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Post Production Tips

How To Clean Backgrounds In Photoshop

By Kishore Sawh on August 16th 2014

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If you’ve been around photography long enough, chances are you’ve used a seamless white paper background for some of your images. Even if you haven’t, if you follow any current fashion photographers or studios, you will have noticed that it’s very fashionable to put a subject in front of a plain white background. Arguably hyper-popularized by Terry Richardson, who rather famously shoots most of his subjects this way, even for major editorials, the style has trickled down.

The effect of using such a simple technique is quite profound, as it gives very good separation of the subject and brings all focus to it, whether that’s a person or inanimate thing. It is also rather inexpensive as a plain wall can be used or you can buy a seamless background roll for around $100, and it’s easy to travel with a background thus giving you a sort of mobile studio look anywhere you go, even in small spaces like a hotel room.

[REWIND: Lighting To Lightroom: A Location Photoshoot | Zack Arias]

The backgrounds, however, aren’t always even, and if it’s the roll, it often gets very dirty from people touching and stepping on it. Cleaning this up is a must, but it’s also time consuming in post. But, it doesn’t have to be, and Aaron Nace shows a rather ingenious way to clean up any background using the Median Filter.

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Thoughts

One of the difficult parts of cleaning up a background is retaining edges of the subject, and also integrity of the shadows. Using a healing brush or clone stamp makes for a very laborious effort and yet it seems Aaron’s method actually may achieve a better result, in fraction of the time.

I’ve never actually used this filter before seeing this tutorial, and frankly, wouldn’t have thought to look for a solution to this problem within the filter menu, even though I like to shoot this way. It’s also effective, I’ve found, at clearing up imperfections or textures on a wall, or floor, if not using a seamless paper backdrop. That said, if you like a particular texture on the background, keep in mind this method may remove too much of that texture. I would also suggest that to be most precise, to use a Wacom tablet. You don’t need a really expensive Pro model, but it’s an investment that will pay dividends forever. You can check out some reviews I’ve done here and here.

As always, if you are a fan of Aaron’s teachings (and who isn’t?), be sure to check back here for updates, and follow along with Aaron on YouTube and Phlearn. You should also consider becoming quickly adept at Photoshop with the Phlearn Photoshop 101 & 201 sets as they are extremely comprehensive, and will have you quickly doing things with Photoshop you may have otherwise thought too complex, or didn’t even know you could do.

About

Kishore is, among other things, the Editor-In-Chief at SLR Lounge. A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Chris Biele

    Amazing. How many hours have I wasted cleaning backdrops?! I have 60 images to do next week too, so I’m happy I found this.

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  2. Graham Curran

    Excellent!

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  3. Basit Zargar

    PHLEARN rocks :)

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  4. Michael Moe

    another great tutorial from phlearn!

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  5. David De Fotograaf

    Finally! Goooodbye healing brush tool! Hellooo median!!
    Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Leslie Troyer

    very cool tip – thanks — Les

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  7. Phil Bautista

    Great tip as usual, Kishore.

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  8. Rich Taylor

    Thank you!

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  9. Greg Faulkner

    I wouldn’t have ever found that filter. You could save these steps as an action to make it even quicker. Just hit the action then paint on the effect

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  10. Jason Mac Cormac

    Looks like a brilliant tool to use as white backgrounds can be a pain to clean up! saved.

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