Remove The Background Around Hair

You can remove the background around hair and other fine detail in Photoshop Elements by using "Edge Detection".

Edge Detection is a feature that was added to Photoshop Elements 11 and has remained in every new version of Elements since.

Before then it was very difficult (if not impossible) to remove the background around hair.

The Push I Needed

I've procrastinated doing a tutorial about this for a long time. Finally Joe, a visitor to my website gave me the push I needed.

He sent me a great photo of his dog Piper, airborne, jumping into a swimming pool. He wanted to know how to get rid of the original background and put Piper into a new photo.

He was specifically concerned with how to remove the background around hair. Here's the original photo that Joe sent me:

He agreed to let me use the photo, so a shout out to Joe (and Piper) for this tutorial!

Piper happens to be a  dog but you can remove the background around hair on a human the same way.

This Is Part-One

After I got into it, I realized it was gonna take a while to do the video. So I decided to split it up.

I wanted to make sure to cover all the details. But on top of that, once I got rid of the background, Piper had a nasty color cast from the aqua color of the pool. It proved rather tough to fix.

The good thing is that you get to see a couple of different approaches to removing color casts. Which is something you might have to deal with when you remove the background around hair or any subject for that matter.

What You'll Discover

In this first part I'll show how to use Edge Detection to remove a background around fine hair detail. I'll also demonstrate some tricks to remove a color cast.

In part-two I'll go over how to make your subject look natural in it's new photo.


Here's a summary of the steps to use in Photoshop Elements when you want to remove the background around hair.

Make sure to grab a free Cheat Sheet of the steps at the end to print out and use as a handy reference when using this technique in Photoshop Elements!

STEP ONE- Zoom Up On Subject.

Press the Command+Spacebar on a Mac or the Control+Spacebar on a PC to temporarily change the cursor into the Zoom Tool. Click and drag around your subject to zoom in on it.

STEP TWO- Make The Quick Selection Tool Active.

If necessary, resize your cursor using the left and right
Bracket Keys

STEP THREE- Click-&-Drag On The Subject To Select It.

Start your Selection by using the Quick Selection Tool to click-and-drag over your entire subject.

After the initial selection of your subject, you might have to fine tune it by adding and/or subtracting areas around the edge.

Continue using the Quick Selection Tool. To add an area you just have to click-and-drag over it. To subtract an area press the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on a PC as you click-and-drag.

STEP FOUR- Go Up To Select Menu And Choose "Refine Edge...".

The Refine Edge dialog box will appear.

STEP FIVE- Enter Settings In Refine Edge.

STEP 5A- Choose A View

The View field lets you choose how to view your selection while in the Refine Edge dialog box.

Click on the "View" thumbnail and a list of options pop-up.

I usually choose either "On White" or "On Black". If the detail I want is dark, I choose "On White". If the detail is light, I choose "On Black".

But you can easily experiment with the different options to find one that you prefer.

STEP 5B- Set The Radius

Click-and-drag the Radius Slider towards the right. Usually a small amount of 5 or 6 works well (but every photo is different).

STEP 5C- View The Radius (Optional).

If you want to see how big your radius setting is, click on the "Show Radius" box. Or you can use the keyboard shortcut by pressing the letter "J".

STEP SIX- Manually Add Radius To Add Fine Detail.

You can add radius to areas around the edge of your photo where there is fine detail that you want Elements to add to your selection.

First make sure that the "Refine Radius" Tool is active by clicking on it.

Next, with the Refine Radius Tool "paint" over the areas that have detail that you want to capture.

Elements will analyze the areas that you paint over and decide if it's detail of your subject. If it thinks it is, it will be added to your selection.

If you're unsure and you need to verify where there is additional detail, temporarily switch to "Reveal Layer" to view your photo without the selection.

To do that, press the letter "R" on your keyboard. Make a mental note of where you see detail that you want to capture. Then go back to your other view (in my example I'm using "On White") by pressing the keyboard shortcut (for "On White" it's "W").

Or just press the letter "X" on your keyboard to toggle between the two views.

This is "Reveal Layer" view which allows me to verify where there is detail that I want to brush over with the Refine Radius Tool

STEP SEVEN- Add A Feather Amount To Your Selection.

Adding a very slight feather amount of 1 or 2 pixels can help blend your subject into a different photo more seamlessly.

Just click-and-drag the feather slider towards the right to around 1 or 2 pixels.

Quickly check that you haven't added too much feather. To do that press the letter "K" on your keyboard. That will switch your view to "Black & White".

This Feather amount looks good. Not too blurry.

Just look to make sure that the edges don't look too blurry. If they do, move the Feather Slider back towards the left to reduce the blurriness. Return to your other view by pressing the letter "X" again.

STEP EIGHT- Decontaminate Colors.

Often times color from the original photo bleeds into the edge of your selection.

To remove it, click on the box called "Decontaminate Colors". If that doesn't get rid of it, try increasing the "Amount" by moving the slider towards the right.

Don't expect it to remove a strong color cast like we have in this tutorial from the entire photo. This feature just looks at the edges.

STEP NINE- Choose How To Output Your Selection.

Finally, click on the "Output To" field and a pop-up menu will appear. Choose how you would like to output your new refined selection from the menu.

My favorite is "New Layer with Layer Mask". I like it because it leaves the Background Layer untouched. It even automatically hides the view of the Background Layer so that you can see your subject on a blank layer without any background around it.

Another benefit of this output is that you have a Layer Mask which you can further adjust if you need to tweak your selection a bit.

Now click "OK". The "Refine Edge" dialog box will close and your changes will be applied to your selection.

STEP 10- Remove Color Cast (If Necessary).

I'm going to give the short version of how to remove a color cast.

If you want the long version, it's in the video further up on this page. This photo had an unusually tough color cast. In most cases this quick and easy technique will work.

Go up to the Enhance Menu and choose Adjust Color>Remove Color Cast....

The "Remove Color Cast" dialog box appears. The instructions are right in the dialog box.

It says to "Click on a part of the image that should be either gray, white or black".

Nine times out of ten that will remove the color cast.

That's the end of Part-1 of this tutorial, but there's more...

I made a printable "Cheat Sheet" of these steps so you can use it as a quick reference when using Photoshop Elements.

Download it now for free by clicking the button below:

Go to Part-2 where we put Piper into a different photo.
Let me know what you think or if you have any questions.

Take care,

Here's some other tutorials you might be interested in:

Go from Remove The Background Around Hair to the Home page.


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