How to Remove Background in Photoshop Elements 3

beachball with background removed

 Wikimedia Commons

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Save the Photo and Open Elements

baby with pumpkin
Right click and save this image to your computer if you want to follow along with the tutorial.

 Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

This is the new granddaughter of a friend of ours. Isn't she adorable? What a perfect picture for a baby announcement!

In this first part of the tutorial, we are going to remove the distracting background from the photo to isolate just the baby and her pumpkin-pillow. In the second part we will use the cut-out picture to create the front of a baby announcement card.

Photoshop Elements 3.0 offers several selection tools we could use to isolate the object in this photo: The selection brush, magnetic lasso, background eraser, or magic eraser tool. For this image, we found that the magic eraser worked well for quickly taking out the background, but it required some additional edge clean up after removing the background.

This technique may seem like a lot of steps, but it will show you a very flexible technique to make non-destructive selections in Elements that are very flexible. For those that are familiar with Photoshop, this is a way to simulate something that works just like layer masks.

To begin, save the image above to your computer, then go to the standard edit mode in Photoshop Elements 3 and open the photo. To save the image, right click on it and choose Save Picture As... or drag and drop it into Photoshop Elements directly from the Web page.

Macintosh users, replace Command for Ctrl, and Option for Alt wherever these keystrokes are referred to in the tutorial.

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Duplicate the Background and Start Erasing

cut out baby with photoshop elements

Lifewire / Sue Chastain

The first thing we want to do is duplicate the background layer so we can restore parts of the image if our background removal gets too sloppy. Think of it as a safety net. Make sure your layers palette is showing (Window > Layers) and then click on background in the layers palette and drag it up and drop it onto the new layer button at the top of the palette. Now you should have background and background copy showing in your layers palette.

Click the eye icon next to the background layer to temporarily hide it.

Select the Magic Eraser tool from the toolbox. (It's under the eraser tool.) In the options bar, set the tolerance to around 35 and uncheck the contiguous box. Now click on the yellow and pink blankets surrounding the baby and watch them disappear as in the image below...

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Erasing the Background

cut out baby with photoshop elements

Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

It may take 2-3 clicks in different areas. Don't click on the arm at the left or you will erase most of the baby as well.

If you see some small parts of the baby becoming erased, don't worry about it — we'll fix it in a bit.

Next we'll drop in a temporary backdrop to help us see the areas we need to clean up with the regular eraser tool.

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Adding a Filled Backdrop

add filled backdrop

Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

Click the create adjustment layer button on the layers palette (second button) and choose solid color. Pick a color (black works well) and then OK. Then drag the black layer below the partially erased layer.

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Erasing More Stray Bits

erase more stray bits with photoshop elements

 Sue Chastain, Lifewire, 2018

In the options bar, switch to the eraser tool, pick the 19 pixel hard brush, and start brushing away the arm and bits of remaining background. Be careful as you get close to the edges of the baby and the pumpkin. Remember ctrl-Z for undo. You can also resize your brush using the square bracket keys as you work. Use Ctrl-+ to zoom in so you can see your work better.

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Creating a Clipping Mask

create a clipping mask with photoshop elements

Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

Next we are going to create a clipping mask to help us fill in the holes and refine our selection. In the layers palette, double click on the name of the Background copy layer and name it Mask.

Duplicate the background layer again and move this layer to the top of the layers palette. With the top layer selected, press Ctrl-G to group it with the layer below. The screenshot below shows you how your layers palette should look.

The layer below becomes a mask for the layer above. Now wherever you have pixels in the layer below, the layer above will show, but the transparent areas act as a mask for the layer above.

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Refining the Selection mask

Switch to the paintbrush — color does not matter. Make sure your mask layer is the active one and start painting with 100% opacity to fill in the parts of the baby that were erased earlier.

Hide the black fill layer and toggle the background on and off to check for any other areas that might need to be painted back in. Then just paint on the mask layer to fill them in.

If you see any remaining unwanted pixels, switch to the eraser and take them out. You can switch back and forth between paintbrush and eraser as much as you need to get the selection just right.

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Smoothing out the Jaggies

gaussian blur with photoshop elements

Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

Now make the black-filled layer visible again. If you're still zoomed in you may notice that the edges of our mask are a little jagged. You can smooth it out by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Set the radius to about 0.4 pixels and click OK.

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Eliminating Fringe Pixels

eliminate fringe pixels with photoshop elements

Lifewire / Sue Chastain​

Now double click the zoom tool button to get back to 100% magnification. If you're happy with the selection you can skip this step. But if you see unwanted fringe pixels around the edges of the selection, go to Filter > Other > Maximum. Set the radius to 1 pixel and it should take care of the fringe. Click OK to accept the change, or cancel if it's removing too much around the edges.

Save your file as a PSD. In part two of the tutorial we'll do some color correction, add a drop shadow, text, and a border to make a card front.