How to isolate a picture in 5 minutes! (Including hair) - Dreamstime

Hi everyone,

Ok I accept that I have a little exagerration in the title but believe me or not, I isolated the image on right in 2 minutes! so this is worth to read :)

Ok here we go...

We are going to use:

- BW dialog box or adjustment layer

- layers panel

- channels panel

- dodge-burn tools

- brush tool

Here we go...

- Open your image in Photoshop

- First we will create a channel image.

- (Assuming you are a PC user) press ctrl+J to duplicate the background layer.

- Now press ctrl+alt+B to open the BW dialog box. (or create a new BW adjustment layer.)

- Use the sliders to make the picture dark and light. (Wanted parts should be light and unwanted parts should be dark) but don't go too far. Press OK

- For example, skin tones go lighter when you use the orange, red, or yellow sliders. Use them wisely.

- Grab the Dodge tool from the panel on the left hand side.

- Shift+Right click on the picture. There should pop a menu with 3 choises (highlights, midtones, darks) (you can use the top menu for same selection, but shift right click is faster)

- Select "highlights"...selecting "highlights, we tell photoshop NOT to touch on the dark and midtoned areas, but work only with the light areas of the picture.

- Use a %50 opacity (at the menu, on top) and use the dodge tool on the white areas to make them perfectly white. Don't force it on corners, you may get jiggy lines...(what is jiggy? I just made it up LOL)

- Use white brush to fill the easy parts, use dodge tool on corners, to save time :)

- Now grab the Burn tool and shift+right click on the picture. This time, select "darks" (to make dark parts darker)

- Do the same thing on dark parts, until they are black.

- Now ctrl+A to select all the picture. Then ctrl+C to copy.

- Go to "channels" window (if not visible, find it on "Window" menu)

- On the bottom of channels panel, find "create new channel" and click it.

- Now we have a new channel, select it and press ctrl+V to paste your BW picture in it.

- Press ctrl+2 to select the RGB channel or simply click on the RGB to select it, in the channels window.

- Press ctrl+D to deselect everything.

- Go back to the layers panel and delete the bw layer. Re-duplicate your background. (always save your background layer untouched, in case you need to go back)

- Again on the channels panel; Ctrl + Left click on the new channel, you just should have a perfect selection of your flame.

- Go to Menu>Select>Modify>Feather (%0,5 - %1) to make the jiggy lines smoother...

- Back to the Layers panel again :)) select new duplicated layer and click on the "Add Layer Mask" button at the bottom of the Layers panel (small circle in a small rectangle)(Never "delete" information from the layer, because you will probably need to improve the mask in some parts)

- Make the Background layer invisible...voila! :)

- Now add a white "solid color" adjustment layer, under the isolated layer. Because transparency checkboard makes seeing corner details impossible.

- Click on the layer mask you just created and make final improvements :)

Note 1: This technique works best if you take your picture on a single colored background.

Note 2: If the background is white, you can make your object black and at the end you can invert the channel :)

Finally, save your image as PNG and upload it as an additional format.

This is how I isolated all of my model images...human body have too much unpredictable curves and hair (both on head, arms, cheeks etc) which is almost impossible to isolate via pen tool. This technique can give you every single hair line, if you can use it properly.

I know that it looks a little tricky and it depends on your talent to get nice results. But go give it a try, you will love it :)

One more thing is, this is not useful on "white on white" is a simple example! I used pen tool for isolation on this picture.


Photo credits: Parkinsonsniper.

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October 28, 2013


Thanks for your kind words. I'm glad you found it useful :)

October 01, 2013


Thank you for sharing a very useful isolation technique.

July 15, 2013


I'm glad you liked it Suyerry...

July 12, 2013


Thanks, very good information.

