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Photoshop Tutorial – How to Cut Out Complicated Hair Images

this blog presents tips on cutting out hair from a background

Photoshop Tutorial – How to Cut Out Complicated Hair Images

Adobe Photoshop is a very useful application for editing photos in any flexible form and desire. However, working on images with complicated details like the hair can be a pain that it gets so difficult to be artistic. With some Photoshop tutorials from the pros, though, you can pull a trick or Photoshop effects that will make your images looking more impressive than ever.

One of the most complicated but also the most basic Photoshop effects is trimming an element from a background. This can be very easy when a person you are cutting out has a flat and flowing hair. But when the subject is engaged in an action shot and has his or her hair flying all over the scene, it can get tricky. Much more when the background is complicated.

cutting out hair from background to apply another background is quite a work on photoshop

 

To help you figure this out, we followed a Photoshop expert on Youtube called Dansky. Look at the photo above. The subject has a very detailed hair. While it looks crazy difficult to transfer this on another background. Dansky has a way to make the process simpler.

So in this tutorial we are going to learn the best way to cut out difficult images from their background in Photoshop. I’m not talking about solid shapes and people against green screens. I’m talking about hair and irregular edges against less-than perfect backgrounds. You know, the kind of thing that you have to deal with in the real world, not just for tutorials.

Photoshop Tutorial – Working on Complicated Hair Detail

In this tutorial we will work on an image that was already cut and placed on a transparent background

Step1

Make a duplicate layer of the image. This way the original is preserved on the background. Work on the duplicated layer.

Hide the background by clicking off its visibility icon.  Choose Select>Color Range from the Menu. When the Color Range Dialog box open, choose the Left Eye Dropper tool and click on the background color in the image window (pink). You will see the selected color turn white in the dialog box. Move the Fuzziness slider until the image is mostly black and the background is a clean as you can get it.

Tip: To add a color to the selection click on the eyedropper tool with the plus sign and click in the image. Click ok.

Another way is to use the CHANNEL as Dansky advises. Here you will see the RGB versions of the image. Look for the one that has the lightest background so you can easily see all the details of the hair you need to cut out.

Like the step mentioned above, make a copy of the image in the channel you selected. Go to the Image tab>Adjustments>Levels.

defining the hair to cut out

With the selection active, switch to the Channels palette. Click the save selection as channel button, it’s the second one to the left on the bottom of the channels palette. A new alpha channel will now be visible. Press “Ctrl/Cmd+D” to Deselect and click on Alpha 1 in the channels palette. The main window will now turn black and white. The advantage of using a channel is the ability to fine tune the selection without effecting the original image. Black represents the areas that we want to keep and white, the areas to be discarded.

STEP 2

Notice that there are areas of gray, these would be semi-transparent and need to become solid black and white (except for areas that should be semitransparent such as soft edges). There are tiny dots also visible, there will make for a very messy selection. Here is a quick solution that I have come up with: Click Image>Adjustments>Levels..

In the levels Dialog box, click the black point slider on the left and drag it to the right until the gray areas have become a solid black, Slide the White point slider to the left until the whites are nice and clean and the grainy effect has gone. Click ok to apply.

STEP 3

Time to fine tune the mask. Choose a black brush and make the edge hard. Paint over all the areas that belong in the object to mask out. Use a larger brush for large areas and a smaller brush for finer detail such as around the feathers. Use a white paint color to paint out the areas that should be removed.

Choose a black brush and make the edge hard

STEP 4

Sometimes it can be hard to guess which part of the image belongs in the foreground and a peek at the original image is needed.  Click on eye icon to the left of RGB at the top of the Channels palette.

STEP 5

Hold Cmd(Ctrl PC) and click on the Alpha 1 thumbnail. You will now see an active selection. Click on RGB to see the color image. Open the layers palette.

Select the working layer and add a layer mask. The masked area of the background will now be removed to reveal a nice clean masking effect.

add a mask layer

If it looks the opposite, click on the layer mask and press Ctrl/Cmd+I to invert the mask. You can touch up the mask by painting with black or white to add or remove portions of the image.

At this point all whites in the image might be the same as the background (checkered like the PNG transparent background).

the image now has all its white background turned into checkered backgorund

To fix this, simply hold on the ALT and left click on the mask to see what has been mask and what hasn’t. Select a foreground color (preferably white in this case since white is mostly what adopted the masking background). Select the brush tool and start painting white on the affected areas of the image.

wipe out all the masked are within the image with white foreground

Hold down again on the layer mask to bring back the image and inspect if everything within your subject has already been covered with the foreground color. Then apply the new background color or image.

Step 6

Inspecting the new image, if there’s a highlighted part around the hair, you’ll need to work on that too. All you need to do is to add a new layer (making sure the 2 first layers are locked) and create a clipping mask.

retouch the hair to remove the highlight around it and make it really look like it's a part of the new background

Click on the clone stamp and sample a hair part to apply its color on the rest of the hair, most especially those that are highlighted. Hold Alt and left click on the part you want to clone, release alt and paint on the hair you need to retouch. You will then see the highlights gone.

Basically, what it does is it copies a portion of the hair that you selected and covers the highlighted areas by seemingly adding more hair.

covered highlight area around hair

STEP 7

If there are areas that still need to be removes such as on the right side of this image, repeat the proceeding steps. Because each image is unique, some will need several passes and some can be done in a single pass. As you can see, this technique is very effective and the image can be dropped onto any background. Look at the top left of the image to see how precise the cut out is on the detailed feathers. Try that with the pen tool!

Final Words

Do not be intimidated with difficult images because there’s always a technique to make the work easier. Like this hair image. Adobe Photoshop is a Powerful tool; you just have to learn how to use its features.

So until our next Photoshop tutorial!

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