How to Change the Background of a Photo in Photoshop

Andy Betts Updated 14-12-2019

Do you want to change the background of a photo in Photoshop? Perhaps you want to turn a cloudy sky into a beautiful sunny day? Or add a flat background to your corporate headshot? If so, you’ll be pleased to know it’s actually quite easy.


Being able to change the background of a picture is one of Adobe Photoshop’s best features. The application even includes tools to select tricky areas like hair, and match the colors from different images.

How to Change the Background of a Photo in Photoshop

The best approach to changing the background in Photoshop is to create a selection that separates the foreground and the background.

change a photo's background in Photoshop before and after

As with everything in Photoshop, there are several different ways to do achieve the same results. In this tutorial we’ll be using the Quick Selection tool, but it would work just as effectively with the Pen tool.

If you want to follow along with the same images you can grab them both from, one of the best royalty-free image sites The Top 15 Sites for Copyright and Royalty-Free Images Here are the best stock photography websites that will ensure you always have access to copyright and royalty-free images. Read More . Download them here and here.


1. Select the Foreground Object

Grab the Quick Selection Tool from the toolbar, or by hitting W on your keyboard (one of many useful keyboard shortcuts in Photoshop Adobe Photoshop Keyboard Shortcuts 101 Whether you're a beginner or a pro, these Adobe Photoshop keyboard shortcuts will save you hours of time. Read More ). With a hardish brush click and drag inside the area you want to select. Photoshop will try to guess which parts you want to include based on the contrast levels in the image.

select photo background in photoshop

As as result, you’ll find that areas with high contrast and hard edges are selected cleanly, but low contrast and soft edges will require more work.

In some images you might find it easier to select the background instead. You can then invert the selection by pressing Shift + Ctrl + i on Windows, or Shift + Cmd + i on Mac.


2. Fine-Tune Your Selection

To fine-tune your selection zoom into the image and make your brush size smaller by pressing the left square bracket. Now continue clicking and dragging to add parts of the foreground object to your selection.

refine selection photoshop

If you need to remove anything from the selection hold down the Alt key and click and drag in those areas.

Ideally, your selection should contain all solid objects, but you don’t need to obsess over selecting individual strands of hair, for example. We’ll sort that out in a moment.


3. Select and Mask

In the options bar at the top of the screen click Select and Mask. The screen that opens enables you to refine the selection and convert it into a mask.

select and mask photoshop

In the Properties panel click the View Mode option to change how you will see your selection. Overlay is a good choice, as you can pick a color that contrasts with your image. But as you work you may want to hit the F key to cycle through the views—different backgrounds will highlight any problems with your selection.

4. Refine the Selection

Now you can begin refining the selection. In the toolbar on the left side of the screen are various tools to help you with this:

  • Quick Selection Tool. The same as we used in step 1, this can be used to quickly add (or remove) any larger areas to your selection.
  • Refine Edge Brush Tool. Best used over hair and other soft edges.
  • Brush Tool. Use this over harder edges.
  • Lasso/Polygonal Lasso Tool. Manually draw areas to add or remove from your selection.

Zoom in to your image to check the edges of the selection. You won’t need to touch much of it—you’re mostly looking for areas that either haven’t been selected, have been wrongly selected, or have very rough edges.

In our image we’ll start with the Brush tool to smooth the edges of the wall and body. Just paint in to add to the selection, or hold Alt and paint to remove areas.

refine edge photoshop

Next, switch to the Refine Edge tool to touch up the hair, or any soft edges. Under Edge Detection in the right hand panel check the box marked Smart Radius. This helps Photoshop make a distinction between soft and hard edges.

Also, you can increase the Radius a little. You’ll need to do this by eye to see its effects—press P to toggle between before and after.

select hair photoshop

Place a softish Refine Edge brush on the outer edge of the hair and begin brushing. You should see strands of hair starting to be added to the selection. Hold down the Alt key and paint to undo your changes if you aren’t happy with them.

5. Adjust the Settings

The Select and Mask options include several listed under Global Refinements. We don’t need to use them for our image, but for reference they are:

  • Smooth. Smooths the edge of a selection, removing any jagged lines. Good for selections with a clear edge.
  • Feather. Softens the edge of a selection by adding a feather.
  • Contrast. Hardens the edge of a selection by increasing contrast on the edge pixels.
  • Shift Edge. Moves your entire selection in or out by a specified number of pixels.

