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How to Remove the Background of a Picture

There are instances when we need to remove a background in an image so the photograph can be integrated with other elements in a graphic composition, such as with typography or color schemes. You may think that you need Photoshop for such a task, but I've been using Luminar to remove the background for many of my images, and it works great. I'm going to walk you through the steps that I use to remove a background in this article.

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We're going to rely heavily on layers and brushing to remove the background. I also recommend that you create a solid white Jpeg image and keep it handy. We will use that file with Luminar's Add New Image Layer control, and it will become the white in our background.

To create the solid white image for our background, simply take a picture of a bright white surface (be sure to adjust your exposure compensation to +2.0), or take a screenshot of a white area on your computer, such as an open window with no content in it. Once you have the solid white image, keep it handy. We'll be using it to remove our background in just a minute.

Now open the image that you want to remove its background in Luminar. You can edit the image using Luminar's filters. But you should be focused on the subject only for doing this, since the background is going to be removed anyway.

Speaking of which, let's add that white background image to our layer stack so we can put it to work. Open layers, the click on the + icon, and choose Add New Image Layer. A dialog box will open, allowing you to navigate to your white background photo. Choose it and click OK.

At this point, all you will see is the white image. But we're going to change that using our brush to create a mask. First, go to the blend modes for that layer and choose Difference. This will reveal the image again (although looking a bit other worldly), making it easier to create a mask for the subject of the photo.

(You may be wondering why we're going to mask the subject when it's the background we want to change. The short answer is that it's faster to mask the subject, then invert the mask to cover the background.)

Click on the brush tool, set the opacity to 100 percent, and start painting the subject. Use a larger brush for the bigger areas in the middle, and a smaller brush with minimal softness for the detailed areas around the edges of the image.

If you want to see the actual mask you're creating, click on the eye icon in the brushing toolbar. The area you've been brushing will turn solid red. This makes it clear exactly what is being masked in the image, and what isn't.

Once you're satisfied with your brushing, click on the gear icon in the brushing toolbar and select Invert Mask. Now the background is masked and the subject isn't. Click on the eye icon again to turn off the red mask indicator, revealing the background. Then go back to your blend mode and choose Normal. The background for your image will be removed and pure white.

At this point, most photographers go back to the brush tool to touch up areas that don't look quite right. Take your time with these final touch ups to ensure that you're happy with the mask. Remember you have an erasing brush to help you with areas where you've strayed outside the lines.

Now here's where it gets even more interesting. What if you didn't want to wipe out the background all together, rather simply lighten it up a bit? You can do that by going to the opacity slider for the white background layer and adjusting it. As you move the slider to the right, the background gets brighter to the point of being pure white. As you move the slider to the left, the background starts to reappear again. You can go back and forth with the opacity slider until you get the exact look you want for the background.

You can also play with the blending modes for different looks for your background. For this image, I liked Soft Light with 17 percent layer opacity.

If you feel that your subject has more of an edge than you want (does it look like a cutout?), return to the base layer and enable a few of Luninar's creative filters, such as Soft Glow or Orton Effect. These can help soften the edges and blend your image with the background providing a more natural effect.

You can also create additional layers to work on specific areas of the subject and background. And those layers can be moved up and down the stack, and turned on and off, as needed to get the exact look that you want.

Be sure to save your work as a Luminar file by going to File > Save and check the box that reads Save History to Document. That way you'll be able to return to any stage of your editing.

You may want to export a version for use now too. If you want a pure while background, move the opacity slider on the white layer to 100 percent, then go to File > Export and create a working copy of the image.

On the other hand, if you want to retain some background, return to the slider and adjust accordingly, then export that version. Because the background has its own mask, you have complete control over it. And because you have the Luminar document saved, you can return to it anytime to change the look to suit your needs.

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