Extract a Selection from a Photo

Photoshop offers several different methods to cut out a selection of a photo or other image. In this tutorial, I’m going to cover the five I use the most.


1. The Magic Wand Tool & Eraser Tool
2. The Extract filter
3. The Polygonal Lasso Tool
4. The Pen Tool
5. Quick mask mode

I’m going to use the following two photos as an example; you can download these when you need them or use your own image(s) instead.

The apple photo is from www.sxc.hu, a great site for stock photos, and the flower photo is taken by me.

1. The Magic wand Tool & Eraser Tool

When I just started out with Photoshop I used the magic wand and eraser to cut out my images in Photoshop. Although I don’t use it often nowadays, it can still be useful, especially when the background of the image consists of only one or two colors.

1.1.
Download the apple image to your computer by clicking your right mouse button on the image below and choose ‘Save target as’.

1.2.
Open the image in Photoshop.

1. 3.
Copy the apple layer you just opened by dragging the background layer to the ‘New layer icon’ in your layer palette.

1.4.
Change the name of the Background copy layer to ‘apple’ by double clicking the Layer and hide the background image by clicking on the eye in front of the layer. Your layers palette should now look like this.

1.5.
Select the magic wand tool and the settings in the toolbar as followed:
- new selection
- tolerance: 20 pixels
- select ‘Anti- aliased’ for softening the edges of the selection we make
- select ‘Contiguous’ so bordering areas using the same colors also get selected. Otherwise, all pixels using the same colors will be selected.

(For Tolerance: Enter a low value to select only the colors very similar to the pixel you click, or enter a higher value to select a broader range of colors)

1.6.
Click in the right or left top corner of the image. All of the white in the background is now selected.


1.7.
Press delete to delete the white and then press Ctrl-D to delete the selection.

1.8.
Select the lighter parts of the shadow on the left and right in one selection. To add to the selection hold down the Shift button, to subtract from the selection hold down the Alt button.

1.9.
Delete the selection and press Ctrl D to deselect. This last piece of shadow is the most difficult to select with the Magic Wand Tool. Hold the Shift key down while making the selection to add to the one.

1.10.
Press delete and Ctrl D again and create a new layer by pressing the ‘New layer icon’ in your Layers palette. Drag this new layer between the Background layer and the Apple layer and fill it with black using the Paint Bucket Tool.

Your Layer palette should now look like this.

I added the black behind the apple layer for the contrast, so we can see where all the white areas are that we need to remove manually with the Eraser Tool. You can already see why this method isn’t the best. It can be very time consuming and is not very efficient.

1.11.
Select the Eraser Tool set mode to Brush and set Brush size to 40 pixels. Set Opacity to 100% and Flow also to 100%.

1.12.
Erase the larger part of the white areas. To remove the thin white circle that is around the apple zoom in to 200% and set the brush size to 10 pixels. You also soften the edges of the apple by deleting the white edges around the apple with the Eraser Tool set in Brush mode.

1.13.
When you’re finished you should have a clear cut out of the apple.


2. The Extract filter

The Extract filter is a more advanced method and definitely my favorite one as it actually makes the computer do some of the work for you.

2.1.
Download the flower image on your computer by clicking your right mouse button and choose ‘Save target as’.

2.2.
Open the image in Photoshop.

2.3.
Copy the flower layer you just opened by dragging the background layer to the ‘new layer icon’ in your Layers palette. Change the name of the Background copy layer to flower by double clicking the Layer and hide the background image by clicking on the eye in front of the layer.

Your Layers palette should now look like this.

2.4.
Choose Extract from the Filter menu in the menu bar or press Alt + Ctrl + X

2.5
Select the Edge Highlighter Tool at the top left of the screen and set the Brush size at the right side of the screen by Tool Options. Brush size 10 pixels, highlight Green, Fill Blue and make sure Smart Highlighting is selected. This option automatically changes the brush size according to the edge you are selecting.

2.6
Use the Magnifier to zoom in on the image and use the Hand to move your image around while working with it. Draw an outline around the part of the image you want to extract. You can change the brush size while working and if you accidentally paint over the image you can use the eraser to remove it.

2.7.
Following is an image of my outline.

2.8.
Select the Paint Bucket Tool and fill your selection. Your image should now look like this.

2.9.
As soon as you fill your selection, the Preview and OK buttons become available. To make sure the selection is as you like it you can use the Preview button before you press the OK button. If you don’t like the preview of your extracted image, press Cancel and make the necessary changes. If you are happy with the results, press OK.

Here is my result without using the Eraser Tool after the extract filter to touch up the edges:

3. Polygonal Lasso Tool

The Polygonal Lasso tool let you draw both straight-edged and freehand segments of a selection border.

3.1.
If you haven’t yet, download the flower image on your computer by clicking your right mouse button and choose ‘Save target as’.

3.2.
Open the image in Photoshop.

3.3.
Copy the flower layer you just opened by dragging the Background layer to the ‘New layer icon” in your Layers palette. Change the name of the Background copy layer to flower by double clicking the Layer and hide the background image by clicking on the eye in front of the layer.

Your layers palette should now look like this.

3.4.
Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool and set the settings as followed:
- New selection
- Feather 0 pixels
- Enable Anti – aliased

I only used the Anti-aliased option and not the feather option because they are both for softening the edges of the selection we are going the make. The Feather option uses a blurring technique that can result in losing too much detail at the edges. But, use what ever suits you or your image.

3.5.
Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in at the part you want to start your selection with.

3.6.
Go back to the Polygonal Lasso Tool and start creating your outline. You don’t need to select the whole flower at once. It’s easier to divide the images in smaller parts. When you’re happy with a part you just selected, click away from the subject and make a square selection and press Delete.

