How long does it take you to isolate? (Thinking after master-class)

posted on 11th of july, 2010

Hi, Friends.
I usually spend crazy amount of time on isolation (about 40 minutes). Yesterday I saw on youtube a master-class where the photographer said he spends on it 3 minutes only. I put down his method and tried. Same 40 minutes, but the result much worse than before. Some objects with difficult shape were absolutely impossible to isolate this way. The ugly edges remained, plus dirty background. For this reason I ask - is it me alone having this problem? How long does it take you to isolate an object? And how do you fight against ugly edges?

Also this photographer said that to save efforts he gives this job away and that people working for him agree to do this job for 70 cent per picture. I wonder is it really possible? Can this process be really so simple that it costs 70 cent to make? Am I missing something?

Below are the two methods - one I used before, the other is from master-class. Please, add your comment about what you think about these 2 methods. Especially if you think they can be advanced. Thank you very much.

My old method:
1. Mugnify an object 200%, make a contour with feather.
2. Save path.
3. Load path with selection
4. Invert
5. Fill with color
6. Clean if something is imperfect with healing brush or little bit blur the edges (0,4 pix) on another layer, then erase from this layer parts of the object which should remain sharp.
7. Saving the picture

The new one:
1. Make things more contrast with curves.
2. Fill big background areas with white
3. Click on background with magic wand (tolerance 5-15 depending on contrast)
4. Select-modify-extend (2-3 pix)
5. Select-modify-smooth (7-12 pix)
6. Fill the rest of background with white
7. In case the shape of the object has corners which remained dirty use feather.
8. Restore the contrast
After this all should be clean (but not in my case) Repeating actions 4 and 5 don't help.

Comments (29)

Posted by Cbetravel on May 14, 2011
WORKS GREAT FOR HAIR: (For images on a white background using Photoshop CS5)...

This entire process takes 20 to 30 seconds once you get good at it.
Start by creating a copy of the locked layer, then delete the locked layer.

1. Change color mode to "Lab Color"
2. Select Channels tab
3. Select the channel with the highest contrast vs. the white background
4. Create a copy of that channel
5. Burn tool (select Shadows and/or Midtones as needed, can change exposure to less than 100% as needed) use burn tool all over the image until the entire area you want to keep is pure black, make sure to dodge the white areas if they start turning gray (select highlights when dodging). You may want to use pen tool with black color over teeth and eyes, or just burn highlights if they aren't close to the white background that you are trying to eliminate.
6. When you are satisfied create a selection of the channel (cmd+click for mac, ctrl+click for PC)...
7. Select the main Lab Color channel...(More)
Posted by Szebas on August 03, 2010
I just tried out Topaz Remask 2, and I can confirm that thing is cool, you can isolate a portrait by masking it out from the background in under 1 minute on the second take without looking at the instructions.
Posted by Res2500 on July 23, 2010
I upgraded to PS CS5 about a month ago. Adobe promises enormous improvements in various areas. I must say ... they're right. One of the improvements is making complex selections. That's really become easy and fast now.
Posted by Bretwalda on July 19, 2010
I should also add - using the inner glow effect can cover a multitude of clipping sins and problems where the object is picking up reflected light or showing the start of an unlit area at the edges of the object.
Posted by Bretwalda on July 19, 2010
Pen Tool 90% of the time. Won't work with hair and fine stuff that light bends around - but everything else is the pen tool/bezier curves. Helps a lot to have a tablet BTW.

Otherwise to get around that - shooting on a white background I use 1,300 watts over 3 incandescents. Bump up the exposure if needed to the point where the image starts to wash out. By then I should have a sizeable background area that is reading 255 on the RGB with 'Blacks' and other settings in the Basic Tab of Adobe Raw...fill the rest of the BG with white when it goes into PS.
Posted by Bretwalda on July 19, 2010
Pen Tool 90% of the time. Won't work with hair and fine stuff that light bends around - but everything else is the pen tool/bezier curves. Helps a lot to have a tablet BTW.

Otherwise to get around that - shooting on a white background I use 1,300 watts over 3 incandescents. Bump up the exposure if needed to the point where the image starts to wash out. By then I should have a sizeable background area that is reading 255 on the RGB with 'Blacks' and other settings in the Basic Tab of Adobe Raw...fill the rest of the BG with white when it goes into PS.
Posted by Vclements on July 19, 2010
If I spend more than 5 minutes, I have not shot the image correctly.
Quite often I don't spend anytime.
It's a matter of lighting properly. Of course this applies to studio images - no amount of lighting is gonna hide that tree or bridge or building - which is why we have studios.
Posted by Geografisch on July 19, 2010
OK, it's possible with the contrast option, however creating isolated hair and other thin details can't be done this way. In my (design)company there's only one application that does the job, Fluid Mask. This is a Photoshop plugin, not to expensive and makes your workflow faster than any other work-around or "trick"... GRTZ, Gerald
Posted by Soye on July 19, 2010
I would say it depends on the object/character.
There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Most of the methods mention above sure work. I have used almost all but my choice depends on the complexity of the character/object.

I have gone to see Will try them and give my impression soon.

Posted by Ischneider on July 18, 2010
Never really timed my background removal process, it all just depends on the subject and the quality of the original picture. But 70 cents a picture????

