I'm learning fashion and nude photography and I usually post-process my photos to give them a better look (photoshop CS5) .

I noticed that lots of photographers uses texture or digital background to improve their shots as you can see for example in this photo


Now I was wondering is it a good idea? I mean should we always prefer "real" background instead of digital one?

What is the best technique to replace the background with a photoshop texture? (at the moment I'm using channels selection + refine edge)


2 Answers 2


It's much easier to get a realistic looking background in camera.

It's much easier to get a nice looking background in Photoshop.

Some people's philosophy is to do as much as possible in camera and leave Photoshop out of the equation or only only as a last resort. Some people's philosophy is to get the highest quality results possible using whatever tools are available. There's no right answer.

Speaking of specific techniques, getting a good background in camera requires a lot of space, a background support system and material. For the standard mottled portrait background printed cloths are available and you can also dye your own. Getting out of focus highlights in the background like the example link you posted is harder in camera as you need a rough texture which is lit evenly but obliquely (required a lot of space to prevent spilling onto your subject).

Replacing the background in Photoshop requires generation of a good subject mask. The ideal solution is a proper chroma key setup such as is used for VFX work (the classic blue or green screen). This too is expensive and requires space and coloured lighting. But provided you have a plain background you can get good results using Photoshop's select colour tool, which lets you select a series of colours to add to the mask as well as letting you finetune the tolerances. There are some commercial plugins designed for exactly this type of job which use a more sophisticated approach.

It helps when the real background is similar in colour/shade to the image you're inserting. If you try and replace a black background with a very light image or vice versa any imperfections in your mask will be very detrimental to the image.

  • \$\begingroup\$ In the meantime I don't have the chroma key is there any way to obtain a good result replacing the backgorund with a texture/digital using just photoshop ? Bear in mind that in all the photos that I have taken in the studio I have used "plain" backgound (smoked gray,white,pink,etc) which should make easier the selection/mask \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 10:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MassimilianoPeluso yes with a plain enough background you can usualyl produce a good mask with the colour range tool: photoshopessentials.com/basics/selections/color-range though you'll probably have to do some manual tidying up of the mask, if any of the models clothes are the same colour as the background \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 12:40
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 -- It is indeed damnably difficult to build a 40-foot set in an 18-foot studio, but if you have the space... \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Mar 13, 2013 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want to create a mask from plain background make sure you overexpose the background and the subject is a couple of stops darker. Adding as muck space between the subject and the background as possible will help. This will make it much easier to create a clean mask. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 23:52

I think it depends on what you want to achieve. In my opinion, if a viewer says "nice photoshop" then I have failed in processing. It would be like saying of a painting that you like the brushstrokes without commenting on the content of the work.

The best background is less dependant on what is real or manufactured and more on what makes the composition and message that you want.

As a practical matter, starting with a real background that is as close to what you want to produce digitally makes your task easier in most cases. For stills, I would not recommend a video color key unless your desired background is close to vivid blue or green. In a still image it is often easier to choose another color background that separates well from your subject.


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