Removing a Photo’s Image Background and Replacing it Using Photoshop


This Photoshop tutorial demonstrates how to remove a zoo photo’s background. Then you will learn how to replace it with a natural wilderness background, thus hiding the people and the artificial zoo setting.

Zoo photo with people in the background I want to remove

The Polygonal Lasso Tool is the Key to Removing Elements

The Photoshop Polygonal Lasso Tool Polygonal Lasso Tool is one of the tools I use the most in Photoshop for removing and replacing elements. Here we will be completely cutting-away the background of the image using the Polygonal Lasso Tool while saving the foreground object of interest (the giraffe) to ultimately transfer it to a natural wilderness setting. Note: Other tutorials exist to cutout out an image using a clipping path and mask for the most precision, or blurring the background of a photo if you’d rather take that approach. In this tutorial, I will use the Gaussian Blur as a final step to blur the wilderness background. Although this is not required, I just like the focal point to be the giraffe in this case.


Below is the original photo from the zoo with people in the background that I want to remove:
Photo background that I want to remove to hide the people

Here is the wilderness photo I want to use as a replacement for the zoo and to completely hide the people:
wilderness photo I want to replace the zoo and hide the people with

The Photoshop layers are setup with the zoo photo on top of the replacement background.
Photoshop layers are setup with the zoo photo on top of the replacement background

The Steps for Removing a Photo’s Background

Important: Always make a backup of your original photos before modifying them. I typically modify a copy.

1. Use the Photoshop Polygonal Lasso Tool Polygonal Lasso Tool to outline the foreground object you want to isolate. In this case, I am outlining the giraffe since I want to preserve it. Remember to have the correct top layer selected.

Polygonal Lasso Tool to trace the foreground in order to hide the background zoo and people

2. If you want a more precise outline I recommend using Photoshop’s Zoom feature Cntrl and plus key (+) to zoom in. Cntrl and the minus key (-) will zoom out. See the example of the giraffe zoomed-in below:

more precise outline with Photoshop Zoom

3. Once you have traced your foreground subject copy it (keyboard Ctrl + C). Copying it will save the selection in memory. Then paste it, (keyboard Ctrl + V). This will create a new layer with just your selection. Rename the new layer (in this case Giraffe), keep it in the top position, and hide the old background by clicking the “eye” next to the layer. See layers below:

Layers with foreground object on top and old background layer turned off

4. (Optional) If you want to blur your new background (bottom layer) then choose from the top menu Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. For this example, I used a pixel radius of 2.5

Photoshop Gaussian Blur of the replacement background

5. (Optional) In your foreground (top layer – Giraffe), it may appear to have a slight white outline depending on how much contrast there is between your object and new background image. To hide these edges, I sometimes place a one (1) pixel inner border (stroke). With your top layer selected, choose from the top menu Layer > Layer Style > Stroke. Use the settings as follows: Size = 1px, Position = Inside. Now I usually choose a dark color for this and lower the opacity so it doesn’t look like too much of a pronounced outline. The idea here is just to hide any light colored outline so that the image looks less like a cutout. See the example below.

Photoshop Layer Style 1px stroke

The final photo with the removed background that has been replaced with a new background.

The final photo with the removed background that has been replaced with a new background.

Related posts in this series

How to Apply Photoshop Gaussian Blur to Photo Backgrounds | Best Ways to Cutout an Image | Removing a Zoo Photo's Background and Replacing it to Hide People | Photoshop CC Spin Blur Effect | Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool to Alter Landscape Photos