How To: Make A perfect yet easy extration!

posted in Photoshop

How To: Make A perfect yet easy extration!

We’re going to look at two different ways of extraction – each with pros and cons.

Ok.. Let’s get started!

We will need some dummy photos and this time around I snapped ‘em of a dear friend of mine, Melanie (yep, the same as in this project !). I used two different backdrops for this, to show you that it varies, which is best suited for the job. So, as I said, I made up two photos of her (and yes, her hair is all messed up….and that’s a part of the plan! ;));





A very (read: VERY!) basic way of doing it, and it will make you smile/laugh when trying it yourself – if you didn’t allready know it…I guarantee that! :)

I have no clue why I haven’t found this tool before, but I stumbled upon it yesterday and it certainly lives up to its name! :) We’re obviously talking about the tool; Background Eraser Tool (E) !!

You’ll find it by SHIFT-clicking “E” once, and change from the normal eraser tool. The icon looks like this;



The name of the tool nearly explains what it does; it removes the colour you have selected. Not more – nor less!
Select it, and change its limits to “Discontiguous” and choose the proper Tolerance for your photo. I can’t say exactly what you should stick with, because it differs from photo to photo – I did use various numbers between 23% and 43% in this tutorial.

Hover over the background colour (which hopefully is solid!) and press the mouse.


Click and hold the left mouse button on the colour you wish to remove.

It’s important to make notice of how far into the skin you’re moving the mouse. You might end up with a result where some of the skin of your model has vanished, due to lack of attention!

Now, start moving your cursor around your photo…


Holding the mouse button down, until your background layer appears.



Be amazed by the magic of this tool!!! :)


When done making the rough erasing, go with a lower sized eraser tool, and try changing the tolerance to get a smoother look on the details next to the fine hair. This might take some trial-and-error testing, however, it is worth the effort!
Because this is an ‘eraser tool’ it’s obviously removing the color from your layer, so you need to have placed a photo of something else underneath your model layer at this point. It will automaticly become visible, as parts of the upper layer disappears! Voila!


Below is the image, extracted (with an awesome red brickwall in the background, found on Google) in under 1 minute… Its lame how easy it is compared to the look you get! It’s obvious you can go tweak it from now on to eternity, however, this is just to give you a taste of the power, made up by this little tool. :) Enjoy experimenting yourself.


You can click it to see it a bit larger.



  • Ridiculously easy to use!
  • Works pretty much on every backdrop colour.
  • Straight forward process, and no need of knowledge about mask layers, is needed.
  • The way it process very thin and fine hair, is incredible.


  • You have to be very aware that it doesn’t remove skin tones.
  • Has a tendency to leave “hue”-traces on some edges of the hair.
  • Since you are ‘erasing’ you can’t undo stuff as you can by doing it with a mask layer.





I need to make a statement; this method works best with a black haired model!! 

So, what you need to do is to import the photo in Photoshop. I would recommend you waiting with all the ‘cleaning’ and toning on the photo, until you have tested if your background even works and managed to get that part looking cool. Otherwise, you will risk losing alot of work, if you find out that your photo is too over- or underexposed..

Now we need to make a rough selection of our subject – in this case; the model. I normally go with the Quick Selection Tool (W).


Its fine your selection is pretty rough, and might miss some places on your subject – you’re gonna tweak this later on. So, if your subject is a person, just make sure you select the parts; the whole face, arms, legs, upper body and some of the hair.


It’s fine selecting it like this.


After selecting the subject, you’re going to choose the layer containing your new background. Go inverse your selection (by pressing Ctrl+Shift+I in Windows or Shift+CMD+I on Mac). It should now looks like this:


Selecting the new background layer, and inverse the selection.

Now you go apply a layer mask for that layer. When doing this, you will see your subject pop-up, because it will automaticly fill your mask with the color black (because you remembered to press ‘D’ to make the front/back color return to default, right? ;) ).
As you can see right away, it still looks very rough, and the edges basically looks like crap – but the best is yet to come…


Now that looks like crap…!? #dafuuq


Go to ‘Blend Mode’ and change it from Normal to Overlay. Now THIS should make a difference on your photo, especially if your looking at the hair (if it is a person we’re dealing with). :)
The rest of the edges, which still might look uncool, are easy to fix by using the Brush Tool and paint black or white, on the mask.


You’re free to tweak it on the layer mask, at this point.


I recommend you start making up the final toning, colourbalances, or whatever you need to do. It’s just important to keep in mind, that when adjusting the saturation for example, remember to make the adjustment layer atop of it all, so that the settings will affect all layers below.



  • Relatively easy.
  • Working on a mask layer, makes unlimited undo possibilities.
  • In the end, and if you’re set up to use alot of time, it gives a better result in 90% of the photos.


  • Doesn’t work on all colors of the backdrop. (Don’t go super-white or black!)
  • You’ll get the best result on a black haired model.
  • Has a tendency to leave “hue”-traces on some edges of the hair.
  • It affects your background layers tone, due to the ‘Overlay’ blend mode.