Learn how to change a background in Photoshop with these easy-to-follow professional techniques! You will learn about masking, matching lighting, matching perspective, and a whole lot more!
Time needed: 5 minutes
To change a background in Photoshop follow these basic steps.
- Place Your Background Image
After you open your photo, bring in the new background image by going into File > Place Embedded. Resize the image to fill the background.
- Place the new background Image Below the Original Photo
Layer Stacking order matters. From the Layers Panel, drag the new background image layer below the original photo.
- Remove the Background From The Original Photo
Select the original image from the Layers Panel, then from the Properties Panel click on “Remove Background.” This command will use machine learning technology to find the main subject of the image and apply a layer mask to remove the background.
- Fine-Tune the Layer Mask
In most cases, the Layer Mask that hides the background will need some work. Select the Brush Tool from the Toolbar and paint with either black or white. Black will hide pixels, and white will reveal hidden pixels.
How To Change a Background In Photoshop – Beyond The Basics
After removing the background from your original image you should have a pretty good background replacement. However, in some cases, you may need to do a bit more work to get realistic results.
Keep in mind no two background replacements are the same. Each job will require unique adjustments, but these techniques should cover common issues in background changes in Photoshop.
Matching The Light Source on a New Background
When you import your new background, make sure that the lighting source is pointing in the same direction as your foreground image.
If your light sources are not matching, you can simply flit the background image horizontally. You can do so, by pressing Ctrl T (Windows) or Command T (macOS) to transform the layer. Then you can right-click and select Flip Horizontal from the dropdown menu.
Alternatively, you could flip the foreground image using the same technique.
Matching Brightness on a New Background
Your background and Foreground images were most likely shot at different times of day with varying lighting conditions. This means that you will need to do some sort of brightness or color matching.
From the new Adjustment Layer icon and select Levels. With this adjustment layer, you can adjust the brightness of the image and add/subtract color.
Be sure to only affect your foreground image and not the entire composition. Press Ctrl G (Windows) or Command G (macOS) to create a Clipping Mask. With a Clipping Mask, your adjustment layer will only affect the layer directly below it.
You can then make adjustments to brighten or darken your foreground so that it matches your background.
Another thing that I would recommend that you do is to apply a color using the channels option. From the dropdown, you can select Red, Green, or Blue.
With the Red Channel, you can add red or subtract red to get cyan. In the Green Channel, you can add green or subtract green to get magenta. In the Blue Channel, you can add blue or subtract blue to get yellow.
Apply the colors that best suit your background image.
Matching Perspective When Changing Backgrounds
When you’re learning how to change a background in Photoshop oftentimes perspective is overlooked.
You can get pretty much get everything right in a composite. Lighting, color, shadows, and extractions, but if the perspective is off, your viewer will know something is not right. They might not know exactly what it is, but they’ll know there’s something wrong with the image.
To match the perspective in Photoshop you first need to determine where the horizon line of your foreground image is. The horizon line is the “eye-level” of the photo. Where the camera was when the photo was shot.
You can easily find the Horizon line in one of two ways.
- First, you can try imagining your image without any buildings, streets, or any other obstructions. Just the ground and the sky. Where in the photo do you think the ground will end and the sky will begin? That meeting point is the Horizon Line. You probably have seen it when you look at a photo of the ocean and the sky.
- If you can’t visualize it in your mind, you could instead enable the Line Tool, and in a blank layer, you could trace over the parallel converging lines to see where they meet. That meeting point will be your vanishing point, and that will be where the horizon line sits.
Once you know where the Horizon Line of your original image is, you will need to find the horizon line of your new background.
Then with the Move Tool, you will need to place the new background so that it matches the original background’s horizon line.
- You can disable the Layer Mask to see your original background by holding Shift and clicking on the Layer Mask Thumbnail.
- You can press Ctrl R (Windows) / Command R (macOS) to enable the rulers, and drag down a guide to place it over the horizon line.
- After you reposition the background you might see transparent pixels either above or below the image. To fill with similar content you can use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select the transparent pixels. Then go into Edit > Content-Aware Fill.
If your Content-Aware Fill is grayed out it is probably because you have a Smart Object as your background image. To convert it into a pixel layer, right-click on it and select “Rasterized.”
Match The Background Image’s Depth of Field (Blur)
Another important thing you need to think about when you change a background in Photoshop is the Depth of Field.
If your original image has a shallow depth of field then you will need to blur the background image. Especially if your main subject also has areas that are out of focus.
One easy way to get a realistic background blur is to apply a Tilt-Shift Blur. With your new background layer selected, go into Filter, Blur Gallery, and select Tilt-shift.
In this filter, everything in between the two solid lines will remain in focus. While things in between the solid line and the dashed line gradually become blurry.
If you were to imagine how a lens will blur the background, then you can probably figure out where to place this blur over your image.
Where your subject is standing will be in focus and there will be a gradual transition to a blurry background.
Place the center blur dot where your subject’s feet would be. Even if they are out of the canvas. Then place the dashed line behind them to create the gradual blurry transition
Apply a Cohesive Adjustment When Changing Backgrounds
When you change backgrounds in Photoshop, it’s always a good idea to apply global adjustments to bring all the images together and make them feel more cohesive.
You can do so by adding noise, a vignette, or applying a color grade. One easy thing that you can apply is a global color adjustment.
You can go into the New Adjustment Layer icon, and choose Color Lookup.
You can think of this Adjustment Layer as a filter that colors your image much like an Instagram filter. From the 3D LUT dropdown, you can select any look that you want.
Tap on the down arrow key to toggle between the LUTs. If you find one that you like, but it’s too intense, you can always reduce the Opacity.
Learn More About How To Change a Background In Photoshop
To learn more about these compositing techniques make sure to check out my Photoshop Compositing Secrets Video!
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