Why would you want to change the backgroundo a photo. A photo can say a lot about you. And the background of your photo is also a part of that message. This is just one reason (out of many) changing the background of a photo can be useful.
In this tutorial, I’ll be changing the background of a photo of Groot. This photo is a screenshot I took while watching Guardians of the Galaxy (Vol. 1). I removed the background in a previous tutorial titled “How to remove background from a photo in Photoshop.”
You can watch this YouTube video on our channel to see how I changed the background of the photo. If, however, you prefer reading, then scroll past the video to keep reading.
Before we change the background of a photo
In my last post, I mentioned that to change a background, you have to “remove” the background first. In Photoshop, you can remove a background in one of two ways:
- You can delete the background. This is an unrecommended practice usually used by amateurs and beginners.
- You can also hide the background. This method of hiding is also called masking and is the more professional approach.
Before you can mask the background, you must first tell Photoshop what the background is. You do this by making a selection. You can make a selection of the subject (Groot in my case) and tell Photoshop to mask out everything outside the selection. Note that you can either hide everything outside the selection or within the selection.
At the end of our last tutorial, I had three layers (shown below).
- GROOT layer – This is the layer I will be editing.
- VECTOR layer – This is the shape I drew by tracing around Groot with the Pen tool.
- Background layer – The original image locked from editing. I don’t really need it though.
I used the VECTOR shape to make a selection around Groot. I then masked out everything outside the selection (Groot’s background). Let’s get started then.
Making the selection and masking out the background
Groot is my subject in this photo and so I made a selection around him. To make my selection, I simply held CTRL+Clicked (CMD+Click for Mac users) on the thumbnail of the VECTOR layer.
This activates a selection around the shape which is (conveniently) a shape of Groot.
Now all you have to do is select the GROOT layer and click on the Add Layer Mask icon found below the Layers Panel. This will mask out everything outside your selection.
Another way to do this, from the main menu, is to go to Layers > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection. Notice that you have a few extra options in this case like hiding the selection.
With layer mask applied to the GROOT layer and the background layer hidden, I have Groot without a background. Notice the black and white thumbnail on the GROOT layer. That’s the layer mask. What ever is in the white area is revealed and whatever is in the black is hidden.
At this point, you can place any background you like.
Change the background of a photo
I used the picture above for my new background. To place the new background, simply drag it into the Photoshop window you are working in. Resize it by holding down SHIFT+ALT (SHIFT+OPTION on Mac) while dragging the corners. Doing this resizes the image proportionally.
Once placed, ensure the new background is below the subject layer (GROOT). If it isn’t, just drag it in the layers panel and position it accordingly. You can rename yours as you wish but I just left mine as 41.
Matching colours of subject and new background
Now you must notice how much Groot stands out from his background. I remedied that with a few adjustments. I used Adjustment Layers to tweak colours and shades. Adjustment layers are a lot like those filters you apply before posting your photos on Instagram.
You can find Adjustment Layers in the main menu by going to Layers > New Adjustment Layer.
The easier way, however, would be to click on the Adjustment Layers icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.
Using Adjustment Layers would normally affect the appearance of the whole photo. Since I want to only edit Groot’s appearance, I would need to apply a mask to the Adjustment layer too. To avoid the repetitive stress of always copying the layer mask, I created a Group and applied a mask to that instead.
Using Adjustment Layers
First, I selected my GROOT layer and then created a new Curves adjustment layer. A panel should appear for you to make adjustments using the diagonal line. You can open the RGB drop-down menu to make more specific adjustments to the red, green, and blue channels too. I was satisfied with the settings below. You can always tweak yours differently until satistied.
The new adjustments affect the whole photo (like I said they would). So I simply selected my new Curves layer and hit CTRL+G (CMD+G for Mac users) to put it in a group. You can also create groups from the main menu by going to Layers > Group Layers.
Now the Curves layer is within a group. Next, hold ALT (Option key for Mac users) + drag the Layer mask on the GROOT layer and drop it on the new group. This will copy the layer mask and apply it to everything inside the group.
With that done, I then created 3 extra adjustment layers (listed below) within the group and above the Curves layer.
Note that you don’t have to use the same that I used or even their settings for that matter. Feel free to experiment with all the Adjustment layers. The best thing about them is if you don’t like the results, you can just delete the Adjustment layer and try something else. They don’t directly alter the image you are working on.
The adjustment layers I created were:
- Photo Filter
I adjusted each as illustrated in the image below.
This is what my result was but you can always make a few more tweaks to your edit after you change the background of a photo.
I hope this tutorial was helpful.
If you try it out and post it on social media, please give us a mention @imageazy
Got any questions about this technique, ask away in the comments section below. You can also let me know about some other technique you want to learn.