6. Remove Color Fringing

Once you’re happy with your selection, go to the Output Settings in the right hand panel. Tick Decontaminate Colors to remove any color fringe left in your selection.

remove color fringing photoshop

In Output, choose New Layer with Layer Mask, and click OK. You will now return to your main image, with your selection added as a new layer. Now that you’ve removed the image background How to Remove a Background in Photoshop Here's how to remove a background in Adobe Photoshop in clear step-by-step instructions anyone can follow. Read More , you’re ready to add a new background.

7. Paste Your New Background

Next, paste in the image containing your new background. Place it on a layer just below the layer containing your foreground selection.

add background photoshop

Use the Hand tool to position the layer wherever you want, resizing it if necessary using the Free Transform tool (Ctrl +T, or Cmd + T). Grab the handles on the the corners or sides of the images and drag inwards to make it smaller. Hold the Shift key to keep the aspect ratio the same.

change background photoshop

8. Match the Colors

By now it should be looking pretty good. The final step is to fix colors of the foreground to make sure they blend properly with the background.

Select the foreground layer, making sure to select the image not the mask. Go to Image > Adjustments > Match Color.

match color photoshop

In the window that opens go to Source and select the image you’re working on. Under Layer select which layer you want to fix — you can either match the foreground to your new background, or vice versa.

fix background colors photoshop

Now check the Neutralize box to remove any color casts from your chosen layer, and adjust the Luminance and Intensity options until your foreground and background match. You can reduce the effect using the Fade slider if you need to. Use the Preview option to toggle between the before and after states.

9. You’re Done!

Click OK and you’re done. Save your file in the PSD format to preserve all the layer information. With the foreground, background, and original image all on separate layers, your file remains fully editable. For more ways to improve your image editing, try these Adobe Photoshop workflow tips 8 Adobe Photoshop Workflow Tips to Improve Your Image Editing Working in Adobe Photoshop can be time consuming, but there are a few tips and tricks you can use to speed up your workflow. Read More .

You can edit the mask to add or remove from what’s visible in your foreground, and you can reposition the background or even experiment with different ones entirely.

To share your image you’ll need to save it in another format. Go to File > Save As and choose Jpeg to do this. Don’t delete your PSD, though—that’s your backup!

change background of a picture in photoshop

Ready for another Photoshop tutorial? How about learning to create a podcast cover How to Create a Podcast Cover Using Photoshop This article will walk you through how to design and create a podcast cover from scratch using Photoshop. Read More  or an online photo frame with Photoshop How to Create an Online Photo Frame Using Photoshop Here's a step-by-step tutorial on how to create a digital photo frame for online pictures using Adobe Photoshop. Read More ?

What If You Don’t Have Photoshop?

When you’re working in Photoshop background tweaks are easy. But you can achieve similar things in most other serious graphics packages, too. If you’d rather use something less expensive than Adobe’s tools, we’d recommend GIMP. It’s free, and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Once you’ve installed it, check out our guide on how to change a background in GIMP 6 GIMP Background Tweaks and Tips to Customize Your Images GIMP offers lots of different ways to remove the background of an image. But which is the right one to use, and how do they work? Read More to help you get started.

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Tutorial.

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  1. mohamed ilham
    June 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    so very helpful

  2. srhgrdnr
    June 8, 2017 at 1:23 am

    so not helpful, would make more sense and be easier to learn via watching a video not screen prints and writing out how to do it. Waste of my time to even look at this.

    • matteo
      August 25, 2018 at 12:27 pm

      When you are not good to follow some instruction or read a manual i think ever a video can't help you!

      Thanks MakeUseOf!

  3. Koren Schmedith
    May 21, 2017 at 7:29 am

    This article consists of a great set of information regarding Photoshop. It is a very effective post. Well detailed and nicely described.

  4. Koren Schmedith
    May 21, 2017 at 7:27 am

    It is a post consists of a great set of information. I loved the way of your writing and the whole article.

  5. anil kumar
    April 20, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Nice post with a detailed information and presentation is also good. just now i tried to change the background of image and i didn't able to find the short cut of free transform. Here in this post i found it . Thanks for your it is very much easy to understand.

  6. Faisal
    April 10, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for complete guide.

    Such a nice brief tutorial :)

    Stuck on Matching Colors option. I couldn't make it done right way.