Cut to replace the selection marquee with transparent pixels.

Quick selection

Due to the complexity and variety of some of the background’s details, Photoshop user number two might decide to select the parrot instead of the background, using the Quick Selection tool. A few swipes of this brush-based tool would select most of the parrot, although some of the bird’s feathered edges would elude the initial selection.

They’d need to use the Refine Edge command and its Refine Radius tool to add finer feathers to the selection, then invert the selection and choose Edit>Cut to delete the parrot’s unwanted background.

The Eraser tool

If Photoshop user number three moved his cursor over the Eraser compartment it might raise a few eyebrows. He might feel that the Eraser is fine for pounding unwanted pixels into oblivion, but it’s hardly up to the task of removing the busy background while preserving the parrot’s fine feathery details. However, the Eraser tool is capable of more precise compositing tasks than you’d expect, as we'll demonstrate in this quick walkthrough...

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01. First strike

The Eraser tool comes in three variants. The Magic Eraser tool works in a similar way to the Magic Wand, enabling you to select a range of similar pixels and delete them in a click.

Hold the cursor down on the Eraser tool compartment and grab the Magic Eraser. Set Tolerance to 34 and tick Contiguous. Click to delete the blue sky. Reduce Tolerance to 24 and click to delete the cream and yellow background while preserving the similarly coloured white feathers.

02. Erase the edges

The Background Eraser samples pixel colours and tones, enabling you to spray over the blue sky to remove it while preserving the edges of a subject

Grab the Background Eraser. In the Brush Preset picker, choose a soft tip with a Size of 125. Tick the Sampling: Once option. Set Limits to Find Edges. Click to sample and erase background pixels adjacent to the white feathers. To erase less delicate edges, set Limits to Discontiguous.

03. Get more control

The standard Eraser is brush-based, letting you modify options like size, softness and flow

Grab the Eraser tool. Remove any pixels that aren’t immediately adjacent to the parrot’s delicate edges. To erase background pixels running alongside the perch, hold down Shift and click to place a point. Click the cursor on another point and you’ll erase in a straight line.

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