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Original photo copyright Yi Feng

Many photos can use some help when it comes to presenting the subject in a suitable manner. Perhaps a more creative view, with an added sense of drama or a touch of surrealism is what we are after. This tutorial will be mainly about creative background design and with this in mind we will do very little to the subject of the photo.

Final image. larger size here!

Creating the dancer mask (Cutout) layer.

Initial layer setup (notice layer mask)

The original photo by Yi Feng was a web size photo at 550 x 749 pixels. That will be the working size for this tutorial. I first set up some basic layers in Photoshop CS2. This is just my way of starting with a white bottom layer, the original photo on the second layer, a transparent "my background" layer , and then a duplicate of the original photo on layer 4 with a layer mask attached.

Quick Mask Mode

The first order of business is to isolate our dancer. For creating a mask, I prefer Quick Mask mode. Quick mask mode allows you to create a selection by painting with a brush or filling a selection with black. In quick mask mode you are painting in black and seeing red appear on the screen in the area that will become your final selection(mask). Confusing huh!

Some may prefer to paint right into the layer mask which would immediately hide parts of the image. Quick mask mode is different in that you are not hiding parts of the image only defining what parts of the image will make your selection.

 

lasso tool for quick inside selection and fill.

Here goes. First I use the lasso tool to quickly define the inside area of my photo, away from the edges. Fill this selection with color black which looks red (see left). Make sure you use 100% black.

Now pick the brush tool and select the "Hard Round 9 pixel" brush tip. Go to the brush palette make sure to uncheck Brush dynamics. I like for my brush to stay a constant size during this procedure. I use the "[" and "]" keys to adjust brush size while I paint in quick mask mode.

Detail the edges with 9 pixel brush and pen stylus.

Now you are going to paint around the edges of the dancer staying on the inside so that all parts of her body are painted red.

 

 

 

 

Once all the quick mask is painted in place (painted red), click off the quick mask mode to regular mode and the final selection will appear as the famous marching ants . Now we are ready to fill in our layer mask. With the marching ants visible (our selection), click on the layer mask square(see initial layer setup) and fill with 100% black. Now we have our cutout of the dancer.

Layers after masking for cutout of dancer.

If you want to see the dancer cutout, click the eye icon on layer 2 (orig photo) to turn off that layers visibility. Now you can see the cutout dancer.

Your layers palette should look similar to this. (See left)   If you see areas in your cutout that appear to miss the edges of the dancer or if you see a halo around some areas, don't worry. Because the layer mask has not been applied, you can still edit the visible and transparent areas of the image on this layer.

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