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how to cut out hair from similar colored background?

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Ben Mettler
how to cut out hair from similar colored background?
on May 14, 2012 at 5:18:26 pm

I have a photograph with a women that has brown/reddish hair against a maroon colored background and I'm having trouble keying her out. I've tried the Refine Edge tool and played with all the settings and it isn't working very well. Does anyone have any suggestions or know of any good tutorials that cover this?


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Jeff Hinkle
Re: how to cut out hair from similar colored background?
on May 15, 2012 at 10:48:04 pm

With a similar background/foreground issue like this, I'd go in and do it by hand. Use the Pen tool to draw a mask around her body, just roughing in the hair (stay inside the contours of her hair). Command-click the thumbnail in the Paths palette to make a selection, then select your model layer in the Layers palette and click on the Add Layer Mask button. This will give you a transparency mask for your model. If the edges seem too sharp, you can do it again but contract the selection by 1 pixel and apply a 1-pixel feather before making the mask.

The hair's not going to look too good, but we'll get to that. Shift-click the mask in the Layers palette to turn it off, showing you the entire image, then go into your Channels palette, select your layer mask, and turn on its visibility. This will put an overlay color over your image, showing you where the image will be transparent and where it will be opaque. You might need to double-click the mask layer to change the overlay color if it's too similar to your background.

Then, still in the mask channel, with a soft-edged brush, go in and start painting in the hair you just masked out. Use white to paint in visibility, black to paint in transparency. You can use a larger brush for the large areas, smaller (say, 2-pixel) for strands and flyaways. Having a pressure-sensitive tablet is a HUGE help in this. Setting opacity to be determined by pressure will give nice faded edges on those errant hairs. And don't feel you have to be 100% exact with this. Get it close but you can give them a haircut with no one noticing. How long this takes depends on the model's hairstyle, how frizzy her hair is, and how anal you want to be. Go back and hit the ends of the hair strands with a soft-edged black brush to kill any hard edges.

Once that's done and you're happy with the basic mask, duplicate your image layer and turn the mask back on (shift-click it in the Layers palette) and turn off the mask visibility in the Channels palette. Turn off your original layer so you can go back to it if you need. With the transparency on, add a layer below your model and fill it with white. You'll probably see a lot of stray background colors in the hair you painted back in. Switch to the Clone Stamp tool, make sure you're editing the image and not the mask, and sample colors from the hair and paint into the strands. This will blend in the natural hair colors, but you won't see any of the overspill thanks to the layer mask. When you're done, you should have a natural-looking isolated image.

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