Thursday, July 29, 2010

Photo Thursdays - Studio Background

Have you ever taken a picture that you absolutely loved, but hated the background? Me too. It happens often. What if you could take away the background and replace it with something that looks like a backdrop in a photo studio? This way you can have a professional-looking photo without dropping the huge bucks and enduring the miserable sitting time at a photo studio. Granted, this isn't perfect and takes a bit of work, but if you have dedication you can transform a great snapshot into a framed piece of work your family can enjoy.

Step 1: Open the photo you want to edit in Photoshop.

Step 2: Cut out the background. If you have forgotten how to do this, click here to refresh your memory.

Step 3: Once the background is cut out, you need to select the colors for your backdrop. To do this, go to the Tools palette and click on the foreground color (large colored square). This will bring up a dialog box that will allow you to select a foreground color. Press OK once you have the desired foreground.

Step 4: Do the same thing as in Step 3, but this time with the background color.

TIP: When choosing these two colors, I would recommend having one be a dark neutral (dark gray) and the other a dark color that fits well with the subject(s) in your photo. In the photo I edited, I selected a dark gray for the foreground and a dark brown for the background. True, the brown isn't in the photo, but it's neutral and you really can't go wrong with neutrals. Besides, there's an additional step that will make everything right.

Step 5: Go to the bottom of the Layers palette and press the icon that looks like a corner of a page being peeled away. This will create a new layer. This new layer will be placed above your cutout layer. Move this below your cutout layer and make sure this layer is selected.

Step 6: Hold the Ctrl (Command key on a Mac) key on your keyboard and at the same time press the 'A' button and quickly let go of both keys. You should see marching lines going around your image. This means this layer is now selected.

Step 7: Go to the Filter menu, down to Render and select Clouds. You now have a backdrop of sorts. If you love it, then stick with it. If not, proceed to the next step.

Step 8: Go to the Filter menu, down to Render and select Difference Clouds. When I did this it changed my background into something more compatible with the colors in the cutout photo.

Now things are looking great except the cutout looks harsh against the backdrop. This can usually be solved by applying a drop shadow to the cutout layer.

Step 9: Double click on the right edge of the cutout layer in the Layers palette. This will bring up the Layer Style dialog box. Select the Drop Shadow option.

Step 10: Manipulate the Size, Distance and Spread options until you see a drop shadow that adds depth to the photo, but doesn't look too forced or fake. Each photo is different, so it's difficult to give specifics here. My best advice is to start by boosting the Size option.

Once you've done this, your masterpiece is done. It looks pretty good.

SOME NOTES: First off, I did a hasty cutout job on this tutorial. I was more concerned with getting the backdrop done than cutout perfection, but when you do it for yourself take the time to do a good job with the cutout. A good cutout will make your backdrop more believable than anything else you could do.

Secondly, this isn't the ONLY way to create a backdrop in Photoshop. In fact, there are hundreds of different backdrops you can create. This is just a simple way that looks quite similar to many photo studio backdrops.

Finally, experiment. Have fun. If the two colors you choose don't work out, go back a few steps in your history palette and try some different colors. Oh, and have fun!
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