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  1. #1
    New Lounger
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    I'm far from a pro (and am untrained), but I've been using free and inexpensive graphics editors for a couple of decades and do a pretty good job with most things. I have a slew of them, but the ones I use most frequently are Gimp and Paint.net,

    I guess I'm an intermediate novice who loves the price of Free. .

    What I haven't been able to accomplish to my satisfaction is removing the background surrounding a photo. This is so common these days (an image of an object or person against a solid white, black, or transparent background, e.g.) that I am guessing there are tools that may be better at helping to accomplish this.

    I can imagine the basics:
    - If possible, take the photo against a solid background and minimize shadows (I don't often have that option, and the whole lighting/shadows is tricky)
    - Use the "Magic Wand" tool that comes with most editors, play with the tolerance adjustments, then add to/subtract from the selection manually
    - Shrink the Magic Wand's selection by a pixel or two
    - Create layers, use transparent backgrounds, etc.

    I don't expect a fully automated solution (that would be near impossible), but when doing things like the above I end up with much less than desirable results. I end up losing some skin or clothing, having lines that don't represent reality, having an aura around the person or object, etc.

    I particularly want to make it clean enough to have a transparent background so that I can use the image in various ways and overlays.

    What can you all recommend to me -- technique or tool?

    Thanks!

    jb

  2. #2
    Bronze Lounger IanWilson's Avatar
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    It is quite hard, and it depends very much on the nature of the image. I've added an example below, done with GIMP, where it was not too hard to use the scissors select tool. You go round clicking on an edge and the program tries to put the next node of your selection on the edge. If it doesn't get it right, you can drag nodes on the selection back to where you want them to be, or click between nodes and create a new node to click. It does require quite a lot of patience, and working at a high zoom level so that you can see where you are trying to get the selection to go.

    [attachment=88853:swans small.jpg]

    If I'd supplied a higher resolution version of the picture and you were to look very closely at the more fiddly bits, round the ends of the feathers for instance, you'd probably see that I had missed some bits, but with an image like this I can just about get away with it. If we had something like an image of someone with a spiky hairdo, it would be very hard indeed to get a realistic result. I believe you can pay good money for a program that will do that kind of thing for you.

    Depending on the image, you can try a few other things. You could try the select by colour tool, and with my swan picture, that might work, though you'd probably have to do a bit of tweaking of the selection afterwards. Do you know about the selection mask facility? You can make a selection, then click on the little square just off the bottom left hand corner of your image. The selection stays fully visible and the part that is not selected is shaded with a semi-transparent red colour. You can then add to the selection by painting with whatever brush you like in a white colour, or mask (deselect) further areas by painting with a black colour (i.e. you paint in black and it produces more red mask.)

    You could try GIMP's foreground select tool - see the instructions here.*

    You could try creating a path round the bit you want to select - instructions on using the path tool are here. You can adjust the line of the path in various ways, and when you are happy with it you can turn the path into a selection.

    I don't think that feathering the selection is a good idea - you won't get a clean edge, and I am not too sure about shrinking the selection either.*

    Another thing you could try - create a layer mask. One of the options when you create a layer mask is for it to be a greyscale copy of the layer. You can then use the threshold tool on the layer mask to change it to pure white and black. That might work quite well on my swan picture, since the swan it much lighter than the existing background. You can always touch up the layer mask by touching it up with white or black. This has the advantage that it is non-destructive, unlike erasing parts of your image.

    To sum up, I don't think there is a magic method without spending serious money on software (but if any other Loungers know different, please chip in). You probably need to choose wisely which images to try this on, the method you use might depend on the image, and it requires a lot of time and patience.

    Hope these ramblings are some help.

    Ian
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  3. #3
    New Lounger
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    Ian:

    What an awesome and helpful reply! Thank you for the time you put into it.

    I know this is commonplace in online product catalogs, but I assume they use high-end tools and make certain their photos are taken in a certain way. And product photos may be less challenging than people photos.

    Above all I learned so far that:
    1. The amount of effort I put into this isn't only because of my lack of experience and training, and
    2. there are several things about Gimp I need to explore more fully.


    For example, I have used the select by color tool in my pursuits, but although I've seen "selection mask" and "foreground selection" tools, I haven't explored them to know how to use them. And I've used the path tool at some point in the past, but had forgotten about how powerful it can be.

    Have have definitely used the layer mask, converted to grayscale and then B&W. That gives me a lot of miles with some photos, others it adds edge distortion.

    Here is an example of a before and after photo Iíve done lots of work on. Granted, this is probably much more of a challenge than others -- particularly because it wasn't shot from the beginning with this in mind -- but it's the one that prompted me to write this post. I'm still trying to perfect this one.

    BEFORE:
    [attachment=88859:Networking Wayne 003.jpg]

    Notice the gentleman on the right with a shaved head and suit. I tried to create a bust shot of him.

    AFTER:
    [attachment=88858:JB Bust (Suit).gif]

    A couple of notes: The original "BEFORE" I'm working from is higher res than the one I uploaded, and the "AFTER" has a transparent background.

    I ended up with some strange things around the edges of his head. I corrected many problems that originally occurred, even on his suit, but the edges of the skin on his head have a few oddities I can't seem to correct. What's more, when I plunge this atop a solid "middle blue" (for instance) background, it has an aura I can't get rid of. I can almost use this for some purposes against white, but I wanted it to be versatile.

    By the way, I've processed this particular photo through so many tools and programs and using so many features that I can't remember them all.

    I'd love to know about other free/cheap tools or other advice that the Loungers can suggest.

    Thanks again!

    jb
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  4. #4
    Super Moderator jscher2000's Avatar
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    This kind of selection is one of the most time-consuming aspects of photo editing and, when you get down to the pixel level, you sometimes do have to "draw" a missing edge. If you ended up with a fuzzy edge, your software may have used a soft "brush" type tool rather than a hard "pencil" type tool. This usually is an option you can change.

    If you don't mind registering and downloading a 1089 MB file (!!), you could check out the trial version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 to see whether its fancier selection tools can do the job. Try the magnetic lasso.

  5. #5
    Bronze Lounger IanWilson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jscher2000 View Post
    This kind of selection is one of the most time-consuming aspects of photo editing and, when you get down to the pixel level, you sometimes do have to "draw" a missing edge. If you ended up with a fuzzy edge, your software may have used a soft "brush" type tool rather than a hard "pencil" type tool. This usually is an option you can change.

    If you don't mind registering and downloading a 1089 MB file (!!), you could check out the trial version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 to see whether its fancier selection tools can do the job. Try the magnetic lasso.
    I think I'm right in saying that the scissors select tool in GIMP works the same way as the magnetic lasso.


    Ian


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