Creating separation between the subject and the background

May 14, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Sometimes the subject of the image stands out beautifully from the background. Such images are often striking and beautiful. The subject just pops out. Here is an example.

Many times we are not this lucky. Perhaps the background in not blurred as nicely and the bird blends in with the background more. At other times, even with a very nicely blurred background, the colors of the background and that of the bird are so similar that the bird does not stand out as we would like it to. The following image was such an image. Now please bear in mind that the version shown here has already gone through some editing to create separation between the bird and the background. My raw files are taken through DXO PhotoLabs 6 or DXO PureRaw 3, so by the time I take the new "raw" file into Photoshop it is already much improved. Yet, even with this improvement the bird still does not pop out of the background as I would like it to.

So how can we separate the subject from the background more? How can we give it pop? We cannot use luminosity (brightness) values because the bird shares the same brightness as the background (especially in the original raw file). We cannot use color selection because, once again, the bird is the same color as the background. Let's take the image into Adobe Camera Raw (in Photoshop) and show you how I process the image to separate the subject from the background.

If you click on masking (top right red arrow) and then on the blue "+" to add a mask a new dialogue box will appear with a few options. I clicked on "select background." The red area in the image shows what has now been selected. If the selection is not accurate then you can paint it in or out or fix it with color selection. Now you can make adjustments to only the background. I like to darken it just a bit and bring down highlights. Then I repeat the process but this time I select the subject.

I like to brighten my subject a bit. Since this is a bird I may also add a bit of texture to bring out the feather detail. Yet detail is something I do NOT want to add to the whole image as I want to maintain a smooth blurred background. By making edits to the background separately from what I do to the subject allows me make the subject stand out better.


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