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Tips & Tricks

How to Replace a Backdrop in Photoshop in 3 Minutes

By Udi Tirosh on January 15th 2016


Sometimes the plain backdrop in the studio just does not cut it, so today I want to show you how to replace a plain backdrop with a gorgeous, intricate, hand-painted backdrop in minutes.

You would probably recognize this look from Annie Leibovitz’s portraits who uses hand-painted backdrops as her studio’s signature look.
Sadly, those backdrops are not cheap; a good one will set you back about $350 for a one-week rental. Luckily, we can use a digital backdrop that will only cost you $20.

The good thing about the digital backdrops is that they are not digitally rendered but were shot using various lighting conditions so you can select the one that fits your shoot. It only takes about 3 minutes if you select the right backdrop.

There are currently five options to choose from: Feathery Brown, Dark Brown, Deep Blue, Rusty Grey & Decayed White. They are all photographs of actual hand-painted backdrops, so they show an incredible amount of detail and transitions.


Usually, the hard part with such an overlay is the masking, but if you select a backdrop that is in the same neighborhood as your subject’s skin (and all browns and grays will work for that matter), masking becomes trivial.




[REWIND: Check out our Photoshop Paper Textures here]

Here is how its done:

  1. Start with a photo shot against a white or gray (or other neutral backdrop)
  2. Place a background over the photo with a white or gray background
  3. Set the layer blending mode to soft light
  4. Apply a layer mask and mask out the general figure using a hard brush. You don’t need to be very precise; just make sure you don’t mask out the backdrop.
  5. Now set your brush to about 20% flow and even out the transitions created by the hard brush. The blending mode will take care of the edges, so there is no need to be extra precise.


Since the time-consuming part is the masking and we made that very easy, the backdrop can be replaced in two or three minutes.

If you want to try this out, you can use any of these practice files along with one of the digital hand-painted backdrops packages from the Image Manipulation Store.

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Udi Tirosh is a photographer, writer, inventor, entrepreneur and dad. Definitely not in that order. He is the editor of DIYPhotography, and has an exquisite taste in sushi

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Bob Davis

    Excellent tutorial…thanks

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  2. Kurk Rouse

    Thanks for posting this Udi. I’ve been wondering if I should buy a hand painted backdrop for a while now, so I’m glad to see that there’s a more economical way to do it and get an identical look. Question… Do you have to shoot all your portraits on a white or grey background for it to blend flawlessly ?

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    • Udi Tirosh

      Heya Kurk,
      there there are two caveats:
      1. you have to shoot on a natural colored background, and
      2. only backdrops similar to skin color will work with this “trick”

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  3. Tanya Goodall Smith

    Super awesome! Love this. Thanks Udi!

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  4. Barry Goodman

    Great refresher

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  5. Pye Jirsa

    Fantastic tutorial Udi! Love short little tips like this!

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