Poor background removal - is this refusal bugging you?

posted on 13th of february, 2013

"Poor background removal" - if this is a refusal reason that you commonly receive when your images are reviewed, especially on subjects that have a plain (often white) background, here are a few tips that I hope you will find helpful.

If you intend to "cut out" your subject matter and place it on a white background, you need to make sure the background is actually white. And the edges of your subject need to look realistic - often they have the appearance of being cut out with scissors because the edges are too sharp - this is where your edge selection needs to be feathered by one or two pixels to soften the edge a little and give it a more natural appearance.

Often there are remnants of a background which are only noticeable by very close inspection. They might be around your subject, or they may appear in the corners of your image, or perhaps even in random areas.

It is always wise to review your own images before submitting them, and making sure that if you have a plain background, there is no contamination from leftover pixels. When you look at your images, check them at full size - 100% resolution, because that is how they will be inspected by a reviewer. If you view them at a reduced size, you won't notice problem areas.

There are a number of ways you can select your subject to remove it from the background. Photoshop's Pen Tool is extremely useful for objects that have naturally hard edges. It's not at all appropriate for hair on humans though, because hair is wispy and extremely time consuming to select. Or you can use the Quick Selection or Magic Wand tool - but the mask created will almost always need further refinement with these options.

Photoshop 5 and 6 do a pretty good job with selections and isolating subjects - Topaz Remask is also excellent. Each of them allow you to make a basic selection and then refine the mask to extract as much detail as possible. Remask is especially good with hair and fur.

A really good way to check your backgrounds after you have isolated, cut and pasted your subject into a plain background, (or if you've shot on white already and just need to clean up the background) is to check the levels or curves once the image is flattened. A quick and easy way to do this is to pull the levels or curves right down to darken the image - I actually use a free program called FastStone, and just hit Ctrl and M on the keyboard. That will bring up a Curves box and I can quickly drag the curve down and to the right to darken the image...and voila, then I can easily see whether my background is completely clean, and whether my isolation technique has worked well, or whether there are leftover pixels that need to be cleaned up.

Below is an example of a subject shot against a pale background...and then a copy of the same shot with the Curves adjustment. You can see a halo of grey leftover pixels around the hairline. The third image is an example of the "scissored" edge - it's hard and looks totally unnatural.

Bear in mind, the Curves adjustment is just to check your image - you don't save the image with the adjustment in place. If you use the Curves or Levels in Photoshop, use them as a separate layer which you can delete when you are satisfied with your image. If you use FastStone to check, you can just click on Cancel, and the effect won't be applied to your image.

Another common refusal for isolated subjects is the lighting - an object on white should have soft, even lighting - it should have the appearance of being shot in a studio. If the lighting is too dark or harsh, it detracts from your subject and will most likely result in your image being refused.

Lighting is worth remembering for subjects you shoot outdoors and then want to put on a white background. If your subject was shot on a sunny day and the shadows are deep and the light too harsh and contrasty, there is little likelihood it would be acceptable for stock. It looks too obvious that it's been shot in direct sun outdoors as opposed to a studio indoors and simply makes for a very poor image.

Hopefully these suggestions are helpful for those finding themselves frustrated with the "Poor background removal" refusal. They apply no matter what your subject is, whether it's food, people, objects, vehicles, etc.

Check that your backgrounds really do look clean, fresh and free from leftover pixels, and make sure your subject's edges look realistic and don't have the sharp scissor-edge appearance. And if your image description claims to have a white background, make sure it is actually white, and not grey. Pure white carries the hex code of #FFFFFF.

Good luck and happy isolating!

Comments (28)

Posted by Dar11111 on August 29, 2013
Thank you for advices. :)
Posted by Jazzycam2 on June 07, 2013
heah what is #FFFFFF
Posted by Candyheart2 on June 07, 2013
what kind of pic are that? what do you mean code #ffffffff
Posted by Pandora849 on April 24, 2013
Thx for sharing your tips for achieving true white backgrounds, generous of you.
Posted by Parkinsonsniper on March 20, 2013
For people who have hard times removing the background perfectly, I suggest this technique...here is another blog from Dreamstime, with step by step instructions.

