What if you could make your ordinary digital photos extraordinary? Whether you want to use your photos on a website or just as your desktop wallpaper at home, you can easily learn how to make your photos pop. It takes just a few simple techniques to remove a photo’s subject from a distracting background and really let it shine. With this tutorial, I will show you how easy it is to remove a photo’s background using the free photo editor GIMP. (Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.)
To get the best results from these techniques, choose your photo carefully. Pick a photo with a compelling subject that would really shine on a plain background. Especially for your first efforts, choose photos with contrasting backgrounds and smooth outlines. Difficult photos would be closeups of pets where individual hairs would have to be painstakingly detailed, or photos of foliage where hundreds of individual leaf points will have to be cut out.
1. After choosing your photo and opening it in GIMP, take a look at the workspace. The menus, currently on the right, can be dragged anywhere on your screen, and the photo window can be resized as needed. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)
3. Select the Magic Wand tool (circled) from the menus.
4. Click, or press Shift and click, to select large areas of similar colors with the Magic Wand. Click along the outside edge of your color as well. If you select something accidentally, use Control Z to undo your last selection. When finished, your photo should look something like this.
5. Next, select the Quick Mask in the lower left corner.
6. The Quick Mask is a red layer that allows you to select more precisely. It can be toggled off and on again by click the button shown above.
7. Select your tools for the next task. First, click on the Brush tool at #1. Next, switch the foreground color to white by clicking the arrow in the circle at #2. Then, click the circle next to the word Brush to choose your Brush size, at #3.
8. Use a large brush size to “erase” the red mask from the area you wish to select.
9. Switch to a smaller brush size to do the details on the outside edge. You may want to switch to a larger view, such as 400%.
10. Using the Brush to select the object is the most time-consuming part. With some practice, you will become faster and more accurate. If you erase too much, use Control Z to undo, or switch the Foreground back to black (as in #2 of Step 7). This will let you paint the red mask back onto anything you’ve accidentally uncovered. When you think you have everything selected, switch back to 100% to check your work. It should look something like this.
11. Now toggle the Quick Mask off again (as in Step 5) and check your work. If you see any shimmering spots in the middle of the area you wanted to select, just toggle the Quick Mask again, make sure your Foreground is white (see #2 of Step 7), and brush over the area. Toggle the Quick Mask off again.
12. When you’re happy with your selection, go to the Select menu at the top of the photo window and choose To Path. This is a little insurance in case you make a mistake later.
13. Now go to the Select menu again and choose Invert. It may not look different, but this command selects all the background behind your object.
14. Choose your tools for the next steps. Click on the Fill tool at #1. Double-clicking on the Foreground color at #2 will let you choose another color. Make sure FG color fill is selected at #3.
15. With the Fill tool selected, click in the background of your photo to paint with the Foreground color you picked.
16. If everything looks right, go to the Select menu and choose None.
17. If you see some mistakes after you remove the selection, never fear. Remember the insurance we took out in Step 12? If you want your selection back because you noticed you have something extra attached to the part of the photo you want, go to the Select menu and choose From Path. Your object is now selected again, so you can toggle the Quick Mask and erase anything that shouldn’t be there. If you need to undo further, go to the Edit menu and choose Undo History. This will let you choose how far to undo.
18. I haven’t mentioned saving yet. If you want to be able to use the Path you saved later, be sure to save using the .xcf format. If you also want to put your photo online or print it out, then save it as a .jpg too. If you want to adjust your photo now, you have options in the various menus in the photo window. You can go to the Image menu and choose Scale Image to resize your photo. You can go to the Tools menu, then Transform Tools to Crop your photo.
I hope this tutorial has been useful and enjoyable. GIMP has many more features to explore, and there are many ways to expand on even these simple techniques. Please leave a comment or contact me if you have any questions. I am still learning myself, but I’ll do my best to help you. If you want to learn more about GIMP techniques, here are some tutorial links to get you started:
- GIMP.org Tutorials
- GIMP Talk
- GIMP Tutorials at the Tutorial Blog – list of tutorial websites
Stop by tomorrow to get the flower photo in a larger size for use as a desktop wallpaper.