Photoshop Effects: how to use Refine Edge to add a new background

How to use Refine Edge: step 3

In this Photoshop Elements tutorial we show you step by step how to perform one of the most widely used Photoshop effects: how to use Refine Edge to isolate a subject and add a different background.

Photoshop Effects: how to use Refine Edge to add a new background

You may fancy treating your family to a professional studio photo shoot, especially if you’re keen to display framed prints of your 
nearest and dearest against a clean white backdrop.

But there’s a much cheaper alternative – you could capture them yourself in their natural environment and then use Photoshop Elements 11 to replace the busy background with a fresh, clean white one.

However, selecting a human subject is one of the most challenging image-editing tasks that you can face, especially if fine hairs are flying around, as in our start image. It’s almost impossible to select a hair without including a fringe of background detail too, which will completely give the game away that your portrait has been edited.

Our before image

Our before image

Fortunately, Photoshop Elements 11’s improved Refine Edge command now boasts some extra edge-detection tools, including the Smart Radius and Refine Radius tools. These great little tools even enable you to include flyaway hairs in your selection.

Indeed, if you’re looking for a reason to update to Photoshop Elements 11 (read our Adobe Photoshop Elements 11 review), then this is it, and you’ll also find this 
range of handy edge-detection tools in Photoshop CS5 onwards.

The Smart Radius tool can also help you select the motion-blurred areas on your subject, as these are much softer than the static edges.

In this tutorial, we’ll demonstrate how to fine-tune the results of the Refine Edge command with a little tidying up, courtesy of brush tips and Layer Masks.

How to use Refine Edge

How to use Refine Edge: step 1

01 Crop your start image
Open your start image in Photoshop Elements 11. To add impact to our portrait’s subject, grab the Crop tool. In the options bar, choose Use Photo Ratio, then click and drag to crop the shot as shown above. This also reduces the amount of edge areas that you’ll need to select. Click the tick to apply the crop.


How to use Refine Edge: step 2

02 Select the background
Next, grab the Quick Selection tool from the 
Tools palette. In the options bar set Size to 70 and tick Auto-Enhance. You can now spray over the background to start selecting it. To remove bits of the girl from the selection tick Subtract From Selection. Don’t worry about selecting every hair.


How to use Refine Edge: step 3

03 Get smart
Once you’ve selected the blurred background, choose Select>Inverse to select the girl. In the options bar click Refine Edge>View and double-click to choose On White. As the edges of the subject are both sharp and blurred, tick Smart Radius. Set Radius to 4.


How to use Refine Edge: step 4

04 Refine the radius
Choose the Refine Radius tool [E]. In the Tool options bar, set Size to 70 pixels. Click and spray to include missing hairs overlapping the blurred background. Set Feather to 1.0 to soften the strands. Set Output to New Layer with Layer Mask. Click OK.


How to use Refine Edge: step 5

05 Add a white background
Choose Layer>New>Layer and click OK. Choose Edit>Fill Layer and select White. Click OK. Drag the white layer below the girl’s layer. Click on the Layer Mask. Grab the Brush tool and set Opacity to 20%. Spray a soft black tip over fuzzy edges to hide them.


How to use Refine Edge: step 6

06 Tidy the mask
Continue spraying a soft black brush around the girl’s outline to hide remaining bits of background. Use a white tip to restore important details. Grab the Blur tool and set Strength to 100%. Click on the mask and spray around any rough edges to soften them.


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