Posted by Lenutaidi on February 26, 2013
Great blog!Thank you for sharing!
Posted by Vwimage on February 21, 2013
Thanks Tamara, I havn't done many isolated shots due mainly to the difficulty in getting it just right.
Posted by Debramillet on February 20, 2013
Tamara, I remember you mentioned topax remask awhile back so I tried it and have used it ever since. It works great. Your articles are always very helpful, Thanks!
Posted by Chanevy on February 18, 2013
Thanks Mike. I an a PS noob and did not know about the refine edge tool.
Posted by Mike2focus on February 17, 2013
Some very good tips in this article! But I'm surprised that Photoshop's "Refine Edge" command wasn't mentioned in the article or by anyone adding a comment. This is an amazing feature in Photoshop which started with CS3 and is really powerful now in PS CS5 forward. Here's a link to a pretty good video tutorial on the Refine Edge command...

Refine Edge tutorial

..masking hair is a snap with this technique as long as there's a bit of contrast between the hair color and the background.

Thanks for writing the article!
Posted by Mudplucker on February 17, 2013
thanks, i like this !
Posted by Hanmon on February 16, 2013
Good tips! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Tamarabauer on February 15, 2013
Montylola, the above methods (Photoshop and Remask) use layers already. I would agree that using layers is essential; Photoshop allows the option to create a new layer when you are creating your mask, and Remask automatically places your cut out into a new layer. Layers alone aren't the answer - you still need to create a mask for your subject.

As to the Dpreview forum, if you are referring to the transparency issue Remask had, that has been rectified, quite some time ago.
Posted by Montylola on February 15, 2013
Some good ideas but no one has said anything about achieving this in far better way using layers in photoshop.
I would suggest that one does a simple Google search for " Remove background in Photoshop" and you will firstly lots of Utube videos on the subject, elsewhere you will find tutorials and probably will find an action already created by a KIND Photoshop expert that is willing to share their knowledge with the WWW.

Layers are the answer to this problem and you will achieve a PROFESSIONAL finish everytime and once you have done it a few times it will easily fit into your workflow and help reduce the number of images rejected.

Oh, lastly layers are the NON distructive way of modifying your images.

Lastly, I would also reccomed that you go to "dpriew" the camera site and see what users their have to say about "Topaz Remask" before you start to use it.
Posted by Egomezta on February 15, 2013
Thanks for sharing, very useful.
Posted by Photobee on February 14, 2013
Good article! Thanks for sharing!
Posted by Peanutroaster on February 14, 2013
Posted by FabioConcetta on February 14, 2013
Great blog, thank you for sharing!
Posted by Celiaak on February 14, 2013
Good tip on the curves, nover thought of that.
Posted by Heathse on February 14, 2013
Topaz Remask is worth the money!
Posted by Alvera on February 14, 2013
good tips, but if you want to have health eyes for the rest of your life please buy two more lights and burn the background at shoot time. the money you spend will be recovered after years from not going to doctors, not having big glasses and a generally good health (cervical pains go away!) Trust me, old King here, working with PC from 20 years, I cry for the new kids generation working on pc from 4 years old. Your King out.
Posted by TMarchev on February 13, 2013
Good info for beginners thanks Tamara!
Posted by Chanevy on February 13, 2013
Great tips-thank you for sharing
Posted by Rigsby8131 on February 13, 2013
Very useful blog. Thanks for the tips.
Posted by Thanatonautii on February 13, 2013
Very nice! Thank you for sharing this!
Posted by Gunaleite on February 13, 2013
Thank You very much for sharing your know-how!
Posted by Miraclemoments on February 13, 2013
Thanks very much....useful!!
Posted by Tomstox on February 13, 2013
Very helpful thank you. Topaz Remask looks pricey but has a free 30 day trial I might just have to try

Comments (28)

This article has been read 6744 times. 24 readers have found this article useful.
Photo credits: Tamara Bauer.

About me

I am one of the remote photo editors for Dreamstime. My work background is a mixed bag - I trained as a primary school teacher, have had office/retail experience and for the last few years have settled into photography and image reviewing for Dreamstime.

South Gippsland, AU

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