Save Yourself Hours - The Most Effective Way To Clean Backgrounds In Photoshop

Save Yourself Hours - The Most Effective Way To Clean Backgrounds In Photoshop

If you’ve shot in any studio, then you know the rules. Larger studios may require the use of protective booties on a freshly painted cyc wall or some practice the unsaid "no shoes" rule when stepping onto background paper. But, unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen and if the subject is jumping or moving look after look that background is going to get dirty. We all know the pain of re-touching that dirt.

In my opinion, it’s probably one of the more annoying aspects of studio fashion re-touching, especially if you’re shooting on white seamless paper. It's so time consuming and perhaps so costly, that many photographers and editors just let it slip by without a second thought. But, after stumbling on a tutorial from my friend Aaron Nace of Phlearn, I truly believe my opinion had completely changed. I just had to give this method a try in my own video. What used to take 30 minutes with the Clone Stamp requires about 30 seconds with this method.

Create A New Layer. Type Ctrl-J (Command-J) or flatten all the layers into a new layer using Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E(Command-Option-Shift-E).

Add Median Noise. Click Filter > Noise > Median. Then select a Radius of 15 - 30 Pixels depending on the amount of dirt and grime on the background. In the preview window, make sure the dirt completely vanishes, but the shadows retain detail.

Create A Layer Mask. Click the Layer Mask button and then tap Ctrl-I (Command-I) to invert the mask.

Paint On The Median Blur. With a decent size white brush paint on the Median blur over the problem areas and watch the dirt disappear! Be careful of any edges, I recommend using a small brush to cover the fine details around shoes or props.

Add Noise. Although I do not mention this in the tutorial, reduce the blur banding by adding a slight touch(2%) of monochromatic noise to the original layer.

I've never claimed to be a fantastic re-toucher, I just share from experience and always try to pay the knowledge forward. This is one method that will come in handy time and time again.

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47 Comments

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Jake Reeder's picture

I just heard the sound of 1000s of assistants simultaneously celebrating the fact that they can spend less time painting cycs

Clay Cook's picture

LOL! That's awesome! Thanks for reading Jake!

Rafa Rodero's picture

Really interesting, I've never used this method with the noise option. I use to apply a similar technique with a surface blur that works fine in many situations. Not sure what pros and cons has one technique agains the other but it is always welcome the fact of have more tools to apply depending on the picture :)

Clay Cook's picture

Thanks for reading Rafa! There are probably many ways to clean and paint out background dirt. This is just one of them! :)

Ishmil Waterman's picture

If your working on 16bit you should also add noise and despeckle, otherwise it'll look blotted out.

Clay Cook's picture

Good advice Ishmil!

Rafael Makiela's picture

Simple and great !! Thank you Clay :)

Clay Cook's picture

Thanks for reading Rafael!

Michael Rapp's picture

In short: I'm impressed. Thank you Clay, thank you Aaron for sharing this great technique.
Simplicity is the mark of genius.

Clay Cook's picture

Thank you so much Michael! Totally nailed it there.

user-17590's picture

Oh really thanks for sharing this stuff, i learned a lot always with this page and Phlearn. :D

Clay Cook's picture

Awesome Yami! Thanks for reading and watching!

Mike Greenley's picture

Incredible! I can't tell you how much time this is going to save me every year during my dance and gymnastics photo shoots!!! All these years I thought the patch tool was my best friend...she's dead to me! haha!

Well! this made my day. Thanks

Rogier Bos's picture

Super - that's a solution I've been looking for for a long time!

Gamaliel Sierraalta's picture

Clay you dah man, this is friggin' amazing. You just saved me hours of work! (literally, from 30 mins to 5 mins for one photo) You've saved me today. This technique got rid of some stray hairs as well. Thanks!

red cat's picture

I have to log in to say : awesome method !!! thanks for sharing this :D