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Removing hair from a background

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Jochem Baron
Removing hair from a background
on May 30, 2010 at 5:39:42 pm

Hello,

First off all, I have to say that I'm pretty new to photoshop. Please forgive me if I ask things that are really simple for you.

So here's my problem: I was removing a woman with blond hair from a red background (a pretty solid red color) so I could use a different background. Now my problem is that I can't remove all of the red from the hair. I'll attach a picture to show you what I mean.
Before:
After:

I used a technique I found on the internet: duplicate one of the RGB-channels (in my case that'd be green because it gave the most contrast). After that you'd have to use the 'levels' box to increase the contrast even more. When you've done that enough times, you'd get a white silhouette (with a black background). Now you can command klick on the 'green copy' channel and it will load the woman with the hair. Switch all the RGB color channels back on (=visible) and turn off the 'green copy' channel. Now you can use 'layer via copy' and you'll have the woman with the hair on her own separate layer. That gives me the 'after' result (see picture above).

This method worked absolutely fine the previous time I used it, but now it doesn't. I've tried playing around with hue/saturation, curves and levels layers but I can't remove the red entirely.

If someone could help me I'd very much appreciate that.


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Tom Hepburn
Re: Removing hair from a background
on Jun 8, 2010 at 3:50:56 pm

hmmmm. I would go with filter>extract and then select>refine edge. Apparently the new cs5 has a great-er refine edge tool.
There are other ways, but I've had the best results with this.



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Jochem Baron
Re: Removing hair from a background
on Jun 8, 2010 at 8:27:16 pm

Yes, I eventually figured that out. I didn't do it at first because I couldn't find the option in the menu, but the plugin is free (in fact it's hosted by adobe).

Because the background was almost solid red, I also tried it with the background eraser tool (while tweaking the tolerance). I think the refine edge option worked better though.


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cowcowcowcowcow
Darby Edelen
Re: Removing hair from a background
on Jun 8, 2010 at 10:17:04 pm

The technique you describe is sound, but every time you do this it's going to require slightly different tweaking. In the above case what I would suggest is not trying to create a hard black/white threshold for your mask (you should also consider creating a layer mask from your selection instead of layer via copy as you can then continue to refine your layer mask).

In your image there is a lot of hair that appears to be semi-transparent, so you'll want to avoid choking the black or white level in too much. When I looked at your file, there was a very obvious spike in the histogram of the green channel that represented the red background, so I only moved the black level up to just above that spike. Then moved the white level down a small amount to solidify the 'solid' hairs. Everything else will become semi-transparent.

If you use the layer mask method I suggest, then you can apply additional levels adjustments to the layer mask to refine the edge. I suggest using the gamma slider to make subtle adjustments to the choke of the mask. This will not change the black and white areas of the mask (fully visible/invisible) but will change the distribution of grays, effectively moving the 'center' of the semi-transparent area closer to transparent or solid.

There will still be a bit of red spill after this process. The way I usually fix spill is by setting a new layer to a clipping mask above the layer to be fixed, then set this new layer to the 'color' blend mode, using the brush tool with a soft brush, work your way around the colored edge sampling nearby 'hair' colors and painting over the areas with red spill. This is all on the layer set to the 'Color' blend mode above your image, so you can come back to make changes later, or decide to use a different technique. I find it's very flexible.

Darby Edelen


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Jochem Baron
Re: Removing hair from a background
on Jun 11, 2010 at 2:22:18 pm

That's a very handy method indeed, thanks for the help!

I forgot to say I have CS4, not CS5.


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