If you’re a commercial or fashion photographer, eventually you’ll run into a client who will ask to have their product, model, etc. to be placed on a perfectly white background. This method is very popular in the e-commerce and print industries for many brands, sellers and catalogs. But some techniques in post production cause some headaches and are also time consuming. So what exactly is the best and quickest workflow to get that perfect white background for your client?
Over the past couple of years, I’ve experimented with many methods on how to consistently achieve this in post processing. Before we get to the foolproof workflow of making a white background in Photoshop, here are a couple of conventional post-processing methods that I’ve found after digging to find an answer on the web over the years.
Clipping Using The Pen Tool
Clipping by using the pen tool is a very effective way to achieve a white background. The process involves basically tracing around the edges of your product, cutting it out and placing your image on top of a white layer. Although this method is very accurate, it is very time consuming especially if you have a large batch to get out to clients. Another downside is when part of the product is sharp and other parts are blurred because of depth of field; once the product is cutout, there’s a chance the product will look unnatural around the edges.
Cons: Time consuming; cutting out both sharp and blurred areas looks unnatural
Adjustment Brush Using Auto Mask
This is also another popular method, especially for Lightroom users. What is done here is the adjustment brush is selected and the adjustments panel is shown in your “Develop” box on the right. From there you can either raise the exposure to make the background white. The brush is set to auto mask so the brush can decipher the contrasted edges of your subject and your white background. From there you just simply paint around the edges.
While this is a very quick and easy process, it’s very hit or miss if the auto mask brush can accurately mask out of the edges perfectly. For that reason, this wouldn’t be the go-to method to achieve a perfectly white background.
Pros: Quick and easy process
Cons: Auto mask feature does not work consistently
The Best and Quickest Method
Okay, so now that we’ve gone through a couple of popular methods that you may or may not of tried, I’m going to show you my workflow. Which I've found personally to be the best and quickest way to get that consistent white background.
This technique was found by complete accident, I actually picked up the most important step (see Step Five) from photographer and retoucher, Michael Woloszynowicz, when he was explaining how he color grades for his portraits. After watching him use this technique, a light went off in my head and immediately tried it for product photography to see if it would work, along with a few additional steps that I added on to create my own workflow. It did work, and it has every time consistently since then. On top of that, it is hands down the fastest, most accurate method I have found. The best part of this technique is that it retains the shadow and gives you that natural, professional look we all strive for.
I made a video for you to see my workflow and explain this process. I also have this tutorial written out step by step for you below. And also make sure to share your results after trying this technique with your photo in the comments section below!
Pros: Quick and easy process, very accurate and consistent
A good photographer friend of mine, Minh, was nice enough to let me use on of his model fashion shots on a white seamless for demonstration. The workflow did a great job retaining detail as you can see.
Step One: Place Your Subject on a White Background
It is important to have your product or model placed on a generically white background. This is a good starting point so we when we go into post, we won’t have difficulty separating the two. For this demonstration, I simply placed this handbag on top of a white poster board and another poster behind it. I also had two white v-flats on each side. A light box would also be suitable for this.
Step Two: Open Image into Photoshop; Make Necessary RAW File Adjustments
Before we really get started, we always make sure the color balance is correct and everything is squared away. Make any other adjustments you feel necessary for your subject to pop in the final image.
Step Three: Select Color Range
In this step we will select our background by opening “Color Range” feature in Photoshop:
Select > Color Range
Now that the Color Range panel is open, we are going to use the eye dropper tool that is usually already open by default and simply click on your white background. From here, we need to adjust the fuzziness adjustment. Use your best judgment to find that sweet spot where the subject is cutout. The subject should be black and the background should be white for the mask. If your subject is not completely black, do not worry; we will fix this in the next step. If you’re happy where the mask is, then click “OK”.
Step Four: Group and Mask Your Selection
After clicking OK, your selection should appear with the “crawling ants” shown around the edges. It does not have to be perfect right now. From here we simply open a new group and click mask in the layers palette.
After we create a group with our mask, Alt+Click on the group mask. The mask you created should now be visible.
Step Five: Make Adjustments to Mask and Finalize
This may be the most critical step in the process. With the mask still visible, we are going to select our brush tool and set it to black. From that point we are going to change our brush mode from “Normal” to “Overlay”. (100% Opacity, 100% Flow, 0% Brush Hardness) This is very important because when the brush is set to the color black and “Overlay” mode, the brush will darken only the dark areas of the mask and ignore the white areas of the mask. This is how you effectively separate the subject from the background.
When doing this just make sure to focus on your subject. If the edges for some reason are still dark, that is okay. We will fix that in the next step.
Step Six: Create White Background
From that point, if you’re happy with your mask selection. Create a new layer in the group, and fill the layer with white (#FFFFFF).
Edit > Fill > 100% White
Step Seven: Finishing Touches
After step six, you should have a perfectly white background for your image. If there are still some darker areas around the edges, create a new layer above the group and fill the areas with a white brush.
Optional: Confirm Your White Background
If you want to confirm the white background, you are able to customize the main panel of the background in Photoshop. Simply right-click on your panel next to your image and then follow these steps:
Select Custom Color… > #FFFFFF > OK
This makes the whole background white and should appear as if your subject is floating. Here we can detect if we missed any edges. If everything checks out okay, congratulations you have a perfect white background!