3.7.
Press Ctrl D do undo the selection and start again to work you’re way around the flower. When you’re finished you should have something like this.

As you can see it still needs some touching up, the edges of the tulip are still a bit to dark.

3.8.
Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in to 300%.

3.9.
Select the Eraser Tool and set the settings as followed.
- Brush size: 5 pixels
- Mode: Brush
- Opacity: 100%
- Flow: 100%

3.10.
Erase the dark edges of the flower until you have a clear cut. On the image you can see that I have erased the top part and the bottom part still needs to be erased.

3.11
The finished result:


4. The Pen Tool

The Pen Tool is another method I prefer for various reasons. It gives you much more control with the Pen Tool than with for example the Polygonal Lasso Tool. The image is a much sharper and cleaner cut out because the pen tool allows you to select partial pixels. The Pen Tool is also much more efficient because you usually don’t need to use the Eraser Tool to touch up the edges of the image. Also because you are working with the Pen Tool you create a path and this path can be saved as a custom shape or you can fill, or stroke it.

4.1.
Download the flower image on your computer by clicking your right mouse button and choose ‘Save target as’.

4.2.
Open the image in Photoshop.

4.3.
Copy the flower layer you just opened by dragging the Background layer to the ‘New layer icon’ in your Layers palette. Change the name of the Background copy layer to flower by double licking the layer and hide the background image by clicking on the eye in front of the layer.

Your Layers palette should now look like this.

4.4.
Select the Zoom Tool and zoom in to 200%

4.5.
Select the Pen Tool as set the following settings:

- Make sure the Path option is selected (the pen tool inside the little square box)

4.6.
Click to place an anchor point and go around the image. At corners or curves place some more anchor point so the curve will be smooth. Press Ctrl-Z to undo the last anchor point or use the right mouse button and choose delete anchor point.

4.7.
It is very important to close the path, so a selection can be made. To close the path your last anchor point must be placed on top of the first anchor point. If you do this you will see that a small loop will appear next to the Pen tip. Click to close path.

As soon if you closed the path, it will become a line around the flower. Right-click on the image and choose Make selection. A small pop-up will appear. Set the feather radius to 5 pixels and maker sure the anti-aliased box is selected. Click OK.

4.8.
Your line is now changed into a selection. Click the rectangular marquee Tool and set your cursor on the selection. Press your right mouse button and select Layer via Copy.

4.9.
Choose the Zoom Tool and choose Fit On Screen.

4.10.
Go to your Layers palette and deselect the eye in front of the flower layer to hide this layer and double click the new layer and change the name to tulip.

Your Layers palette should look like this.

4.11.
The finished result:

Other things you can do with a path

After you have saved the image you cut out go back to your file and select the path section of your layer palette.

As you can see our path is still there. Click the layer with the path to make it active again. If this doesn’t work click with your right mouse button on the layer and select Make selection.

Below the Make Selection option you find two other options. The first one is fill selection with a color or pattern. The other option is to Stroke the selection. You can also choose Edit from the menu bar and choose Define Custom Shape. You will get a pop-up to name your shape. Click OK.

To find the your custom shape after you have saved it choose the Custom Shape Tool next to the Pen Tool in your Tool Palette. In the top you can select your own shape.


5. The Quick mask mode

The Quick mask mode is another very effective way to make a selection.

5.1.
Download the flower image on your computer by clicking your right mouse button and choose ‘Save target as’.

5.2.
Open the image in Photoshop.

5.3.
Copy the flower layer you just opened by dragging the Background layer to the ‘New layer icon’ in your Layers palette. Change the name of the background copy layer to flower by double clicking the layer and hide the Background image by clicking on the eye in front of the layer.

Your layers palette should now look like this.

5.4.
Select the Zoom Tool and choose Fit On Screen.

5.5.
To use the Quick mask mode you need to start with a selection. So select the Polygonal Lasso tool and make a selection around the Flower. The selection doesn’t have to be precise as with part 3 of this tutorial. On the image you can see the selection I created.

5.6.
Press Q for Quick mask mode or choose the Quick mask mode option from your Tool palette.

Your image should now look like this:

5.7.
Set your colors to default by pressing D, so black is your foreground color and select your Zoom Tool. Zoom in to 200%. Select the Brush Tool and set the brush size at 9 pixels. Start coloring the area that is not selected by the Quick mask mode. If you accidentally paint over the flower use the white color to erase it with the Brush Tool. Decrease the size of your brush when you reach a more difficult area to paint.

5.8.
When your finished painting/ adding the missing part to the selection, your image should look like this.

5.9.
Press Q again to exit the Quick mask mode or press the Edit in standard mode button in your Tool palette.

5.10.
When you return to Standard mode you can see our Flower is selected. Press Ctrl C (copy). Ctrl N (new document) and press Enter. Press Ctrl V to past.

The finished result:

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! If you have any questions with regard to this tutorial use our contact form.

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6 Responses to Extract a Selection from a Photo

  1. jim says:

    one of the best tutorials I have seen

  2. Pingback: removing backrounds??

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Hello. I am trying to extract a portion of a photo and make that the new photo. I worked though your very useful turorial, but I can’t seem to save just the extracted image to work with just that. I’m removing an eyeball from a photo and want a round eyeball photo to insert another photo into the iris. Please help

  4. Excellent tutorial. However, I need to know how to transfer my extracted photo to another document.
    Please reply.

  5. metal gear says:

    awsome tutorial!, many thank merek denko

  6. Bell says:

    Extremely helpful, thank you!!!

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