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How to Change a Photo's Background Color in Photoshop CS5

Updated on August 24, 2012

I have been working on a brochure that required a fair amount of photography. Lately, I feel that just placing a photo in the layout and wrapping the text around it is getting stale. Stock photos, mostly bought from, are usually of an acceptable quality to use for these projects, and are priced right.

I decided to go with a simple effect to make these photos more interesting, and to add more color into this brochure. The photos all had a central subject – the doctors or nurse – with a cluttered background.

I wanted to introduce a few colors off of our company color palette. To do that to the photos, I changed the background to black and white and made the subject full color, and added a slight white glow effect to make it stand out more.

Note: The photos used were purchased from

Here is how to do this effect using Photoshop CS 5.

Open the photo and duplicate it into a new layer.

Turn the bottom layer into a black and white image by using the Desaturate command. The Desaturate command on the PC is: Image (on top menu bar)/Adjustments/Desaturate or do a Shift+Control+U.

Add the color you would like the back ground to be as a new layer between the two photos.


Go back to the top layer – color photo – and use the lasso tool to draw around the main subject. I use the lasso tool to get almost to the edge of the subject, as shown here, then go back and fine tune this with the eraser. I leave the color layer on, as it shows my progress. Take your time in this process. I use a Wacom Intuous tablet to do all of my work, as it makes this process more natural.


Here is the photo with the main subject cut out from the background, using the lasso tool, polygon tool for straight edges, and eraser.


Move the color layer down, and move the black and white version up. Use the soft light selection on this layer. You can see that it blends the black and white image into the color. All of these layer effects can drastically alter the background image effect. Each brings a different effect to the table. Experiment with these! Note that I added a white layer to the bottom. This allows me to see the changes in transparency easily. If I do not do that, I will see the Photoshop default checkerboard pattern. Use the opacity control on the layer to lessen the amount of background you want to show.


There are variations of this. You can reverse this process to get a different effect. That is, make the color layer the soft light and put it between the two images. You can adjust these layers to achieve various levels of intensity in color. Note how much different the background looks when reversing the order of layers.


To finish the effect I go to my main color image and choose from the top menu bar Layer/Layer Style and select Outer Glow to add an outer glow. You can experiment with different levels. Be aware that when you add this effect, it will show any of the background that you may have missed. Go back and check. Even a small group of pixels will be affected by the glow effect.


You can change the background color easily, if you change your mind and don’t like your first choice, as I have done.


This particular piece went on a brochure, printed on a 4 color offset press. Make sure you save the final to CMYK if you go to print.

Once you have separated the main image out, you can also change the background image. The choices are endless!



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    • phuongthyle profile image

      Lê Thị Phương Thy 

      10 months ago from Vietnam

      Thank you for your tutorial. It's amazing.

    • profile image

      p n thapa 

      6 years ago

      very good

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      hi i love the tutorial and you say you have more to post i am only a beginner and have a nice pic of myself and my daughter but i don't like the back ground is there a way to cut it out



    • CCamoroso profile image


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you. This is the tutorial I needed to read today :) Photoshop is amazing ...

    • dappledesigns profile image


      6 years ago from In Limbo between New England and the Midwest

      excellent hub! I love when people can look past the background they are given and think up a more interesting solution.

    • trecords0 profile image


      7 years ago from DeLand, Florida

      Hey TTC12, this was a great read as I have been experimenting with the same sort of things. I don't know how much you pay to use the photos, but I'm pretty sure there's a clause in copyright law that states another persons photo can become yours by altering it a certain number of steps. 7 comes to mind, but I don't remember exactly right now. I'll send you an email of a couple of examples of my work just for fun. Tim.

    • TTC12 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks! This was fun tutorial to write. I have a few more

      that I am working on.

    • The Odd Spartan profile image

      Christopher Rago 

      7 years ago from Hamilton, NJ

      Nice tutorial. The instructions are direct and to the point. Up/awesome.


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