How to Remove the Background in Photoshop

Quickly and easily delete the background of a picture

Fotografix/GettyImages

Got a great selfie that's ruined by a photobomber behind you? Want to take something from the foreground of one image to put it in the other? You need to learn how to remove the background in Photoshop. There are other image editing tools you can use, some free, some not, but Adobe Photoshop is one of the best out there and with a free trial, you don't even have to pay for it.

ll instructions listed below are compatible with the latest version of Adobe Photoshop CC (19.1.6). If you’re using an older version of Photoshop, some methods might not work exactly the same way, or will require a slightly different method. However, unless it’s particularly old, most should still work.

Before you Begin

  • Make sure to unlock the primary layer of the image you're working on. If you don't, deleting the background can see it filled with random elements of your image. Select Window > Layers, then right-click (or tap and hold) your main layer and select Layer from background, then select OK.
  • If, after making your selection, you're still not entirely happy about it, right-click (or tap and hold) the marching ants-like boundary of your selection and there are a whole host of tools to help you fine tune your selection.
  • Most of the following methods use tools found in the Photoshop Tools menu. If you can't find that, select Window > Tools to activate it.

Selecting the background of an image is hard and can take a long time. The best method is to select the foreground instead and press Ctrl+Shift+I (CMD+Shift+I on MacOS) to reverse your selection.

How to Remove the Background of a Picture in Photoshop

There are a number of methods you can use to remove the background in Photoshop, though some are easier than others. The majority of them focus on selecting the background, because once you've selected it, deleting it is easy. Once you've made your selection, press the Delete key to remove the background.

It's easy to make a mistake when deleting anything in Photoshop. If you do, press Ctrl (or CMD)+Z to undo your last action. If you want to undo several commands, press Ctrl (or CMD) +ALT+Z instead, as many times as you need.

Use the Magic Wand

This tool works best in images where the background is clear and heavily contrasts with the foreground. It works even better if there are no transparencies or complicated edges, such as frizzy hair. It's the fourth-tool from the top in the tools Window. Use it to select the background of your image (hold Shift and continue to select additional elements if required).

Use the Lasso

If your background is a little more complex, the Lasso tool gives you a lot of control over how to select it. The standard Lasso lets you free draw your selection; Polygonal Lasso lets you draw straight lines around your selection, while the Magnetic Lasso will try to stick to the edges of an element in the image. Press and hold over the Lasso (third from the top in the Tools menu) to choose which one to use.

Make sure to draw completely around whatever you want to select to finalize the selection. You can always press Ctrl or CMD and select or tap anywhere on the image to "close" the selection early.

Use a Quick Mask

The Quick Mask tool is a more hands-on and nuanced way of selecting an element of an image. It's the second tool from the bottom of the Tools bar, just below the twin color selections and looks like a greyscale EU flag.

  1. Select the Quick Mask tool, then select the Brush tool from the Tools menu. It's eighth from the top and looks like a paint brush.

  2. Using careful brush strokes, paint everything you want to select and it will turn red. You can also select the Erase tool and use it to fine tune your selection.

  3. When you're finished, select the Quick Mask tool again to see your selection. Feel free to jump between both modes to finalize your selection as many times as you like.

Use Channels

  1. Select Windows > Channel to open the Channels panel.

  2. Select each channel individually and look for the channel with the greatest contrast between the foreground and background.

    Fabiane Krause/EyeEM/Getty Images
  3. Press Ctrl (or CMD) and select the copied channel's thumbnail to select it. Invert your selection by pressing Ctrl (or CMD)+Shift+I.

  4. Then, in select Windows > Layers > Add Layer Mask. It's the option third from the left in the bottom menu row.

If you can't find a Channel with good contrast, pick the best one you can find and copy it. Then use a combination of the Levels, Dodge, and Burn tools to create a greater contrast, before completing the above steps.

How to Erase the Background in Photoshop

If you'd rather not select a background to only then delete it, you can always just dive right in to deleting it yourself. There are some great tools to help you do it too.

Use the Magic Eraser

Like the Magic Wand tool, the Magic Eraser tool can remove big sections of background with similar colors with one click or tap.

  1. Select or press and hold on the Eraser tool (11th from the top on the Tools menu).

  2. Select the Magic Eraser tool.

  3. Select or tap any background elements you want to remove and it will delete them.

Use the Background Eraser

Take care when erasing around the edges of your foreground as the Background Eraser tool isn't perfect and can take away elements that you want to remain if you're not careful.

  1. Select or press and hold on the Eraser tool (11th from the top on the Tools menu).

  2. Select the Background Eraser.

  3. In the toolbar at the top, select your desired brush size, select Sampling: Continuous (it looks like two color droppers hovering over a gradient), set the Limits to Find Edges, and set the Tolerance to 20 percent.

    Fotografix/Getty Images
  4. Then, as if you were using the regular Eraser, manually remove the background.

    You can also select Protect Foreground Color to make sure to preserve elements of the foreground similar to the background's coloring.

  5. You may want to fine tune your background erasing with the standard Eraser tool when finished to make sure that the whole background is removed. Zoom in close and use a smaller brush if you want to get rid of every bit of it accurately.