After last week’s tutorial about removing backgrounds in Photoshop Elements, quite a few people asked about how to remove backgrounds in Photoshop CC.

As you might expect, Photoshop CC offers more advanced selection technology than Elements does.

The new Select Subject feature gives you control over making even the most complicated selections quickly. And Select and Mask helps you refine that selection.

This tutorial applies to Photoshop CC 2018 – Creative Cloud subscribers, make sure you’ve updated your application. Select Subject was released just last month, in January 2018.

In this tutorial, I applied textures and overlays to the blah background of this image using Photoshop CC’s selection tools

How to Remove Backgrounds in Photoshop CC

With this photo, I began by applying my creative edits (the textures & overlays) globally – to the entire image. I put these layers in a group called “Textures.” To apply the textures to the background only, I worked through the steps below and created a mask from my selection at the end of the process:

remove backgrounds in photoshop cc

  1. With the Background layer selected and any other layers turned off (alt/option click on Background layer eyeball), go to the Select menu and click SubjectRight away, I have a nearly perfect selection. I circled the spots that I’ll need to refine.
  2. Return to the Select menu and click Select and Mask. Photoshop will open a new task space where you can refine your selection.
  3. Choose how you want Photoshop to display your selection. I like “On White” for most work because it shows good contrast between what is selected and what isn’t. After choosing the view mode, you can adjust the opacity of the background to taste. I keep Show Edge, Show Original, and High Quality Preview turned off.
  4. Edge Detection is useful for very fine, detailed selections like hair. Dialing 10 into the Pixel Radius, for example, tells Photoshop that the true edge of what you’d like to select could be within 10 pixels on either side of the current selection edge. You could turn on Smart Radius instead of choosing a number to let Photoshop decide what that pixel radius should be. Nothing changes when you use Edge Detection. You are simply telling Photoshop how far it should look when you use the Global Refinements and Output Settings below the Edge Detection section.
  5. While Photoshop’s initial selection was much better than Elements’, there were still a few janky areas where the selection had hills and valleys that didn’t need to be there. I increased the Smooth slider to correct them. For this image, I turned on Smart Radius and adjusted Smooth to 27. The remaining sliders in this section aren’t as useful for photo editing.remove backgrounds in photoshop cc
  6. At this point, I begin adding the areas I circled in the screenshot above that need to be added to my selection. On the left side of Select & Mask, you’ll find tools that will help. The Quick Selection tool usually works great. I dragged it quickly over my husband’s shoe, and it added the entire shoe to the selection. You can change it from Add to Subtract Mode at the top of the workspace (circled in the screenshot below) if you’d like to remove areas from your selection. remove backgrounds in photoshop ccThe Refine Edge tool lets you paint over areas that Photoshop should define as an edge. For instance, if your smoothing adjustment didn’t smooth all of the janky edges, you could paint over the areas that need extra work. The Brush tool allows you to paint over areas of the photo that should be selected – only the areas that you click and drag over will be included in the selection. At this point, your selection should be complete.
  7. Note that there is an Invert button just above the Output Settings section of this task area if you want to select the background of the photo rather than the subject. I did invert this selection since I want my textures to apply only to the background of my photo.
  8. Use the Output To drop-down menu to export your selection to a layer mask, a selection, or a new file.
  9. Before you hit OK, zoom into your photo by typing command/control +. Move around the image and check that you selected everything appropriately.
  10. After hitting OK, select the folder or layer that you want to mask. Hit the layer mask button, and Photoshop will apply your selection to it. Or, if you want to delete the background, simply hit Delete or Backspace on your keyboard after hitting OK.

Layer Mask Tips that Help Remove Backgrounds

Copy a mask to another layer: You’ve just created your mask and applied it to a layer or a group of layers. If you’d like to apply that same mask to additional layers, hold down your alt or option key while dragging the mask to the layer you’d like to copy it to.

Invert the Mask: You can also type command/control I to invert the mask after you copy it. In the photo above, I could have used an inverted mask on a layer that adjusted the brightness of my subject, for example.

And if you need a refresher in layer masks, check out this tutorial.

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