How to Remove the Background in Photoshop

Quickly and easily delete the background of a picture

Photographer Editing Photos on her computer
vgajic / Getty Images

If you have a great selfie that's ruined by a photobomber behind you or want to take something from the foreground of one image to put it in the other, you'll want 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.

All 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 the same way or will require a slightly different process.

Settings for the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop

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 fill it with random elements of your image. Select Window > Layers, then right-click (or tap and hold) your main layer and select Layer from Background, and 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, but 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

When you click an image with the Magic Wand, it automatically selects all adjacent pixels of the same color as the one you selected. It 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).

The Magic Wand tool in Photoshop

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.

Lasso Tool options in Photoshop

Use a Quick Mask

The Quick Mask tool is a more hands-on and nuanced way of selecting an element of an image.

  1. Select the Quick Mask tool, then select the Brush tool from the Tools menu.

    An image open in Photoshop with the Brush and Quick Mask tools highlighted
  2. Using careful brush strokes, paint everything you want to select, and it will turn red. To fine-tune your selection, use the Erase tool or click the color switcher from black to white.

    An image in Photoshop with part of the background selected with a Quick Mask. The Erase tool and color switcher are highlighted
  3. When you're finished, select the Quick Mask tool again to see your selection.

    The finished selection after painting on a Quick Mask in Photoshop, with the Quick Mask button highlighted
  4. Once you've selected what you want to, press Delete to erase it. You can also cut or fill the background to remove it. If you remove the foreground instead, press Command/Ctrl-Z to undo, and then press Command/Ctrl-Shift-I to reverse the selection.

Use Channels

The Channels option breaks your image's colors into its components so you can adjust them separately. You can also use it to remove the background. Here's how.

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

    The Channels option under Windows in Photoshop
  2. Select each channel individually and look for the one with the greatest contrast between the foreground and background.

    An image open in Photoshop with the Channels window highlighted
  3. Press Ctrl (or Command) and click the channel's thumbnail to select it. Invert your selection by pressing Ctrl (or Command)+Shift+I.

  4. Return to the Layers window and click the Add a Layer Mask button at the bottom. You might also find this option under Windows > Layers > Add Layer Mask.

    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 higher contrast before completing the above steps.

    An image open in Photoshop with the
  5. Photoshop will "mask off" everything you'd selected, leaving the rest.

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 into 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, and then select the Magic Eraser.

    An image open in Photoshop with the Magic Eraser tool highlighted
  2. Click any background elements you want to remove, and it will delete them.

    An image in Photoshop with its background partially deleted with the Magic Eraser tool
  3. Keep clicking until all of the background elements are gone.

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, and select the Background Eraser.

    An image open in Photoshop, with the Background Eraser tool highlighted
  2. 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.

    Settings for the Background Eraser tool in Photoshop
  3. 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.

  4. 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.