Masking a photo sounds like you are putting something like a Halloween mask on the photo. Not at all, what you are doing it taking the background out from behind the subject you want to extract from the photo and either replace that background or use the subject or object you have extracted within another photo. In college art classes we used liquid masking fluid to mask off areas we did not want the pigment to touch but to stay white; that was in watercolor and airbrush classes. In airbrush class we also used a plastic masking sheet that we cut the areas we wanted to airbrush out then replaced them and worked on the next area to be painted.
In a sense that is what you are doing with the digital mask. You are blocking off the area you want to keep and leaving the area you want to erase free from the mask. In ReMask 3 you block off the area you want to keep with green and the area you want to erase with red and outline the area you want to keep with blue. In Photoshop you outline the area with one color and fill it with blue to keep it.
Sounds complicated but in reality it isn’t as complicated as it may sound. Or does it sound simple? I have been doing just that for about ten years with Photoshop. I would outline the subject/object and then erase the background from around it and have to clean up the portion that was not erased by enlarging the photo in Photoshop then carefully erasing the rest of the background that was right up next to the subject/object.
I have used extracted flowers to create borders around other photos or made a border that had nothing but the border to be used as a frame for whatever I decided to use it for later. You can do this with just about anything that you find appealing.
How do you extract a subject/object from a photo? Whatever graphics program you use usually can do some extracting or erasing of the background around the subject to be extracted. Or if you don’t feel the extraction feature of your graphics program works best you can always buy a plugin/filter to use to extract whatever you want to remove from its background.
I have tried a few plugins which say they do it easily but the one I have found to work best is a plugin/filter created by Topaz Labs called ReMask 3, and no they are not paying me to advertise for them, if they were I would so state it here. I like the ease in which you can extract simple objects from a photo as well as the ability to extract complicated subjects/objects and retain hair, leaves, etc. from the original photo.
I have included some examples of my work where I have removed the background or extracted the subject from the background; however you want to express it. They are both the same really; you end up with just the subject/object from the old photo.
When I work on any photo I never work directly on the original file. I always make a copy to work from, that way I have the original to go back to at any time I mess up what I’m working on at the time. I also use layers in Photoshop, I found by using layers to do each thing to the photo I can compare what it will look like before I either combine the effects or a background to the extracted subject/object. It pays to also save periodically what you are working on so that if you have a power outage then you have only lost the last few minutes of work. It is frustrating to work for an hour then the power goes out on you and you lose that hours’ worth or work. That is also why I have a UPS, Uninterrupted Power Supply, so even if the power goes off I have a few minutes to save and shut down my computer without losing all that work.
In Photoshop you outline the subject in the extraction window that pops up when you click on the extraction function in the filters folder. You then fill the area you want to retain and then click OK to remove the background from the subject. As you can see in the photo the background is gone. It isn’t perfect but it works and gives you something to work from at this point.
In your graphics program that uses filters/plugins you would open Topaz ReMask 3 which opens a window where you work on the photo. In ReMask you have the option of using a split window to observe the results of the areas you are removing as well as the area you are keeping or you can use a window split four ways to show your original, the extraction, the kept area and what they call tricolor where you have outlined the object/subject to keep. You can refine the areas to be cut and to be kept while you are working in ReMask which is a great help before you apply the finished work to your photo.
When I first started removing the backgrounds from photos I used the selection tool to outline the object, then reversed it and hit delete to remove most of the background. To remove the rest of the background I would enlarge the photo so I could see the edges of the subject/object and use the eraser tool to remove the final portions of the background. That is tedious work to say the least but it works to give you a finished extraction. That was before Photoshop included an extraction filter or before other companies created masking filters/plugins to work in Photoshop or other graphics programs.
The example photos I have gotten permission from <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.topazlabs.com/products.html">Topaz Labs</a> to use here are both illustrative of just how well their program works in extracting a subject or object from its background. The photo of the bride shows in the original a grassy background and then after extraction you can add any background you would like and it shows through the veil that the bride is wearing so well it looks like that was the original background behind her. The same was done to remove the background behind the tree. If you have ever tried to remove backgrounds you know how frustrating it can be to remove backgrounds from around hair or tree leaves and limbs much less the removal of the background from behind a veil that is so delicate in appearance.
Topaz also has some very excellent tutorials on how to use each of their plugins. They teach you how to remove the background from behind the brides veil as well as from around the tree’s limbs and leaves. Most companies which have extraction or masking programs as well as their other software usually have tutorials on how to best use their products, they also have forums for discussion and to ask questions on how to use their products.
The price range for masking filters/plugins range from around $70 to over $250 and even though the highest priced ones are usually used by the pros the lowest priced ones are not less useful. Some might say the higher priced ones are more price than having a better product. If you are just starting out working with a graphics program then I would definitely recommend Topaz’s ReMask 3 over just the built in masking tool in the graphics program. It is on the lower price end of the scale and as you can see it works great for removing the backgrounds around subjects.
I’m still learning to use it myself but the learning curve is not steep as with some programs and with their tutorials you are up masking and removing backgrounds in no time at all.
There again if you can’t afford to buy a masking program and all you have is the graphics programs eraser tool, it works. It takes longer and the result may not be exactly what you want. I know all about that as that is all I had for many years and I learned a few tricks to help with removing the background the hard way.
After you use the selection tool to remove as much of the background as is possible without removing part of the subject, enlarge the photo in the graphics program until the edge of your subject is about as big as you can get it. Use a bigger eraser to remove most of the rest of the background. Then reduce the size of the eraser so you can get closer to the edge of the subject and remove the final pieces of the background. I then would use the blur tool to create a soft edge to my subject that way when you add it to another photo or add a new background it does not look like it is standing up from the rest of the photo but appears to be originally in the photo or the background was the original one. I sometimes would merge both subject and background and use the blur tool around the edges of the subject again to soften the edges so the addition would not stand up from the background.
By using the blur tool on the edges you also get rid of a halo effect that is sometimes not removed by using just the eraser tool to remove the background. That way the new background and subject blend in together without that halo around the subject that is sometimes left.
I hope I have explained this well enough that you can do it on your own now. If you have any questions I will be here to help in any way I can or point you to where you can get help