Materials digital photograph with a white background
Method If you shoot microstock, product, or advertising photography, chances are you have attempted to make ‘on white’ or ‘isolation’ photos. This easy 3-step process will show you how to create perfect isolations in Photoshop even when your ‘white background’ isn’t all that white (it must at least be ‘whiteish’ for this technique to work).
Before you get into the tutorial aspect of this article, it should first be mentioned that the best solution to making great isolation photos is to learn how to use light and get it right in camera. This will greatly reduce the time you spend in post-production cleaning up the photo. However, everyone knows that you can’t always ”get it right”. The following example is a photo taken on a shoot where there were 19 puppies who needed to be photographed and only about two hours of shooting time. It was chaos! Needless to say, making sure the backdrop was a perfect #FFFFFF white was not the first priority.
This is an example photo as it appears straight out of camera
Open your image in Photoshop. Isolating the subject is the first thing you want to do. Once you have a perfect isolation, any other desired touch-ups can be made.
The first step is to use the ‘marquee’ tool to draw a marquee around the subject. You want the selection to be as close to the subject as possible while not actually touching the subject.
Once the subject has been selected, right click > select inverse. Press the delete key. A pop-up window will appear. Be sure that you have the ‘contents’ set to ‘use white’ and the ‘blending mode’ set to ‘normal’ at 100% opacity. Click ‘OK’.
If the first step has been done correctly, your photo should look something like this
Click Select > Deselect. Next, switch over to the ‘dodge’ tool, which is grouped with the ‘sponge’ and ‘burn’ tools in the ‘tools’ panel. Choose a fairly large brush with the ‘hardness’ set to 0. Select ‘highlights’ in the ‘range’ dropdown menu and set the exposure to 100%. Uncheck the box that says ‘Protect Tones’.
Now use your brush to brighten the areas of the photo that are supposed to be white. Don’t worry if you happen to go over your subject a bit. The dodge tool is meant for this but you don’t want to overdo it. If you find that you are blowing out portions of your subject, you may wish to lower the exposure setting.
As you move in closer to your subject, you will want to make your brush size smaller for tighter areas. You may also want to reduce the exposure if you are working on a photo with fine details around your subject (like whiskers or hair).
Sometimes certain areas around the edges of the subject can become oversaturated.
This is an easy fix with the ‘sponge’ tool. Set your brush to the desired size, set the mode to ‘desaturate’ and set your flow to about 50% to start. Sponge over the oversaturated area until it looks natural.
Once you feel that all of the white is as bright as it should be, select the magic wand tool. Set the tolerance to low (5 usually works unless it must be a precise isolation, then 0 is the safest bet). Click on a white area of the photo. You will be able to see if you have missed any pixels. For a subject such as the puppy in these photos, there will likely always be a small amount of darker pixels around the subject as this is actually light filtering through the fur.
Once you are happy with your isolation, save your photo and then continue to edit as needed.