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Tutorial : Isolating objects in Photoshop
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Joined: 03 Mar 2005
Posts: 431

Post Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2005 1:03 am     Reply with quote

Isolating objects in Photoshop

Okay, so there are loads of isolation techniques available. Extraction, the pen tool, magic wand, etc, etc. Well, here are some more tips! Isolating objects can be a time consuming process, but is actually fun once you get the hang of it! (And editing times do eventually get shorter as you learn) This tutorial involves using the very basic tools in Photoshop, so for those of you who cringe at the words “pen tool” – this may be useful to you!

Step One – Preparation and Shooting

You’ll make it a LOT easier on yourself in terms of editing time if you set up your shot properly to begin with. This means you should,
- Use a smooth, white surface for your background (Bristol board will work fine – plus they’re dirt cheap and totally replaceable in the event of spillage)
- Use lots of light! A couple tungsten lamps are hardly enough. You can get some inexpensive 500-1000 watt lights at your hardware store… of course if you have the money to spend, you could have a proper studio setup!
- Get a good tripod… and a remote control if possible so that your hand doesn’t shake the camera when your shutter speed is low – typically anything under 1/60. (See link “What is shutter speed”)
- Make sure your subject is properly focused... you’ll want to use higher aperture values to ensure the whole object is in focus. (See link “What is aperture”)
- Keep the ISO at its lowest setting (50-100) to help ensure noise-free results.

Step Two – Editing

Now let’s start isolating! First, let’s adjust the curves. (see attachment 001) Go to Image > Adjustments > Curves. Click and hold the center of the diagonal line on the grid window, and drag toward the upper left corner. You’ll notice how much brighter the image looks already! Drag it until the background looks nice and white, but ensuring that the subject does not get overexposed! Press OK when you are finished.

Next, go to Image > Adjustments > Levels. (see attachment 002) Drag the white slider arrow on the right over toward the left side. You shouldn’t move this slider too much – it will overexpose your subject!

Now comes the more time-consuming part. First, create a new layer in the layers palette. Then select the Brush tool. View your image at 100% by selecting View > Actual Pixels, or double-click the magnify glass in the tools palette. (Double click the hand tool to fit the view in photoshop) Make sure the color of your brush is true #FFFFFF white. Keep the hardness of the brush at about 95% - this usually gives you crisp (but not too crisp!) edges.

While in the new layer you created, begin manually outlining the edges of the object. (see attachment 003) A lot of areas will probably already be solid white from the adjustments we made earlier... but now you have to clean up shadowed areas and touch up the edges around the subject that may not be white. Do this very easily by using the Shift key shortcut. (To create a straight line with the paint tool, click once where the line begins, then shift-click to create the end – and keep holding down the shift key to keep painting in sequence!)

Tip: Brush size can be easily increased/decreased by simply pressing these keys: [ ] … [ to decrease brush size and ] to increase.

Also, the dodge tool can be very useful for eliminating shadows - and it works similar to the paint brush! You'll find this tool in the tools palette.

Once you are finished, have a second look – make sure the edges are nice and clean. Always, always work in separate layers! (For ease of erasing any mistakes) And try and avoid “choppy” corners, uneven edges, or edges that are way too soft. Also be sure to make any color adjustments as required. (Image > Adjustments > Color Balance)

I welcome any questions! And even better - I'd love to see other methods of isolation posted here! Good luck!

Related Links:

Shutterstock discussion on isolation materials:

What is “aperture”?

What is shutter speed?

Photoshop basics:

The pen tool makes for an awesome isolation method, and I’ve found a great tutorial here: http://graphicssoft.about.com/od/photoshop/l/blrbps_4abfly.htm

001 - Adjusting Curves
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002 - Adjusting Levels
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003 - Isolating and Touching-up
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Last edited by Erin on Tue Aug 16, 2005 1:27 am; edited 2 times in total

Joined: 03 Mar 2005
Posts: 431

Post Posted: Tue Aug 16, 2005 1:05 am     Reply with quote

And of course, the final result!


