Photoshop tutorial: How to use the Select Subject tool in Photoshop CC 2018

Select Subject is a new Photoshop tool that makes removing backgrounds from photos very easy indeed. But it's not as one-click as Adobe says. Here's how to get the best from it, even on tricky photos.


Select Subject is a new tool that was added in Photoshop CC 2018. It harvests some of that Adobe magic to help you select your subject matter for cut outs or masking quicker than ever before.

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In this Photoshop tutorial, photographer and retoucher Tigz Rice will guide you through the simple process of Select Subject, with follow on steps of how to refine your selection for that perfect cut out.

Model: Marnie Scarlet

STEP 1

Open your chosen image in Photoshop and go to Select > Subject. You can also find easy access buttons within the Magic Wand and Quick Select Tools if you’re already working within these tools.

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STEP 2

Having tested the Select Subject tool on several different images, it does a very good job of selecting most of Marnie Scarlet here, but there are a few details missing. Lets look at how we can refine those.

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STEP 3

Go to Select > Select and Mask to open up our refining window. Alternatively, if you’re working with the Quick Selection tool, click on the Select and Mask button in the top submenu.

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STEP 4

First, choose your view mode in the Properties Panel. From the View dropdown menu, I’ve chosen On White and set the Opacity to about 50% so it is easier to see what has been selected and whats still to be included in the selection.

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STEP 5

Clicking on the Quick Selection Tool on the top left, I can use this tool to roughly paint in any areas, like the top of the hat, that are missing.

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Similarly, if I hold down the Alt key, I can turn the brush into a negative and brush over any parts of the background that have been selected and are not required.

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STEP 6

Clean up the edges of the selection by using the Refine Edge Brush - the next one down in the left toolbar.

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I started brushing round the edges of Marnie to neaten up any areas where the grey background meets her body. You may find this slightly easier if you put the Opacity up to 100% for these kind of areas, as there’s a better contrast on the edges.


STEP 7

You may find, like in this example, that a few stubborn areas won’t magic themselves into clean cutouts, like the left side of the head and the right thigh.

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Back at an opacity of 50%, use the Brush tool to fix any of these areas by hand.


STEP 8

Next, lets have a look at some of the options in the right hand Properties panel.

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Back at 100% Opacity, turn on Smart Radius in Edge Detection. As this image has a lot of hard edges, there’s probably not much need for this to be high, so I’ve left the settings at 1px. For softer images with floaty fabrics for example, you may want something up nearer 5px.

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STEP 9

Next, in the Output Settings, tick the Decontaminate Colours box to remove any remaining hue around the edges of your selection.

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This image was shot on grey, so again this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.


STEP 10

Use the Global Refinements sliders to fine-tune your selection. Here, I’ve added 1px of feathering to the edges of my image to give them a softer effect when masked out of the background. This would be beneficial if I want to go on and create a composite image against a different background.

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STEP 11

I've added 1px of smoothness to neaten out any rough edges I may have missed using the Select and Mask process.

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This works on the latex, but I would probably not do this this for softer fabrics or models with fine hair.

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STEP 12

hen you’re happy with your selection, click on the dropdown menu in Output settings and choose your output method. For a non-destructive workflow, I’ve chosen New Layer with Layer Mask.

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STEP 13

Finally, tick the Remember Settings box if you will be doing multiple cut-outs of the same type of image and press OK to confirm you are finished.

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