I made this image of a Demoiselle Crane and wasn’t happy with the way the background turned out. Overall, I got the eyes to be sharp and the background to be blurred out, but I would have preferred not to have the gray at the very top. I decided to rectify the background in Photoshop CC and here is how I did it. By no means do I mean that this is the only way to alter a background in Photoshop. This is just the way I chose to do it.
I began by taking a slice of the preferred green from the left side of the image and creating an identical sized frame full of that green. There are many ways one could have created this background image, but here is how I did it. I cropped a small portion of the left of the bird and in Photoshop CC, scaled that image to the same size as the main bird image.
Now, I have two files in Lightroom (LR), the first one being the as-shot image of the bird and the second one being this background. Choose both of them in the Library module of LR and right click to open them as layers in Photoshop.
The two layers can be seen in the layers panel of Photoshop CC.
Using the layer mask icon of Photoshop CC, open a layer mask for the top layer, which is the layer for the bird image.
The layer panel will look like this. The white is the layer mask.
Then, Select > Color Range, to make a selection in the layer mask.
This results in the following automatic selection.
In this selection, white is see through, while black is blocking. Imagine the layer mask to be on top of the layer. Wherever there is white in the mask, the underneath layer is revealed and wherever there is black in the mask, it is hidden.
So, this mask reveals most of the bird, but notably, the eyes will be hidden and parts of the neck will be partially hidden. This is not what we want. Despite this, the initial color range selection is of great help, because the edges are detected well and we don’t have to laboriously select the edges and make all kinds of ugly errors in the process.
Notice the three eyedropper icons just below the “Save” button. The dropper with the + sign when enabled and used, will add some colors of the image to the mask selection and the dropper with the – sign when enabled and used, will remove some colors from the mask. I played some with these two droppers and ended up with this mask.
Still not perfect. I want the whole bird to be clearly visible. The gray areas of the mask will partially hide the bird. To correct this, I pick a feathered brush and painted white in the gray areas inside the bird, making sure that I don’t go too close to the edges. I end up with the following mask.
Sidebar Tip – when you want to paint on the mask, sometimes, it is not visible on the screen. To make it visible in the main screen, press the “\” key, which is usually above the “Enter” key. This makes it visible in red and white. To make it visible in black and white, now use the “`” key, which is usually above the “Tab” key.
This corrected mask (above) is pretty good. I now have a mask that will precisely reveal the bird. Coming to think of it, what I really need is a way to reveal the background from the background layer, and so I decide to invert this mask.
I want the white area to be perfectly white. So, I take a brush and paint the background area totally white in this mask, being very careful not to paint over the edges.
At this point, go back and look at the layers panel. If we want to hide the bird and reveal the background, this mask needs to be in the layer that has the background. But, now, this mask is in the bird layer. This can easily be corrected. Drag the mask from the bird layer to the background layer.
Now, the layer mask is in the correct layer. Still the image looks the same as the original. No change. That is because the bird layer is on top of the background layer. Let us reverse this. Push the whole background layer, including the mask, to the top.
To be clear, in the top layer, the background layer and the mask both exists. The mask has black all over the area containing the bird, meaning – the bird is blocked in the top layer, while fully revealing the background. Therefore, we are able to see the background from the top layer. The black area, since it blocks the top layer from being visible, reveals the underneath layer, the bird itself.
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