 Filename:  tut_000.jpg
 Filesize:  43.41 KB
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Joined: 13 Jun 2005
Posts: 270
Location: France

Post Posted: Fri Aug 19, 2005 12:00 pm     Reply with quote

This is great! Thanks for taking the time and for the links.

Joined: 15 Jun 2005
Posts: 1822
Location: Oradea, Romania

Post Posted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:55 am     Reply with quote

Woww, this is really great. I tried several times to isolate objects with few success. Maybe if I follow these rules, who know ... 10x very much, Erin

Joined: 20 Jul 2005
Posts: 4839

Post Posted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 8:55 pm     Reply with quote

I think my way is faster...

Zoom in 100%. USe the polygon selection tool to rough in a selection around the object. Get it close, but don't waste time getting it perfect. Once you close around the object, contract the selection by a couple pixels. Smooth by several pixels. Invert the selection. Feather by a couple pixels. Hit delete. Voila. Honestly works really, really well, and as you get better at it, you can do it very fast.

All my isolated shots in my gallery were done with this technique.

Joined: 07 Feb 2005
Posts: 139

Post Posted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 6:35 am     Reply with quote

Great tutorial. Thank you erin. :)

Joined: 06 Jul 2005
Posts: 138

Post Posted: Sat Aug 27, 2005 5:40 pm     Reply with quote

wow, what a brilliant tutorial! I'm gonna try it now!

Joined: 15 May 2005
Posts: 120
Location: bedford, new york, usa

Post Posted: Tue Aug 30, 2005 1:43 pm     Reply with quote

erin and david, thanks very much. going to spend sometime today and work on techniques.
much appreciated.

Joined: 13 Apr 2005
Posts: 376
Location: Athens, Greece

Post Posted: Mon Sep 05, 2005 3:44 am     Reply with quote

Really useful, I've been experimenting with isolating objects but although I am improving, I still don't have the hang of it.

Thanks for the tips, really appreciated.


Joined: 07 Jun 2005
Posts: 440
Location: northern Arizona, USA

Post Posted: Wed Sep 07, 2005 4:43 pm     Reply with quote

David, could you explain a little more in depth so I can try out your technique? thanks!

Joined: 16 May 2005
Posts: 12

Post Posted: Wed Oct 05, 2005 9:43 pm     Reply with quote

I am continually learning more about the PS techniques. It amazes me what I learn from the forums like this. Your tip about a hardness of 95 even made a great difference. I also was not aware of the shift key method of making a straight line using the paintbrush tool. I just tried this and heck, it is gonna make my days a bunch easier. Keep the pointers coming and thanks.

Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 383
Location: http://www.jwestmorelandphoto.com

Post Posted: Fri Oct 07, 2005 10:31 pm     Reply with quote

This is typically how i do it, but this week on an interview I was asked to take a model that was on a white cube and place her on another object. I placed her on a cutout of a globe, but there were reflections on her hose from the previous white cube, which caused the knockout to look contrived. Any suggestions? Also, what is a good way to knock out hair. I don't have an expensive plug in, and am tight since i'm looking for a job.
Thanks again for the tips, guys

Joined: 14 May 2005
Posts: 616
Location: Canadia, eh?

Post Posted: Sat Oct 08, 2005 2:42 am     Reply with quote


That's a great method for isolating hair and stuff.

Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 383
Location: http://www.jwestmorelandphoto.com

Post Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 9:20 pm     Reply with quote

That is just awesome! Thanks a ton! Great Resource! I really need to spend some time working on this...hmmm, but tonight I think i'll just play WOW for a while...maybe tomorrow! LOL


Joined: 14 May 2005
Posts: 616
Location: Canadia, eh?

Post Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:49 pm     Reply with quote

Yeah, I actually found out about that from this forum, somebody else posted it... Sorry I forgot who you are but props to you nonetheless. Channel Mixer is an amazing tool in this regard ;)

(GIMP users can find the Channel Mixer in Filters->Colors->Channel Mixer, in case you're looking).
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