Tutorial: Using the Extract Filter

by Rene' Bross

There are times when you might want to remove an image from the background in a photograph. There are a couple different ways to do this in photoshop and it’s always best to use the right tool for the right job. When your background is simple and has a very clear contrast color from the main image you want to extract, it may be easiest to use Photoshop’s Extract Filter.

Here is a sample photograph with a fairly clear contrast between the main subject and the background. This type of photo is perfect for the extract filter.

First duplicate your image, to preserve your original photo, by pressing control-j on the image layer (command-j on the Mac).
Now go up to your history palatte and to the left of your layer copy layer, click the blank square brush to set your “history brush.” This tells the program that this is the place in my history that I want to remember. This step is crucial and I’ll show you how this will come in handy in a moment.


Now go up to “Filter- Extract” and the new extract window will come up. Select the highlighter tool and begin “painting” along the edge of your main image. Paint halfway between the part of the photo you want to remove and the part of the photo you want to keep.




Now grab your paint bucket tool and click on the inside of the area you want to keep. This will put a blue overlay color over your image. You’ve just told the program that you want to remove the background from the photo.


Then click OK and in a second or two the background is removed. Turn off your original image layer and you’ll see the background removed. Neat huh?!



Now as you see, it isn’t exactly a clean cut, especially around his hair and ears. But that’s ok. We can fix that because we set our history brush previously. I’ll add a white background layer and zoom in so you can see the effect of the history brush better.

To use the history brush,  click on the history brush and using a soft edge brush, simply paint the ear back in.  You can also use the eraser tool to clean up any stray pixels or hair that might be sticking out in funny places.  Once you’ve got your image cleaned up the way you like it, you can now add your own background.



You can also add a drop shadow or cast shadow and Voila! He seemingly POPS right off the page. This makes for a much more interesting image than my original photo. If the background of the original photo were highly textured or very busy and not contrasty, the extract filter wouldn’t have worked as well. But when you have high contrast between main image and background, the extract filter is definitely the way to go!


Click here for a printable copy of this tutorial.

© 2006 Rene' Bross

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