Digital Focus: More Ways to Edit Photo Backgrounds

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Feature: Edit Photo Backgrounds

It all started out innocently enough. I brought my camera to the beach to take pictures of friends and family, and I captured some interesting candid shots that I thought would make good framed portraits. But when I gave a photo to a friend, her reaction surprised me: She thanked me for the photo, but said that a building in the background was boring and made the whole photo less interesting. She asked me, "Can you change the color of the building?"

"Well, sure," I replied.

This week we'll realistically alter an object in your photo. Let's take a photo of a lighthouse and give it a more colorful aspect. Save this picture to your hard drive and open it in your favorite image editor (I'll use Jasc Paint Shop Pro).

Zoom In

If we're going to renovate this lighthouse, the first thing we should do is zoom in on it so we can see it as well as possible.

To fill the screen with the lighthouse, center your mouse pointer on the lighthouse and roll the mouse wheel slowly, without clicking. Paint Shop Pro will zoom in on whatever you point at on-screen. If you don't have a wheel mouse, or if this method doesn't work with your system, choose the Zoom tool (in the very first cubby in the toolbar on the left side of the screen) and click the magnifying glass icon several time to zoom in. Try to get a view that looks something like this.

In my original 6-megapixel image, the lighthouse was sharp; but in this reduced version for the newsletter, it's a little jagged and pixel-ish. That's okay, though--our technique will still work just fine.

Zero in With the Magic Wand

Now select the Magic Wand brush from the fifth cubby in the toolbar on the left side of the screen. This is a great tool to use when your subject is all one color, more or less, since it selects nearby pixels that are similar--and you control how similar via the Tolerance setting. In the Tool Options palette atop the screen (if it's not there, toggle it on by choosing View, Palettes, Tool Options), set the Tolerance to about 15, make sure Feather is set to 0, and set the Mode to Add.

Now click somewhere in the lighthouse. You should see a big swath become selected. Continue clicking to add more and more bits of the lighthouse to the selection. Since the mode is set to Add, every click automatically becomes part of one big selection region. Try to select every last bit of white in the building.

Getting a fairly complete selection requires a bit of finesse. Get the big, broad swatches of white out of the way first. If you find that a click selects areas adjacent to the building (such as the sky or the roof), undo that selection and set the Tolerance to a lower number, like 10, and try again. Work this way until you're satisfied.

Pick a Color

Think of this stage like a trip to the hardware store to check out color swatches. First, open the Materials palette if it's not already on the screen (choose View, Palettes, Materials), then click in the big Colors square to choose the color you want to paint with. The Foreground color square should change to reflect your choice.

Dip the Brush

Finally, it's time to paint. Choose the Paint Brush from the seventh cubby in the toolbar and then turn your attention to its settings in the Tool Options palette. Set the Size to about 200 pixels and make the Opacity about 30 percent. Keeping the opacity low lets us retain the underlying texture of the object, making it look more realistic. Now just slick twice: Once on the right side and once on the left side of the lighthouse. With such a big brush size, that's all we need to cover the whole building. Here's my final result.

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