June 18, 2013


The size of the file depends on the resolution and color information of the image. The resolution does not change during the save and JPEG conversion; but as you delete all the background with a single color (probably white/black) the amount of color information significantly decrease, hence the file size decrease according to it. In short, it is "expected" :) I just wanted to let you know "why it happens"

June 18, 2013


Thank you for this great blog. I tried it and it works great, but I will need to practice the technique more before submitting any images. One question, I start out with a raw file create a tif and follow you steps, but when I save the file (highest res) it only comes out under 3 MB's. Do you know what I could be doing wrong or is this normal. Thanks in advance.

June 04, 2012


I almost always use that two photos technique. It's much easier. I also use backlit versions to isolate my studio pics! :)) I'm such a lazy one hahahhhh

June 03, 2012


Thanks for the additional information. I'll try your ideas. For fun, I'll also see if I can use your idea of using two photos by making two from one raw file, then using one to create a mask. Even if I can't make it work in Elements, I usually discover something that I can use while I'm fooling around. Thanks for the inspiration!

June 02, 2012


Hi :) thanks for your comments. After I became familiar with this technique, I started to take some photos for isolation. In this particular example, I took 2 shots. One was the photo itself, exposured for details on the tree. Then another one for the isolation, higher contrast, lower sky can be easily brigthened without effecting other colors. I used the last one to mask the second picture. The answer of your question is in the article itself. If you can't make the object lighter than the BG, make it dark and invert the mask :) in this example, I darkened the tree and lightered the sky, the I inverted the background. Please feel free to chat about other questions, if you have :) thanks for your comment again :)

June 01, 2012


Thanks for taking the time to write this article. It's excellent. If I can express it clearly, can you answer a question? On your isolation example of the tree, the trunk and much of of leaves are dark. When you're making the RGB adjustments, how do you get those darker tree areas to become lighter than similar background colors? I use Elements, so maybe that's why I can't seem to make it work. When I mess with the RGB sliders, I can't seem to get a clear light/dark distinction between the subject and the background.

June 01, 2012


I'm glad you find it wonderful and professional, yet "too" professional :) it's not difficult for anyone, just follow the step by step instructions and you will see it's a joy to create the mask. Photoshop will do everything for you...

June 01, 2012


Too professional! Wonderful! It's difficult for me.

May 24, 2012


Thanks :) I'm glad if you liked it...

May 24, 2012



May 23, 2012


Great article!!!

May 23, 2012


   Tree on White Background   

Here is another picture, isolated using this particular technique. It is almost impossible to isolate it using pen tool or brushing etc...

May 22, 2012


Good Article and this can safe my time :D

May 21, 2012


As far as I know, there is no channels panel in Elements. I can't suggest you another way, either; because I didn't ever use Elements. I'm sorry...

May 21, 2012


I am using PS Elements 10 and got stuck on the point where to create a new channel. I cant find this option. Is it for CS only? Is there any solution for elements? Thanks

May 19, 2012


I just post another blog with an alternative approach to noise issue, there are step by step instructions too. Maybe some would like to take a look at that too...just wanted to inform :)

May 14, 2012


Thanks for your comments :) I hope it will be useful for all of us...

May 14, 2012


great article

May 13, 2012


Very nice !

May 12, 2012


thank you for your information...I will try to do it!

May 09, 2012


Good work. keep them coming.

May 08, 2012


If the channel mixer have a grayscale mode, which lets you to lighten or darken individual colors in the picture...then you already have what "BW toolbox" makes in PS :) this is almost the same thing...

May 07, 2012


I have GIMP on my screen at the moment. It does have a BW window, but it's very different from PS. It only have brightness etc options. At this point, my advice is; go to the channels tab and find the most contrasty channel (It's blue for human skin) choose it and desaturate that channel. Then use dodge-burn tool on it (using highlights and darks options) I think this can help you :)

As I told you, I tried that method too, and in fact the channel mixer is best to use then, in grayscale mode, so you have full control of the contrast upon RGB mixing... Yet, the curves require fine-tuning, but it is no problem as most of the contour is highlighted correctly. :) Many thanks for all your efforts to help!

May 07, 2012


Many Thanks :)

May 07, 2012


Hey Saap :)) thanks for finding it useful...

May 07, 2012


thank you for sharing this !! i found it very useful ;)

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