This is the method I use:

1) Make a copy of the original image
2) Create sharper edges of my copy with curves and the sharpening tool.
3) Then use the Photoshop CS "Extract tool" on this image copy to extract the subject from my image.
4) After extraction is completed I press ctrl and click on the extracted image to select the extracted subject.
5) With my extraction subjet selected on my image copy, I move back to the original version and add a layer mask. This will automatically extract the original version.
6) Hide or delete your extracted copy and start cleaning your original version with the brush tool. It helps if you add a very contrasty background (red, bright blue or whatever works for you)

It looks more time consuming then it is and gives pretty good results. However, I do still have problems with HAIR!!! I would...(More)
Posted by Julia161 on July 16, 2010
Thank you, Websites4america and Jerryl5! I'll definetely try these methods.
Posted by Websites4america on July 16, 2010
Photo of object, lets say it's a tree. Make sure image is flat. Select all, copy, paste. This layer is now your "original image". Bottom layer or background is your masking layer. Image, Adjust, Posterize. Adjust your levels to break the image into manageable amount of colors. Maybe even do Filter, Blur, Gausian blur, 1 - 3 pixels and then redo the posterize steps. (this will really crisp up the edges!) Using the magic wand, select the chunks of colors and switch to the original image and copy. File, New, Paste. Tree isolated.
Posted by Jerryl5 on July 16, 2010
I have found an unusual method using Xara Xtreme which is a vector program. I used this method for the isolated apple.
1- Import the photo.
2- Place an ellipse or rectangle over the object in photo.
3- Convert ellipise/rectangle to editable object and reduce transparency.
4- Use Shape Editor tool to match objects shape. This does take time and effort.
5- Group shape with photo and use Slice tool.
6- Object in photo can now be removed from photo and placed on any background you wish.
7- Export result as PSD or other image at 250 DPI. Result should be at least minimum MP for uploading to sites.
Posted by Mythja on July 15, 2010
i also have problems isolating if i don't get the shot properly in the first place. if i get it right then it's easier.
Posted by Heathse on July 14, 2010
Ha! I have almost given up trying to isolate!! I have paint shop pro photo x2 and haven't yet managed 1 clean image! There are so many 'good' tutorials but so far they don't work for me. I symapthise with you but I'm also glad I'm not the only one!
Posted by Thruthelensphotos on July 13, 2010
I use Topaz ReMask. The program can be tried as a free download at Some times all it takes is a few seconds and a few mouse clicks. Results are amazing, even on a shaggy dog.
Posted by Micspix on July 12, 2010
Pen Tool in Photoshop. For me, there's no other way to get such good, clean results. The Pen tool definitely gets easier and easier with practice!! Times vary greatly, depending on where and how it's shot.
Posted by Littledesire on July 12, 2010
3 seconds with the curves and if there's something left - I use the brush to fill it white ... I don't like playing much ;)
Posted by Digitalexpressionimages on July 12, 2010
I don't prefer the pen tool as it gives edges that are too sharp and artificial. Most objects have slightly softer edges than the pen tool provides. I used to use the extract tool in Photoshop. If done correctly it gives excellent results and when partnered with a graphics tablet it takes minutes.

In PSCS5 extract is gone but under "Select" are two tools to make isolation easy: "refine edge" and "edit in quick mask mode". They are a replacement for extract and allow you to use transparency for areas that need it (glass and fabric).
Posted by 7528620xs on July 12, 2010
It is one of the biggest questions of stock photography.

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Posted by Viktor50 on July 12, 2010
I use eraser 90% of cases
Posted by Julia161 on July 12, 2010
Aha, it seems I begin to understand... The trick is go give more light to background and in difficult cases use pen tool or brush. Thank you all again.
Posted by Szebas on July 12, 2010
Hello, there are some ways on how to get it straight in the camera with ok results, using 3 lights and a home made light tent, the only problem is my broken English but to be honest I'm bad explaining stuff even in my native language lol.
I could only help by trying to make a video about it...

Ps. background flashes don't need to be special nor expensive, you can use continuous lights too (cheap halogen garden lamps and the like, just make sure to be over 300W), the purpose of those are to blow out the white background with them, it's like manually over exposing only the background and nothing else.
Posted by Irisangel on July 11, 2010
The pen tool is the only way to go for me. You can find tutorials online from adobe
Posted by Sepavo on July 11, 2010
I've only tried this a little. Does anyone have some good methods? I usually do what I can automatically with the wand and delete that portion then go back and get close around the edges. Length of time really depends on the contours of the object and how well I want to get it done. 5 mins - hour sometimes...
Posted by Mani33 on July 11, 2010
I don't take 3-5 minutes but 10-15 minutes are enough for very satisfying results!
I only use 2 tools...
1- Make a RED background (Any color that is makes you see any forgotten detail)
2- Erase all around the object but don't touch the contours.
3- Use the wand only for straight areas.
4- Use the brush eraser for the rest...

That's it!

PS: If there is any shadow I ignore it & create it with a shape & blur!
Posted by Zenpix on July 11, 2010
hello, if u dont have the proper lights to do it in camera (the ideal way")then "i" find the best method by far is the "pen tool" in photoshop. it takes some time to learn to use it but once you get it down it can take between 3-15 min depending on the item. If you have fur then it is much more harder and even more time.
Posted by Julia161 on July 11, 2010
What do you mean background flashes? Does it have some special construction? Or it's a regular studio flash focused on background? Thank you.
Posted by Davulcu on July 11, 2010
It is one of the biggest questions of stock photography. It depends on your shooting method too. After I bought a pro level lighting set with background flashes I decreased the time to a very short period , about 3-5 minutes.

All I can say , I am quite flexible in background removal, depending on the contrast , colors ad how I did shoot it. Filling with cololur may cause jittering edges , as well as modifying edges means loosing some details too...

Comments (29)

This article has been read 3440 times. 6 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Julia161.

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