Tutorial: Silhouettes in Adobe Photoshop Elements

Part 1: Extracting the Subject

I’ve seen silhouettes popping-up all over the place! I love the classic look that you can mix-up with modern backgrounds and colors to match your decor. Best part, it’s a quick and easy DIY project with no fancy scissor-wielding skills necessary.

It’s important to start with a clutter-free background for your picture. Ideally, your

subject will be backlight. You can expose for the background so that your subject appears dark. Of course, wrangling a 15-month old into just the right position is difficult. I settled for a profile shot of my baby girl with a solid background.

I imported my best profile shot into Adobe Photoshop Elements. Crop the image if your SOOC shot was not ideal. I needed to crop the corner of the futon out of my shot to simplify the image.

Then, open the Magic Extractor from the Image menu. The Magic Extractor isolates a subject from a background with a few simple steps. First, use the Foreground Brush tool to highlight your subject in red. You don’t have to fill the entire subject, just trace it roughly being sure not to go outside the lines. Did you know you only need kindergarten level color skills for this project?

Then, click on the Background Brush tool from the menu at the left. It looks like a highlighter with a negative sign. Click in several parts of the background to mark them with blue. Again, it’s not necessary to mark every portion. You can always refine the selection later if needed

Don’t worry if you’ve made a mistake. Click on the eraser to delete your foreground or background marks.

When you’ve marked the foreground and background, click the preview button to see the first rendering. Magically, the background disappears and most of your subject should be left on the screen. Now, you can refine the extraction. At this stage, I zoomed in to do some fine tuning, especially around her beautifully long eyelashes, hair fringe, and neckline.

As I worked, I found it helpful to switch back and forth between displaying the Selection Area and Original Photo using the drop down menu on the right.

When viewing the Selection Area, use the Add to or Remove from Selection tools to refine your selection. Changing the background to mask in the preview box helped me to see the isolated silhouette and identify areas that needed revision.

When you are satisfied with the extraction, click OK and the Magic Extractor window closes and your subject reappears in the Elements window on a transparent background.

At this point, you could simply add any background you choose to the image. Maybe my girl would like to visit the Eiffel Tower or relax on the beach? Nah, her new favorite activity is walking to the mail box and barking back to all the dogs along the way.

Next week, I’ll show you how to convert the extracted image to a silhouette for a more traditional application.


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