Make A New Background With
Photoshop Elements

In this tutorial we're going to see how to make a new background in a photo with Photoshop Elements. We'll change a background to anything else of your choice.

The choices are almost infinite. You can change the background to . . .

  • Any color you want. From solid black or white to any color of the rainbow
  • An interesting gradient
  • A pattern
  • Another photo

There's 2 videos, Part-1 and Part-2.

In Part-1 we look at separating the subject from his background. The original background is the kind of place you hear people longing to escape from: an office cubicle.

This tutorial also gives us the opportunity to explore how to capture fine detail with Photoshop Elements. In this case the guy's hair.

And we get to use a Layer Mask. But don't worry, we'll take it slow.

In Part-2 we actually make a new background for our photo. We'll discover where to go in PS Elements to find these new backgrounds.

Watch the videos below to see exactly how to make a new background and then try it yourself.

Just follow the steps below the videos . . .



STEP ONE- Select Your Subject.

Go to the Toolbox and make the Quick Selection Tool active by clicking on it.

Move your cursor over your subject in the Active Image Area. Use the left and right Bracket keys to size your Cursor to a good size to make an efficient Selection of your subject.

The left Bracket "[" key makes it smaller, the right Bracket "]" key makes it larger.

Click-and-drag over your subject with the Quick Selection Tool.

Adjust your Selection if you need to so that your subject is completely Selected, but no background is Selected.

Don't try to select fine areas of things like hair or fur. We'll get those in the next step.

STEP TWO- Open The Refine Edge Dialog Box.

Click on "Refine Edge" in the Tool Options.

The Refine Edge dialog box appears.

STEP THREE- Choose Your View.

The first section at the top of the Refine Edge dialog box is View Mode. Click on the little thumbnail of your photo labeled "View".

A pop-up list will appear. From the list choose an option for how you want to view your current Selection.

I want to try to add some of the fine hairs sticking up on the top of his head. Since his hair is dark, I'll choose "On White" to view my Selection because it will give me a good contrasting color to view his hair against.

Double-click on your choice to close the pop-up and activate your choice.

STEP FOUR- Capture Detail.

The next section is called "Edge Detection". If the Radius slider isn't set at 0.0 px, drag the slider all the way to the left to bring it to zero.

Next, slowly drag the slider towards the right as you watch how your photo is being affected in the Active Image Area.

You want to drag the Radius slider to the point where you get as much hair detail as you can without the inside edges of your subject getting out of whack.

You'll know what I mean by out of whack when you see it. In fact if you want to see how bad it can look, drag the slider all the way over to the right temporarily.

For my photo I'm going to choose 4.8 pixels.

If you want to try to capture more detail than you got by using the Radius slider, you can use the "Refine Radius" tool.

Click on its icon which is located in the upper-left of the "Edge Detection" section. It looks like a brush.

If you don't remember exactly where there's more fine detail in your photo you can go back up to View Mode and click on the "View" thumbnail to reveal the pop-up view options.

At the bottom of the list is an option called "Reveal Layer". That will show you what your whole Layer looks like without applying your Selection to it.

You can temporarily switch to that view to identify where there are areas of detail around your Selection that you want to try and capture as part of your Selection.

Quickly switch between views by using the keyboard shortcuts listed in parenthesis after the View's name. Just press "R" for Reveal Layer to see the whole image and identify areas you might want to include.

Then press "W" to go back to "On White" or "B" to go to "On Black" and paint over those areas with the Refine Radius Tool.

With the Refine Radius tool, paint over areas where there is more detail that you want to try to capture.

Sometimes using Refine Edge and the Refine Radius Tool will mess up other parts of your Selection. For example in the photo above, look at the side of his face above the eyebrow.

We can restore those areas by using the "Erase Refinement" Tool. It's located right below the Refine Radius Tool and it looks like an Eraser.

Click on it to make it active and then paint over the messed up areas to remove the affects of using Refine Edge and the Refine Radius Tool.

STEP FIVE- Adjust The Edges.

There's no recipe for the 4 sliders in this section. The best advice I can give is to try each one as you keep an eye on how it affects the edges of your image in the Active Image Area.

As you see your edges improve, make sure that you're not sacrificing the fine detail you captured in STEP FOUR.

