How to Use Digital Backgrounds to Hide an Ugly Backdrop

How to Use Digital Backgrounds to Hide an Ugly Backdrop

Rhiannon D'Averc   |    November 23, 2022

When you’re shooting with clients, especially if you go out on location or visit them at their homes, you might not always be able to get the kind of background that you want for your images. There might be distracting elements that you want to get rid of, or maybe just an unpleasant view in general. You may also have a plain or flat sky that distracts the eye in a location photograph and ruins the composition. All of these things can be solved with the use of digital backgrounds. You can use these to replace whatever is behind your subjects, and it’s really easy to do. Here are the steps to quickly change out a background for something more aesthetically pleasing using Summerana Academy tools.

 

Download a Summerana Collection

Start by getting your new digital background! There are lots of options to choose from in the Summerana library. We have everything from studio spaces to flower fields, and from beaches to snow globes. We even have a full sky collection which will allow you to change out just the sky in your image. Better yet, enjoy creating beautiful fall composites with these Fall Ferns digital backgrounds!

Choose a digital background that you think will work well with your starting image. It’s all about blending the two in such a way that looks natural, even if it has a magical feel, so the finished product is believable.

 

Use Your Backgrounds

The first thing you’ll need to do with your new background is to get it into Photoshop. You don’t need to install the backgrounds anywhere as you can use the action collection to place them from anywhere on your computer. Just make sure to put them into a folder where you’ll be able to find them easily!

Unzip the file containing the backgrounds and drag and drop the file into Photoshop. It should appear as a new layer in the file you’re already working on. Alternatively, you can also open it up as a separate file in Photoshop. Then right click on your layer and select ‘Duplicate layer’, then copy it onto the image you want to use it with. Now you’re ready to start!

 

Edit the Background

First, use the transform tools to position the background where you want it. You can stretch and skew it as much as you want, so long as it looks right! Use all of the tools at your disposal to make it fill the area you want to be filled. It doesn’t have to cover the whole image – for example, if you are replacing the sky, just drag the image over until it covers the horizon line.

Move the new background layer to below your main image (you may have to click the lock icon to unlock your original layer first). Now you won’t be able to see the new background at all, but that’s fine, because we’re going to make it come through on the finished image.

On your main image layer, click the icon that looks like a box with a hole in it. This will add a mask to the layer, allowing you to edit it in a non-destructive way.

Choose a black brush and start painting onto this layer on any of the areas that you don’t want to see anymore. You can use the quick selection or magic wand tool to select areas of the background and then paint over this selection to keep your lines neat and tidy. Wherever you brush over on the mask, the image should disappear – allowing you to see the new background coming through.

Top tip: if you’re having trouble with using the brush tool in a neat way, there are different methods you can use to make the work neater. Try these:

  • Carefully select everything with the magic wand tool. Zoom in close to make sure the selection is precise
  • Use the path tool (the icon looks like a pen) to make a very precise selection along all of the edges of the subject/horizon
  • Work with a graphics tablet rather than a mouse for more control over the brush tool

 

Use More Advanced Techniques

Now that the background is visible right where you want it, there may be a bit of a disconnect between your subject and the background. If they were shot in very different lighting conditions, for example, then the placement can look and feel fake.

The way to fix this is to use more advanced techniques to work on the images separately. Here are some common issues and how to troubleshoot them:

  • The foreground is more grainy/noisy/blurred than the background: use a filter on the background layer to add noise or blur until they look more similar
  • The foreground has different colour tones to the background: you can either edit the foreground or the background, using a mask to keep the colour edit only on the layer that you want. The hue/saturation or color balance tools will help you out here
  • The foreground has a different lighting setup to the foreground: again, use a mask to keep the edits only on the layer you want to edit, and use the curves tool as well as the brightness & contrast tool to play around with the lighting. If you want to go in for finer details such as erasing shadows and creating new directional light, you can use the dodge and burn tools. It’s best to create a duplicate of the layer in order to work with these, so that you can easily walk back on any changes that you want to undo without ruining the image
  • If you’re struggling to figure out how to make the lighting work, try dropping on a hue/saturation layer which converts everything to black and white. This way you can see shadows and highlights more easily! When you’re done, you can simply delete this layer in order to bring back the color.

 

If you’re like me, you learn better watching the steps vs. just reading about them. Luckily Summerana Academy offers tons of tutorials that cover techniques for seamlessly blending subjects into digital backgrounds.

After using these techniques, you should have the skills at your disposal to make any background work with any image. Go wild – and see what kind of new edits you can come up with to transform dull or ugly backgrounds!

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About Rhiannon D'Averc
Rhiannon D'Averc is a portrait photographer at PCI Studio which is based in Tonbridge, Kent. She has experience in areas such as teen shoots,maternity, fashion, beauty, and portraiture. She also holds a degree in Photography from the University of Hertfordshire.
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