STEP SIX- Output Your New Selection.

If you have some traces of the colors from your old background on the edges of your subject, click on the "Decontaminate Colors" box.

Use the "Amount" slider as you watch how it affects your image in the Active Image Area.

If you don't have any color contamination on your image you can leave this box unchecked.

Click on the "Output To" field to see a list of options for your new Selection.

I like the "New Layer with Layer Mask" option because it's very versatile. When you choose it, Photoshop Elements will duplicate your Background Layer and turn your Selection into a Layer Mask on the new duplicate Layer.

Now click "OK" to close the Refine Edge dialog box and commit to
your changes.

STEP SEVEN- Add A Layer For Your New Background.

Look at the Layers Panel and you'll see the new Layer and Layer Mask that was created from the adjustments you made in the Refine Edge dialog box. It's named "Background Copy" by default.

Also notice that Elements turned off the visibility of the Background Layer as indicated by the red diagonal line across the Eye icon.

Over in the Active Image Area you will see your subject surrounded by the gray and white checkerboard pattern that represents transparency in Photoshop Elements.

STEP EIGHT- Add A New Layer For Your New Background.

After closing out of the Refine Edge dialog box your new "Background copy" Layer should be active in the Layers Panel, indicated by being highlighted in blue.

To add a new blank Layer to put our new background on we can click on the "Create a new layer" icon in the Layers Panel. It looks like a sheet of paper with a folded over corner.

But it will add the New Layer above the currently active Layer which is our Background copy Layer. Here's a little trick to add the new Layer below the active Layer.

Hold down the Command key on a Mac or the Control key on a PC as you click on the "Create a new layer" icon. And it will add the new Layer below the active Layer. Right where we want it!

A new blank Layer is added below the "Background copy" Layer in the Layers Panel and it's named "Layer 1" by default.

This is the Layer we're going to use to put our new background onto.

STEP NINE- Add A New Background.

There are a couple of different places you can go in Photoshop Elements to make a new background.

One place is the "Fill Layer" dialog box. To get there go up to the Edit Menu and choose "Fill Layer...".

The Fill Layer dialog box will appear. Click on the "Use" field to see a list of options pop-up that you can use to fill your new Layer with.

There are 7 different options. If you know what you want to use, click on it from the pop-up list. If you're not sure what you want to use, click on one of the options from the list to try it.

Now click "OK" to close the dialog box and apply your change.

Another place you can go to make a new background is in the Layers Panel. Click on the half-blue-half-white circle icon. That's the "Create new fill or adjustment layer" icon.

From the pop-up list you can choose any of the 3 options at the top of
the list.

One other place you can go to make a new background with those same 3 options is the Layer Menu and choose "New Fill Layer".

And yet another option for you to make a new background is to use a
different photo

Have both photos open in PS Elements and consolidated to Tabs.

Click on the Tab at the top of the Active Image Area of the photo that you're using for the new background.


  1. Press Command-A on a Mac or Control-A on a PC for
    "Select All".
  2. Press Command-C on a Mac or Control-C on a PC for
  3. Press Command-D on a Mac or Control-D on a PC for

Next, click on the Tab of the Photo you want to make a new background for.

Make sure that the Layer below the Layer with the Layer Mask is active in the Layers Panel.

Then press Press Command-V on a Mac or Control-V on a PC to
"Paste" the photo that you copied into the photo.

Use the Move Tool to resize the new photo background if you need to, and to position it where you want it.

STEP 10- Adjust Your Layer Mask (Optional).

This step is only necessary if after adding your new background, you notice that the edge between your subject and the new background doesn't look good.

In my example I needed to adjust the edge along the subject's face. First, make sure that the Layer Mask is active by clicking on it in the Layers Panel.

Then click on the Brush Tool from the Toolbox to make it active.

Next make sure that you have the Foreground Color set to the right color for your adjustment.

If you need to hide (conceal) some of the original background, choose black. If you need to show (reveal) more of the subject, choose white.

Usually for this type of fix you want a hard-edge Brush. But whether you want a hard-edge or soft-edge Brush, choose it from the Tool Options.

Finally, paint along your edge to adjust it.

And that's it, we're done! Those are the steps to make a new background for your photo.

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